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Poverty is a sad reality for thousands of Chatham residents. This week, we speak with John Moore, the founder and executive director of UPLIFT Chatham, once known as Circles Chatham. The organization — the acronym stands for Understanding Poverty: Lifting Individuals and Families Together — began in 2012. Moore has a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and worked as a certified project management professional. During his 30 years at IBM and two years at SunTrust Bank, he held several technical and management positions in computer hardware and software development, and in test and quality management. He has also served in leadership roles in his churches and in parent-teacher-student organizations.
What is UPLIFT Chatham, and what’s the organization’s objective and mission in Chatham County?
UPLIFT Chatham is a grassroots organization of diverse, motivated people seeking to help our neighbors who are stressing with the financial realities of low-income living in Chatham County. Our mission is to equip people who are struggling financially with access to the opportunities, education, and relationships they need to become self-sufficient. We do this through a model of empowerment, listening first to discover strengths and building upon them. Holistically recognizing the interconnected parts of individuals and communities (financial, intellectual, relational, physical, spiritual, etc.). UPLIFT promotes leadership and self-governance from within, working WITH people versus working FOR them.
Our objective is to provide a means for people to realize and navigate a path to financial self-sufficiency and break the cycle of generational poverty. It’s all about relationships — bringing together people from all walks of life, with the range of strengths they bring to the community, focused on helping our neighbors. Ultimately, working with social service agencies, non-profits, government, business and corporations, education, health care, faith communities, and individuals, we strive to eliminate poverty across the county.
One of the questions you pose to the community at large is: Can you survive a month in poverty? Many families in Chatham do, but what’s the message the community as a whole needs to know about that struggle, and what it means to be forced to survive when you’re living at or below the poverty line?
The struggle hits many more people than those that are at or below the poverty line. Poverty levels, which are set annually by the federal government, do not come close to reflecting the actual costs of living families incur, which are usually about twice as high as the poverty rate for just a bare bones budget.
There are systemic barriers to moving to financial self-sufficiency. For instance, there’s the “Cliff Effect” — which reflects the fact that the way public benefits are calculated, as people strive for success by doing better at work and earning raises, as income increases incrementally benefits decrease at a much higher rate. These include benefits received by many families to maintain a basic life (such as food stamps, child care subsidies, children’s health care insurance, etc.). For example, when someone is successful in a job and earns an increase of, say $1/hour ($80/month), the result could be a decrease of $200 in food stamps. So the net result is lower effective income and falling further behind. Where is the incentive to improve and get ahead?
Come learn more at our workshops on Saturday, Nov 9.
UPLIFT’s Poverty Awareness Day is Nov. 9. Let’s look at both parts of the event — the first is a conversation about the scope and challenges of poverty. What can participants expect to hear and learn?
Our workshops are intended to provide insight, understanding and inspiration to people who have not experienced poverty.
Perspectives on Poverty is a fast paced workshop in which we cover a wide range of topics and information, including the above issues. We go deeper into the Cliff Effect and other structural barriers people encounter. We talk about how different institutions define poverty by numbers, how social services then use those numbers to calculate benefits…and how this compares to the actual costs of living in Chatham County. We show what income level is needed to break through the dependency on benefits, achieve financial self-sufficiency, and have control of your life.
It includes engaging small group activities which provide insight into real life scenarios for families with low income, identifying some of the barriers to achieving equity.
We also share solutions — what can we do as individuals/friends and as organizations to support families in a compassionate, caring, and, yes, uplifting way.
The Cost of Poverty Experience (COPE) is also a part of the event. How does taking part in the COPE typically impact those who take part?
The COPE poverty simulation offers an opportunity to gain a glimpse into the lives of families in our communities that face poverty every day. The experience gives participants an opportunity to move beyond stereotypes to a more holistic understanding of the causes and effects of poverty. Also captured in the experience is the role that the broader community plays in their interactions with low-income families. The experiential nature of this training helps individuals, organizations and communities more deeply understand the complexities of poverty, paving the way to address the issues more comprehensively.
During the simulation, you will take on the role of a person in a low income family and attempt to navigate your responsibilities for a simulated one month. As you plan tasks and responsibilities with your “family” and then proceed to interact with community resources and the other families, you will begin to gain greater insight into the struggles some families live with on a daily basis in real life.
A very common word we hear from COPE participants is that the experience is “powerful.” You come away with an appreciation of what some of our neighbors experience, resulting in a higher degree of compassion and empathy. Many are inspired to do something with their new knowledge — from simply treating others more kindly to working within their circles of influence to make a difference.
Here are a few participant quotes:
“What a powerful experience! It has changed my perspective permanently.” (HK)
“This will make me look on others with more compassion.” (AM)
“I did the COPE a couple of years ago and I still vividly recall the experience.” (PS)
“[I’m a teacher and] I now understand that when a child doesn’t complete homework, it’s sometimes due to circumstances in the home, beyond the child’s control. I now handle these situations with more compassion.” (RG)
Can you talk about how UPLIFT works with other agencies in the county to address the topic of poverty?
From our very beginnings, we knew the issues of poverty was larger than any single organization. As we delivered our unique services we partnered with such organizations as Central Carolina Community College, Chatham Literacy Council, Chatham Habitat for Humanity as well as local professionals to deliver specialized programming our members needed to help them achieve their goals.
We have learned from our early experience and, along with recent research seeking an even more effective way to impact more people, we discovered an effective, evidence-based approach which will have a greater collective impact in our community. We are in the early stages of identifying and talking with several organizations to partner on the development of a pilot program to offer seamless, coordinated delivery of a set of key core services at a single, accessible site.
The results of this approach used by other organizations across the country have shown that people who participate in this level of integrated services are 3-4 times more likely to achieve a major economic outcome!
How can people help or get involved?
A great start is to register and participate in the Nov. 9 Poverty Awareness Day workshops. Register from our website at www.UPLIFTChatham.org. The workshops provide foundational understanding of the community, the issues, and the opportunities. If that date does not work for you, reach out to UPLIFT via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set some time to talk.