Originally created 05/19/00

Residents take part in poverty forum



Ideas and opinions exchanged at an Augusta forum Thursday ultimately will reach national policy makers.

Nearly 100 people from 13 Augusta-area counties took part in the CSRA Economic Opportunity Authority's Dialogue on Poverty forum at downtown's Boat House Community Center.

Suggestions and recommendations gleaned from the discussions will be compiled and presented next week at a statewide forum in Macon.

In September, every state will present a final report at a national conference.

Augusta's EOA is one of nearly 1,000 community action agencies nationwide. These nonprofit, public organizations work to eliminate poverty locally through programs that include pre-kindergarten classes and job training initiatives.

"We're here to listen to what people have to say about transportation, welfare, employment with a living wage .ƒ.ƒ." said Gloria Lewis, EOA executive director. "We want to get some suggestions on ways we can combat poverty in the CSRA community."

Forum participants divided into groups of six to eight to share experiences with poverty and discuss possible solutions for the economically disadvantaged.

Juanita Wilkins recounted her childhood growing up in public housing projects of New York City. By age 20, she had amassed credit card debt and was trying to earn a living wage. Today, she volunteers at Beulah Grove Baptist Church's resource center to prevent others from making the same mistakes.

"Poverty has to do with a lot more than not having money," Ms. Wilkins said. "Sometimes poor choices cause us to be in poverty as well."

Unicetine Lewis expressed support for raising the minimum wage, saying $5.15 an hour is insufficient.

"The salary is not enough for the hard work people do," she said. "People should make enough money and have benefits so they can meet their needs and still have enough to educate themselves."

Similar issues were identified at the last national poverty forum, in 1996, said Louis Walters, EOA planning and evaluation director. He coordinated Thursday's forum.

Information compiled from discussion groups throughout the nation is expected to become available on the World Wide Web in coming months, officials said. The Web site address has not been released.

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.