Can Mentoring End Poverty?

Posted by Kerry Sullivan on August 5, 2014

This year we mark the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty, and yet, 46.5 million people were living in poverty in the United States in 2012, the largest number in the 54 years poverty has been measured. New approaches to helping individuals and families find pathways out of poverty and long-term financial stability are clearly needed. And while basic access to resources and programs remain important, the most effective approaches go beyond meeting immediate needs to create meaningful connections and relationships between community members and low- and moderate-income individuals.

Effective models foster a sense of partnership with those living in poverty, not further isolation, and use the power of connections to create lasting impact. Organizations like Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and LIFT have been refining their model over the years to respond to the changing needs of those living in poverty.

CNCS, for more than 20 years, has placed people committed to service in communities across the country to take on the toughest challenges like homelessness and hunger on the front lines through nonprofit partners. LIFT uses a unique model to pair low-income people with mentors and advocates that provide a range of support from confidence building to access to jobs, education and safe shelter. Even the language LIFT uses reflects the shift in the tactics in alleviating poverty: their clients aren’t clients or beneficiaries—they are members – and their volunteers are advocates.

Pairing low-income individuals and families with people who are advocates and mentors is where organizations are placing their bets to create pathways out of poverty for individuals that help entire communities thrive.

This summer, a cross sector partnership was launched based on that premise. Maria Shriver’s A Woman’s Nation, The Corporation for National and Community Service, LIFT, and Bank of America have come together to launch The Shriver Corps, a new national service partnership utilizing AmeriCorps VISTA members to lift people out of poverty in low-income communities across the country.

Over the next three years in LIFT’s regional offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., 20 Shriver AmeriCorps fellows will help low-income families, including women heads-of-household, who are LIFT members get solutions for real issues they face—hunger, homelessness, health care, and unemployment—plus the financial tools, confidence, and knowledge they need to move forward. There is an effort to explore innovative approaches to delivering financial education like Better Money Habits, which has a  self-directed curriculum and helpful videos on financial education.

While there is a long way to go to bring over 46 million people out of poverty, the first step may be to add one more thing to the list of things people in poverty need—other people.

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