Turning the Tide on Poverty receives award

Submitted by Choctaw County MSU Extension Service

More than one out of every five people living in Choctaw County is in
poverty.

Poverty levels are highest for female headed households (50%) and
children under age 5 (30.5%). With 31% of our population having less
than high school level education and 11.2% unemployment rate, it was
imperative to get people of all backgrounds moving together in a
positive direction to find a solution that best fits our community.

Choctaw County joined the Southern Rural Development Centers’ (SRDC)
program called “Turning the Tide on Poverty” (Tide).

This process helped communities take action to fight poverty by
working together to explore the causes of poverty and find ways to
help families and individuals move from poverty to prosperity. Over a
five week period, 96 individuals joined one of six community circle
groups to explore the causes and potential solutions to poverty in
the county. From their work grew eleven action teams to carry out
ideas identified by circle participants and a stronger network of
agencies serving limited resource families.

A core planning group was formed and met to identify possible
facilitators for the community circles which would be formed.
Extension County Director Juli Hughes, Child and Family Development
Area Agent, Dr. Rita Tanksley and Project Coordinator, Pam Simpson
went through training and were then able to instruct twelve volunteer
facilitators from within the community during November and December
2011. In January 2012, 181 people attended a kick-off entitled
“Choctaw County’s Got Talent” which was held for people to showcase
their talents while participation in Turning the Tide on Poverty’s
community circles was being promoted between acts. Six community
circles, composed of people with diverse backgrounds, were formed in
were formed Ackerman, Weir, Chester, Panhandle, Reform and Bywy. With
support of the Board of Supervisors and Mayors of Ackerman and Weir,
participants met in each community’s fire department for convenience
and familiarity. Community circles met weekly for five weeks. Two
facilitators,using a guide developed by SRDC, led discussions on
county poverty statistics, what poverty looks like in Choctaw County
and possible solutions to combat poverty. Eachcircle group identified
three ways to address the issue of poverty.

At the end of five weeks, circle participants came together for an
action forum at Chester Baptist Church Fellowship Center. Each circle
presented their three ideas, some being community-based while others
were more county-wide. Several circles identified similar
solutions. Eleven concepts were targeted and attendees chose on
which action team(s) they would like to take part. Action teams
formed included: farmers’ market, youth mentoring, adult mentoring,
buy local/buy USA, adopt a senior citizen, Weir GED tutoring, Weir
summer reading program, Panhandle/ Spay community center, Reform
community center, family anti-poverty, and resource guide. Teams
began meeting and added new team members as more people found out
about the project and wanted to become involved.

The Tide project has not only educated area citizens about possible
problems and solutions regarding poverty in Mississippi, it has
united people from different communities and with differing
viewpoints, to address a common cause.

The Tide project is still ongoing.To date, adults are receiving basic
computer skills, monthly financial management skills, and GED
tutoring. Area residents were able to sell produce at the farmers’
market which not only provided them with extra income, but also
provided a source for fresh produce.One hundred ninety-five youth
were reached through summer reading programs in Weir. Two communities
are developing areas for adults and youth to come together for
community events.

Walking tracks are also planned to create a safe place to walk to
improve physical activity and health. The Choctaw County fleamarket
was held Ackerman and Weir last fall and are planned again this
Spring. A resource guide is also being compiled to provide area
residents with information on resources in the county. The family
anti-poverty action team functions as the overseer of the action
teams. They keep in touch with teams, assist with events and
obstacles as needed. These are but a few of the impacts already
being felt in these communities with the promise of more in the near
future.

For their efforts with the Tide project, Dr. Tanksley and Mrs. Hughes
received the 2012 Mississippi State University Extension Service’s
Customer Outreach Award.
Hughes stated, “We heard comments such as ‘People have gotten
themselves into a bad situation because they are too lazy to work’. I
think once we really start looking at situations, we realize that
there are many causes for poverty. Many working people have high
medical bills due to chronic illnesses, but no health insurance. We
also heard, ‘You’re wasting your time.’ ‘This will never work’. Any
time we can help people, even if it’s only a few people, it’s not a
waste of time. We feel this project has been a success and it is
still going strong. We are very appreciative to all of our volunteers
who offer their time and talents to help people in our county.”

If anyone would like to become involved with Turning the Tide on
Poverty in Choctaw County, contact the MSU Extension office at
285-6337 or email jhughes@ext.msstate.edu.