Erasing poverty from Hall County has always been the goal. But this year, United Way of Hall County is putting that goal on the fast track.
United Way has been having meetings with quite a few community leaders who give or have given their time to make the community a better place over the years, and it has all been in an effort to reach that goal.
“What we would like to see is this become a structure where we all work together,” said Tom Jones, vision adviser for One Hall and senior leadership member with Habitat for Humanity International.
The One Hall United Against Poverty initiative that United Way created brings leaders together on issues like adequate, affordable housing, hunger alleviation and accessible education for all ages, among a few others. United Way and the leaders it is working with said these “arenas” will all be a key part of finding a way to solve the poverty issues the county faces.
“We are really aligning better than we ever have before, and collaborating to address poverty within Hall County,” said Joy Griffin, president and chief professional officer at United Way. “And One Hall has helped give us the framework to make that happen.”
The group recently had a meeting where it discussed a community-level goal that it will be working toward over the next year. As opposed to working inefficiently, as Griffin said can sometimes be the case, all of the nonprofits coming together on this initiative will be conscious of how they are working alongside each other to alleviate poverty.
“A community-level goal is a goal so large that none of us can achieve it alone,” Griffin said. “We will be seeking to set that goal and share it with the business community, education community and of course the nonprofit community.”
Lindsey McCamy, executive director at Family Promise of Hall County, said affordable housing is the hardest thing for her to deal with. She said she’s burdened by the thought of the families that come through the program but can’t afford housing afterward.
That’s why Family Promise started a free short-term day care, Little Steps Community Daycare, that it’s hoping to expand over the next year.
“So far we’ve served over 80 children from over 10 agencies,” McCamy said. “Families that are experiencing poverty, maybe they aren’t homeless, but it gives them a chance to be able to go look for a job, or work on their (childcare and parent services program) and gives them about eight weeks, even if they get a job, to start saving and kind of budgeting what they’re going to have to be paying for when they get out.”
Beth Brown executive director of Gainesville Housing Authority is heading up the adequate and affordable housing arena of One Hall to help solve the issue McCamy said is heavy on her heart.
Another arena One Hall is focusing on is accessible education for all ages. United Way enlisted the help of Merrianne Dyer, former Gainesville City Schools superintendent, and Ruth Demby, United Way’s Read Learn Succeed program coordinator, to lead the efforts.
Dyer said they have looked at a lot of different needs for all ages when it comes to education. For children in school, transportation is an issue. For younger children, the issue is affordable day care. And even for the ones who didn’t finish high school, sinking into poverty is often inevitable.
“The needs identified were not inside the educational structure,” Dyer said. “We have a plethora of opportunity in education. It is the family that lives well below the poverty line, and has barriers to accessing those opportunities, which in the course of education, transportation was a major one.”
One Hall will be looking into different and new transportation options to help get children to school and help keep them in school so the slip into poverty is less likely.
That’s just a couple of the ideas United Way has. As the year goes on it will be able to narrow some of its ideas to better serve the community.
Jones is the one who kind of sparked the idea for One Hall. He said he’s seen the need in the county and was luckily sitting by Griffin at an event when he shared the idea. As the One Hall initiative officially gets started this year, Jones knows there’s a lot more ahead for it.
“If we’re going to break the cycle of poverty, this isn’t a short-term thing,” Jones said. “I think this really is a crucial thing. We really do want to be the community that we want to be, and we really want to live that. So we’ve just got to keep at it.”