Effort to curb poverty worth community’s involvement

The United Way of Bartholomew County has been working strategically for the past three years to help more local residents become self-sufficient.

Its focus has been on strengthening residents’ financial stability, bolstering education by at least one level and improving general health.

Now, it’s ramping up that strategy a bit with a new initiative, Pathways to Prosperity, which was unveiled during the agency’s March 7 annual meeting. The initiative’s purpose is to overcome generational poverty.

Pathways to Prosperity will involve the United Way working with a variety of community partners. Such collaboration can increase educational attainment and develop a stronger workforce in addition to curbing generational poverty, United Way President Mark Stewart said.

United Way is making a 15-year commitment to the cause, and the Cummins Foundation is providing a $100,000 grant for the first two years.

Currently, the county’s poverty rate is at 11.9 percent, which is below the state average of 14.5 percent. But those numbers do not begin to explain how deep the financial struggle is across Bartholomew County. More than 5,100 students in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, which is 43.7 percent of the student body across the Columbus-based district.

The number is similar for the Flat Rock-Hawcreek district based in Hope, with 371 students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, which is 44 percent.

While local statistics are not as dire as the 48.2 percent of Hoosier students who are eligible for lunch-price assistance, it will take an intense, united community commitment to make headway in helping more families cope with financial matters.

For some of these local families, putting food on the table at dinnertime can be a day-to-day challenge.

However, the ability to provide a clear pathway toward self-sufficiency for struggling families ultimately will help the community as a whole.