Updated: Nov 4, 2020
Under the bright rotunda of the Bill and Melinda Gates room at United Way of King County’s office in downtown Seattle, YP Impact gathered a diverse group of attendees to learn about United Way King County and FareStart’s efforts to help those in poverty and deep dive into the issue of poverty.
Participants ranged from newcomers to Seattle looking to learn more about poverty to young professionals looking to share insights with their companies, which included a social impact video gaming company and a hotel chain’s community engagement efforts.
Charlotte Gavel, Program Manager for United Way of King County’s College Success & Housing Stability Programs opened the afternoon with an overview about her division’s work in supporting students facing financial, food, and housing insecurity.
While college is seen as stepping stone to upward economic mobility, hunger, job insecurity and homelessness are increasing on campuses and disproportionately impact people of color. It’s commonly discussed how overworked, anxious, and underslept college students are these days, but for many students, it’s less about getting an A and more about making it through the next day—how can we expect students to work effectively if they’re going hungry, juggling multiple jobs as well as school, or are stressed out about affording rent?
That’s where United Way’s Benefits Hub program comes in. A one-stop shop that helps students get past the red tape of financial aid and food assistance to achieve the stability they need through several channels, including grants, public policy lobbying, and working with AmeriCorps and Congressional Budget Office partners. Their focus in the near-term is scaling across campuses in King County, reducing racial disparities, increasing completion rates, and evaluating the impact of interventions on persistence and completion.
Next, FareStart’s Community Engagement Manager, Morgan Winkler, provided an overview of the job training and education programs FareStart offers in conjunction with food preparation for shelters, daycares and food banks.
Early on, she highlighted staggering youth statistics about how 1 in 5 16-24 year olds are neither in school or working, 50% of whom are people of color and 75% are low-income. The food service industry in Seattle has an uncommonly diverse hiring practice compared to other industries, offering opportunities to people with a criminal record, immigrants, and the homeless, who would otherwise not have a chance to receive training or get a job in other industries.
What matters less is your background and more if you can do the job well.
Through their Youth culinary program, Adult culinary program, and Food service apprenticeship program FareStart is looking to help youth and adults alike to not only do their job well, but equip them to be able to advance their careers through job training and both technical and soft skill development.
One notable observation she shared was that people may come to FareStart without any knowledge on how to use a computer. Imagine getting a job without that skill. What’s more, FareStart connects participants with resources that often impede one’s ability to work, including a bus pass, housing, childcare assistance, and mental health and drug counseling. What struck me was not only the healthy number of job placements (92% graduate with a job already lined up), but also the 20% average gain in wage from FareStart’s efforts to help people move up from entry-level into a middle management position.
The event attendees then broke up into groups to discuss a range of topics connected to poverty including child development and education; poverty prevention; immigration and poverty; mental health issues leading to poverty; and the impact of mentorship.
A connecting thread throughout the groups was the idea that a lack of life skills education and lack of support system are key factors for falling into poverty. As one attendee said, “A major contributor to poverty seems to be a lack of knowledge about basic life skills, finances, and what steps to take to achieve more education and/or a good job.”
Another person took it further actually suggesting changes that needed to be made, saying “Education needs to be reformed to impart practical knowledge like debt management, tax filings, and ways to be frugal.”
As for lack of a support system, participants spoke about how some people move to this city or country without family, seeking a new life or new employment. When they do not find employment or the services they need right away they often find themselves on the streets, in shelters or couchsurfing.
Another common theme that came up among the group discussions was just how many issues fall under the scope of poverty. An attendee said that “the group discussions have given me a broader understanding of how diverse poverty is and the fact that it takes on many shapes.”
Poverty is not just about having a low income or not having housing. It also includes lack of access to things like affordable food, childcare and healthcare, as well as a quality education, mental health services and much, much more.
It was an insightful afternoon that shed light on the community’s opportunity and responsibility to help its own succeed. From the moment people walked off the elevator it was apparent people came to the event eager to learn about nonprofits helping those in poverty, resources available to those who were impoverished and to make a difference. As one attendee said “We all have a vision to help. Finding ways to encourage people to get involved is the first step to solving issues or overcoming obstacles in the community.” And sharing that passion, knowledge and that vision is exactly what happened.