Collaboration and education key to conquering poverty
Poverty Task Force seeks partnership coalition with county agencies; local organizations and churches to fight growing problem in Burnett County
by Priscilla Bauer Leader staff writer SIREN – Positive reports of cooperative efforts to help Burnett County residents in need by members of the Poverty Task Force lead off the group’s September 19 meeting. This was the second meeting of the group who came together in April to address the growing problem of poverty in the county. Forty people attended the first meeting where small group discussions lead to development of a long list of characteristics identifying the nature of poverty. A mission statement, “To enable residents of Burnett County to improve, protect, and promote their quality of life,” was brought forth at the first meeting with discussion continuing at this gathering as to how the Task Force could work with various county agencies, local organizations, and churches to achieve those goals. Webster Elementary Principal Martha Anderson told the group more and more organizations have increased their giving with awareness the poverty level is rising. Anderson said the school has been working on ways to get parents more involved. The school has held family night suppers sponsored by local churches with up to 130 people attending. “It has been really positive. Whole families come.” “We are involved in a lot more activities with the churches to meet the needs of the community,” Anderson added. Anderson said the school has also been working with Family Connections to help coordinate and distribute clothing donations. Charlotte Heidel then reported on her efforts to secure an early literacy grant which would fund the purchase of bags containing books and educational materials to help parents get more involved in reading with their children. “The key to the program is to get to parents. How do we get to the parents who don’t come to the library for story time and who aren’t doing things with their kids. It’s a literacy program but it’s about educating parents, too.” Heidel suggested working together with the county, head start centers, and the Burnett County Resources Center to distribute the bags at wellness clinics, and parent seminars. Heidel said she would also like to take reading materials to high school students to reach them before they have kids. Alyssa Ryan, marketing director for Burnett Medical Center said the facility has started a Reach Out and Read program where children are given a book and newsletter on wellness visits and welcomed coordination with Heidel’s proposed program. Burnett County Public Health Supervisor Carol Larson said the county’s birth to three and home visit programs would also be opportunities for the reaching parents with the early literacy materials. “What struck me in Martha’s and Charlotte’s presentations is how we can work collaboratively,” said meeting facilitator Carl Heidel. “We recognize education is the key to a lot of what we are trying to do,” said Heidel, who then asked Larson to tell the group of the exciting opportunity members of the group will be participating in this coming year. Larson reported on the UW-Madison Healthy Wisconsin Leadership Institute training task force members will be attending. The group was one of seven in the state to be chosen for the training. “In trying to digest all the information from the last meeting, the magnitude of the problem is so complex. The question we have to ask is what can we truly do to help in our community,” commented Larson. Larson said the 8-month training to learn leadership skills will help the group develop a plan for the community. “This opportunity came along at the perfect time for our group,” noted Larson and Heidel. “We are expecting to have good things coming out of this training,” commented Larson.
In a visioning exercise Heidel asked the group to give their answer to the question “If the task force got it right, what will the mission statement look like in 10 years?” The group was struck by the response given by Kate Peterson, Burnett County Health and Human Services Director. “If there was no more need for programs then we will have done it right,” said Peterson. The Task Force will continue training of the leadership team, create an action plan, expand the participation base including involving Burnett County Board Supervisors, and create connections with other groups by forming a partnership coalition. Note: The Task Force welcomes those interested in working on poverty issues to the group’s monthly meetings, 1 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month inroom 165 of the Burnett County Government Center.