Group holds an ambitious goal " to end poverty in Carson City

It's interesting that in this political season you don't hear any candidates promising to stamp out poverty. Maybe they know the problem is too large, that no one would believe them.


But there was someone visiting Carson City on Thursday willing to make that statement. His name is Scott Miller. He's not rich and he's not running for any office.

He said it without hesitation, even though he knows how large the problem is. In Carson City alone, one out of every five children is living in poverty, and nationwide it totals 36.5 million.


At the newspaper, we often tell the stories of those trapped in poverty, either through misfortune or through poor decisions. Recently an anonymous letter came in ... a family with little money and no place to turn. The mother was angry at the welfare system:


"What really gets me is the way we live today. We are a family of six. Both my husband and I work yet we still struggle to get by. Our kids live on mac and cheese, pasta or hot dogs. We are a hard working family with no extras. My boys are lucky to get new clothes for each school year. Yet when I attempt to get any type of help from the state (food stamps or Medicaid for my kids) I have repeatedly been denied. It really upsets me to see all the hard working families ... their kids have old battered clothes yet the families who have no working parents are living on welfare, getting their rent paid, their house has unlimited amounts of food, having steak bbq's and the kids are running around with new clothes and shoes on monthly. Where is the justice for us hard working families who are just making it?"


Scott Miller hears these kinds of stories all over the country as he plants the seeds for his Circles Initiative, which is taking an innovative approach to helping people break the bonds of poverty. One of those seeds is just beginning to sprout in Carson City, thanks to a group of people Miller spoke to on Thursday.


But first a few points about Circles. It has nothing to do with Welfare, other than its success would make Welfare unnecessary because people in poverty would become self sufficient.


And it won't happen overnight. The goal, after all, is to wipe out poverty in the richest country on earth. It is to get every student to graduate from high school, because, "What can you do without a high school diploma ... nothing," Miller said.


How long will all that take? "Less that two generations," he said.


The seed planted here is called the Capital City Circles Initiative and it's deceptively simple. Its goal is to partner those in poverty with volunteers willing to help them. Each family in the program is helped by middle and upper income allies who befriend them and lend support. That does not mean those allies give their money to the families they are helping. It means they help the family break through the "hidden rules of class" that entrap them (and most likely future generations of their families) into lives with a basic mission of just getting by.


There's more to it than that, of course, including helping those families learn how to set and achieve goals, work to improve their prospects and those of their children and find help when crisis arises and threatens to derail their new-found hopes. It is not easy, and it often involves breaking free of the people who hold them in poverty.


Those hidden rules? They're often part of the behavior and culture of people who live in poverty. To speak of them is to delve into that uncomfortable world of stereotypes, but it is hard to deny that those living in poverty tend to think differently, whether it's out of necessity or habit. Living in poverty means to think about how to get through the day and how to solve daily problems " a broken down car, an overdue rent payment, a broken refrigerator.


To think about saving for the future is a foreign concept.


The Circles Initiative is in place in communities around the country, but in a fledgling state. While it has already helped many families, Miller envisions it expanding exponentially once people realize the power it holds.


If you want to learn more about this program, call the local Circles coordinator, Dina Phippen, at 887-2190. You can also visit the Web site www.movethemountain.org


Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at www.nevadaappeal.com

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