Here at Community Action Partnership in Lewiston, Idaho, we have a vision. Our vision is our entire community working together to end poverty, not just poverty reduction. Now, that’s a big vision, right? One of our first steps in getting there was to co-found The Center for Community Building to End Poverty (along with our partners at the University of Idaho Extension and The Spirit Center at the Monastery of St. Gertrude). The Center for Community Building to End Poverty is a collaboration of partners from across all sectors of our community who are committed to a set of shared values.
Those values are: 1) community is a lifestance of connectedness with those around us, 2) community building across class, race, age, and cultural lines is central to supporting economic security and ending poverty, and 3) the issue of poverty is complex, and economic security requires multiple personal assets, community assets, and supportive state and national policies. Any person or organization that shares these values can join the center’s work toward ending poverty. In order to engage people from across our entire community in our vision and connect them to our shared values, we offer a set of foundational practices designed to provide common understanding and to begin to build community.
One of our foundational practices is a poverty simulation experience. As part of a simulation, participants spend four 15-minute “weeks” in the life of someone struggling with poverty. This toe-dip into a life of poverty is a “punch in the gut” type of experience. Participants’ eyes are opened about the struggle to get by that is very real to people who actually live in poverty. In addition to having their eyes opened, we think the poverty simulation experience starts to open people’s hearts, and with hearts open, we also want to open people’s minds and expand their understanding. To do this we pair our poverty simulation experiences with Bridges Out of Poverty seminars.
The Bridges constructs allow people to start to build a framework of understanding about poverty. They start to understand the feelings that they experienced in the poverty simulation. This combination of foundational practices has had a powerful effect in our community. Partners from business, the faith community, higher education, school district personnel, and community leaders have all committed to our shared values and have begun our shared work of ending poverty. I’ve worked at Community Action Partnership for nearly 20 years, and my work has never been so energizing, so collaborative, so impactful! I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Lisa Stoddard has worked in Community Action for the past 18 years, serving as the executive director of a community-based, non-profit community action agency for the last eight of those years. She has a degree in English with a secondary education emphasis from the University of Montana, is a Certified Community Action Professional (CCAP) and a Bridges Out of Poverty certified trainer.