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Extension helps community groups battle poverty issues
PHILADELPHIA -- Every community has different needs, but poverty weaves a common thread that organizations are uniting to unravel.
Turning the Tide on Poverty is a regional initiative of the Southern Rural Development Center that works in 13 Southern states and is headquartered at Mississippi State University. As part of that effort, government agencies, community leaders and religious groups recently met in Neshoba County to advance the Strengthening Families and Communities Coalition.
Newton County Extension Director Susan Cosgrove, who is also an Extension family resource management area agent, said each county involved in the coalition has a core planning group.
Cosgrove said the support of Philadelphia Mayor James Young and Meridian Mayor Cheri Barry has been instrumental in uniting communities to address poverty.
“We need to join complementary efforts and avoid duplication among all the agencies trying to address poverty,” Cosgrove said. “Many organizations are trying to improve educational needs, reduce teen pregnancy or help with financial literacy. We need to be aware of those efforts and support them to maximize resources.”
Neshoba County native Keith Parker, a sociologist from the University of Georgia, is working with the coalition to help communities address health and wellness.
“One goal is to improve the physical and mental health of our citizens,” Parker said. “We want to improve their financial well-being by taking advantage of existing resources. We are all in this together. As we improve things on the local level, it carries over to the state and national levels as well.”
Parker said volunteers are needed to lead efforts to address youth violence, health and wellness, economic development, financial issues, teen pregnancy, high school drop-out prevention and academic advancement.
Karen Benson, Extension family and child development area agent based in Neshoba County, said the coalition is finding a disconnect between agencies and the public.
“We need to find a way to bring the government agencies back in alignment with the people they serve,” she said. “Grassroots efforts can home in on local issues and achieve solutions sooner with far fewer state dollars spent than government at large.”
Benson said the rising teen pregnancy rate is a primary issue for the coalition.
“Currently, more than 30 teens from area high schools are meeting weekly in Philadelphia to discuss topics like apathy, peer pressure and misunderstandings in relationships, which are things that can lead teens to make poor decisions,” she said. “The local group wants to teach other teens to get involved in the community and become productive.”
Coalition members are meeting with the group to assist youth efforts and to discern how teen pregnancy prevention efforts can be more effective in Philadelphia.
Benson said Turning the Tide on Poverty in Neshoba County has evolved to a monthly core group that meets to promote health and prosperity with targeted efforts. The group is working to expand the local farmers’ market and promote more home gardens.
“One important idea learned in the study is that sustainable, healthy communities work to reduce poverty at all levels,” she said. “Poverty affects everyone because it eventually erodes the tax base, high school graduation rates, and economic growth and development.”