Plans for nine inter-related approaches to issues surrounding poverty in the Chippewa Valley were unveiled Thursday evening (April 6) before an audience of some 95 people at Grace Lutheran Church, 202 W. Grand Ave.
The event marked a milestone for the Eau Claire County Poverty Summit, which began the project’s planning phase last October. The nine action teams that evolved during that planning stage told the group what they intend to do over the next 20 months to deal with one specific aspect of poverty.
Most of the audience consisted of people who have been to at least one of the previous seven sessions, but 27 people signed in as first-time attendees, according to Nancy Yule, the Summit project’s coordinator. The Summit project was developed under the auspices of Clear Vision Eau Claire, to identify and deal with issues of poverty and income inequality throughout the county.
Yule said that 274 people have attended one or more of the seven sessions held thus far and 167 have been active participants on action teams.
Ann Rupnow, Clear Vision’s board chair, said that the Summit is a ground-breaking effort that is being watched by other communities. She told the group that the process here is being documented, so it can be used elsewhere.
Some of the plans presented Wednesday call for completing a specific first step by mid-summer. One such example was identifying and bringing together people working with poverty, those living with it, and people able to communicate about it.
This plan’s eventual goal is to cut through various myths about poverty in an effort to “unite our community and uproot poverty by telling the truth about what it’s like to be poor in Eau Claire,” according to the summary presented by the action team on “Stigma and Public Narrative.”
Other issues singled out for attention by one or more of the action teams were improved transportation, affordable housing, “de-fragmenting” mental health services and the need for a network – consisting primarily of volunteers such as retired teachers – to help parents and students navigate the educational system and cut through educational jargon.
Other proposals mentioned during the meeting included creation of a re-entry coordinator at the Eau Claire County jail to help released prisoners return to their communities; increased state funding for workforce training; and establishing a parent-to-parent mentoring program for low income families with the goal of creating or strengthening positive parental role models.
During the comment period that capped the evening, several people said they were struck by the trust, or “trusting the process,” that has been part of the Summit. The wide age range of Wednesday’s audience was also mentioned, with particular note taken of the “youth in the room.”
As part of its efforts to promote community participation in the Summit, Clear Vision recruited UW-Eau Claire students to serve as coaches for the action teams. Yule said these coaches facilitated the teams’ discussions during work sessions, helped team members with various skills and activities and did “an amazing job” in pulling their teams together to create the action plans.
Don Henning, a detective with the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Department, perhaps summed up the discussion best during the comment period when he said, “If we can accomplish successfully what we’ve talked about tonight, we’ll become the community we think we are.”
More information about the Poverty Summit is available at www.clearvisioneauclaire.org. Clear Vision Eau Claire was founded in 2007 and is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.