Thursday, December 27, 2007

DeVol challenges community, companies to expand efforts to address local poverty issues

from The Bluffton News Banner

By Mark Miller

ADDRESSING POVERTY - Author Phil DeVol used a Power-Point presentation to help explain how individual companies and communities can deal with poverty issues and help people “climb out” and improve their situations, which also improves their communities. DeVol made his presentation to approximately 25 community and industrial leaders Thursday morning at the 4-H Community Center.

Phil DeVol challenged local business and community leaders to move forward with an aggressive approach to address poverty issues in Bluffton and Wells County.

DeVol, co-author of “Bridges Out of Poverty,” gave a synopsis of his research and writings, as well as an overview of one case study in which a company reduced their turnover in their manufacturing jobs dramatically to a group of approximately 25 people at the 4-H Community Center Thursday morning.

The session was a condensed version of the two-day seminar DeVol presented in early November to a larger group of service agency directors and employees, educators and government officials. He was in Bluffton again Thursday to perform a training session for people who will be leading a series of “Getting Ahead” classes next spring.

Those classes will walk people who are struggling to escape poverty through a process that will help them better understand how to do that and will give them tools and resources to succeed.

DeVol emphasized to the group of community leaders Thursday morning the importance of addressing the poverty issue.

Historically speaking, he noted, the disparity between the rich and the poor is widening now more than practically at anytime in history.

“From about 1945 until 1970, everyone’s economic status was improving in America,” he said. “What we’re experiencing now is only comparable to the historic ‘Gilded Age’ and the ‘Roaring 20s’.”

When a community’s poverty level reaches a critical point, that puts a burden on the entire community that may be the beginning of an irreversible downward spiral, he explained.

DeVol walked the attendees through the basics of how people in poverty view the world versus middle and upper classes and how that impacts them as employees. He also explained the causes of poverty.

“Community resources is a key component to this issue,” he noted, explaining that a community needs not only to be focused on economic development, but more so in building what he called “equity.”

That means, he explained, “giving people a fair shot at decent jobs, decent healthcare, eduction, fair credit and a connectiveness to the community.”

As an example, DeVol noted that bringing in a new factory with low-paying wages is “only buying more poverty.”

Examples of communities that are formally addressing the issue utilizing the “Getting Ahead” programs included several in Indiana, such as South Bend and Indianapolis. Each community has established a steering committee that includes representatives of the three basic socio-economic classes that exist, which he stressed is key to a community’s success.

“All three groups must sit down together to analyze the community’s situation and their resources and work to break down barriers,” he said.

Following his presentation, United Way executive director Pamela Beckford told the group that a steering committee has already been formed as a result of the earlier visits this year by DeVol and his colleague and co-author, Dr. Ruby Payne.

Beckford encouraged individual businesses to get better acquainted with the “Bridges Out of Poverty” program and how other companies in other communities have utilized it to their benefit.

DeVol, who is associated with Payne’s company, Aha Process, Inc., noted that a series of success stories is in the process of being put on their website as a reference for other communities and companies. Currently, only the South Bend experience has been posted but others will be added, he said.

That can be found in the “Best Practices” area at .

The breakfast was organized by the United Way of Wells County and funded by a grant from the Wells Community Foundation.

The training session for the “Getting Ahead” trainers was organized and funded by the Department of Child Services.

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