Half a century ago in his first State of the Union speech, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “War on Poverty.” Making poverty a national concern set in motion a series of bills and acts, creating programs such as Head Start, food stamps, work study, Medicare and Medicaid, which still exist today. The programs initiated under Johnson brought about real results, reducing rates of poverty and improved living standards for America’s poor. But the poverty rate has remained steady since the 1970s. Americans have allowed poverty to fall off the national agenda, said Sheldon Danziger, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.
The city of Fayetteville and county of Cumberland are collaborating to address poverty in the greater Fayetteville area through a project called Pathways for Prosperity. It’s an initiative of District 2 City Councilman Kirk deViere to improve the economic lifestyles of area residents. “The district I represent includes some of the poorest households in the nation, and it’s time we gather as many resources and people as possible to move the needle on poverty,” deViere said. “It’s our duty, our responsibility.”
Pathways for Prosperity got underway with a widely-distributed community survey and will be followed up with a summit to be held Nov. 18. Feedback from the survey will be reviewed, and current
poverty data will be analyzed to hopefully identify areas in need and resources available to help people. After that, a community revitalization task force will be formed to study and produce a comprehensive action plan to help the destitute within 90 days.
Dealing with poverty is also on the mind of County Commissioner Glenn Adams. “Cumberland County is happy to partner with the city of Fayetteville on the Pathways for Prosperity initiative,” said Chairman Adams, who is also a leading advocate of Pathways for Prosperity. He cited virtually the same poverty concerns in his inaugural address early this year when named chairman of the board. “I am hopeful that this working partnership will result in a reduction of poverty in our community and will help empower residents on their path to a more prosperous future,” Adams said.
Adam Svolto, a Deputy Director of the North Carolina Justice Center, is serving as a consultant and is excited about the promise it represents. “I see a real sense of urgency and boldness, and I’m optimistic not only to see how P4P plays out in Fayetteville and Cumberland County but how this process may inform other communities dealing with similar issues,” Svolto said.
The Justice Center’s partnership with the initiative will be supported by a three-year grant administered by the North Carolina State Bar. Anyone interested in learning more about the project or partnering with Pathways for Prosperity can visit www.PathwaysforProsperity.org.