Wednesday morning’s “Bridges out of Poverty” seminar drew a big crowd to Indian Hills. Many were educators, coming from several area districts and counties to hear ideas. It was a diverse group, and that’s good.
The simple, uncomfortable fact is that there is no magic solution to poverty in southeast Iowa. If schools could have accomplished that goal themselves, it would have happened. If governments could have done it, they’d have made more of a dent than what has taken place. If social services were the only need, poverty would be a memory.
None of those groups has the solution. And, by participating in the program and promoting it through their own outreach, each recognized that fact. That’s not criticism. It is simply a recognition of the limits any one of those groups has.
At best, each of those groups has part of a solution. What it’s really going to take is a broad approach, the kind of diversity in expertise and abilities that was on display looking at those who attended.
So, what will it take? Well, Wednesday could be a beginning.
The best chance, perhaps the only one, is for an intertwined effort involving government bodies, schools, businesses and philanthropic organizations, all working within their own spheres toward the goal. It’s harder than it sounds. Each will contend with different priorities and challenges along the way. Keeping everyone together will not be easy.
Ending poverty in southeast Iowa, where it has been entrenched for decades, is not going to be simple. The communities in our area cannot look at it as something addressed with a single policy or plan. Instead, it will take a long-term approach, a consistency of effort across multiple organizations and generations.
That is going to be the hard part. Getting a local government, school district or business community to focus on something for a year or two isn’t all that hard. It happens on a regular basis. Maintaining that focus for many years, through the vicissitudes of elections that change representation, through the careers that begin and end, is an entirely different proposal.
If southeast Iowa can do that, it has a chance. But we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that progress is inevitable or permanent. If effort slackens, so will results. If it ends, inertia will take over, eroding whatever progress has been made to that point.
There will be failures. There will be setbacks. That’s simply how progress is made. None of those mean the effort itself is without merit or that it should end, but they will signal a need for those in leadership positions to reevaluate where things stand and the approaches they are taking.
Only time will say whether Wednesday’s session was a flash in the pan or the beginning of a real change. All it has now is potential, the possibility of being a starting point.
You have to start somewhere, though. Maybe it’s here.