At Community Action’s annual meeting, held on September 30th at the Renaissance Hotel in Allentown, Executive Director Alan Jennings shared his vision for some of the things Community Action will work on in the next year:
- “We will continue to push a minimum wage increase whether our friends in the private sector agree or not; and, in my opinion, that minimum wage should be 30% to 50% higher than the measly $10.10 an hour we have been seeking and failing to pass.
- We are going to continue to expand our intervention in the housing market with emphasis on rehabilitating or razing homes where the conditions are worse than substandard and might not even belong in the Developing World, much less the greatest country on Earth.
- We hope that formal discussions will begin soon with some allied non-profits that develop affordable housing on the idea of strengthening our collective capacity by merging.
- The Water Fountain Project, formed to reduce wealth disparity, will develop campaigns to widen the wealth-building expertise of middle-class people of color and begin to narrow the college admissions gap between white and minority young adults.
- We will broaden the reach of our small business lending subsidiary known as The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund by adding a line of credit to our product line; we have already expanded our service territory into Monroe, Carbon, Wayne and Pike counties.
- We will use neighborhood partnership tax credits to invest at least $1 million in our urban neighborhoods.
- We will try to find the funding to begin to intercept young urban teens from making the kinds of terrible decisions that can lead to a lifetime of problems.”
And this is just a small sampling of the many activities, programs, and initiatives that Community Action will organize and lead in 2015-2016. It will be a busy year, indeed! And one that is full of measurable progress toward creating a better Lehigh Valley for all of its residents.
Annual meetings provide an opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed and the year that is to come. Community Action also has a five year strategic plan which is used to guide our priorities over a slightly longer period of time. But this year’s annual meeting marked a special milestone, the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and of our organization.
Yes, we have much to celebrate. Thousands of homes have been weatherized, millions of pounds of food have been distributed, hundreds of people have gained job skills, and countless people’s lives have been improved. Because of ability to work together as a community, tens of thousands of Lehigh Valley residents have been given the chance to meet their basic needs, more fully participate in economic opportunities, turn their lives around, and become more self-sufficient.
But there is still much more to be done. According to the 2014 American Community Survey, recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, 11.5% of Lehigh Valley residents (more than 70,000 people), 16.2% of families with a child under the age of five, and 7% of senior citizens live in poverty. That’s less than $24,250 per year for a family of four. Nearly 20% of Lehigh Valley households have annual income under $25,000. More than 3500 Lehigh Valley residents who work full time, year round live in poverty. Far too many Lehigh Valley residents are experiencing unemployment and underemployment, substandard living conditions, violence, and, worst of all, a sense of desolation that things could not possibly improve.
That tenor of apathy is not isolated to people who are struggling to make ends meet. At the annual meeting, Jennings also said, “There are too many among us who are too quick to criticize, too slow to raise their hand to volunteer, too many among us who turn their backs rather than open their minds. We can love our neighbors or we can fend for ourselves. We can see the world getting smaller every day and try to find common ground or we can blow each other to smithereens. We can pursue justice or we can crank up charity.”
If we are to eliminate poverty in the Lehigh Valley in the next 50 years or, at the very least, dramatically reduce both its existence and its impact, we can’t give up. Ever. No matter what. Every setback needs to strengthen our resolve and push us to be more creative, more collaborative, and more dynamic. Fifty years from now, I don’t want to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the War on Poverty. I want to celebrate its victory.
This blog post is part of a three-part series, Community Action: Our Past, Present, and Future. This is the final installment. The full text of Alan Jennings’ annual meeting speech will be published next week.