For the past 16 months, a diverse group of central Iowans have rallied their support around the OpportUNITY initiative. Their audacious goal is to elevate 20,000 central Iowans out of poverty. Poverty is a niche game; for the hundreds of people struggling financially, there are hundreds of reasons why.

We know that central Iowans can work together to elevate their neighbors out of poverty. Poverty is more than a lack of money; it's a lack of hope.

OpportUNITY 2015 Recap

In November 2015, OpportUNITY convened with 125 business leaders, philanthropists, nonprofits, government leaders, schools, and 30 of our neighbors who are experiencing poverty first hand. The meeting worked to build our understanding of those hundreds of reasons and what actions can be taken to address them.

Iowans in Poverty

First, we looked at the numbers. About 195,000 central Iowans—35.3% of the total population of Polk, Dallas, and War­ren counties—do not earn enough to be self-sufficient. 64,235 (12%) live below the federal poverty level—only $11,670 a year, or $973 a month, for an individual.

Des Moines Pride

Those statistics are unacceptable in a community that has received so many top rankings, such as the #1 Best City for Young Professionals (Forbes), #3 Top City for New College Grads (SmartAsset), #1 Best Up-and-Coming City for Foodies (Women’s Health), #2 Best City to Find a Job (Wallethub) and the #1 Metro with the Most Community Pride (Gallup). Furthermore, our metro’s GDP growth outpaces that of many of our Midwestern peers. Our economy is strong, and it's time that everyone shares in the positive momentum.

Plans for Improvement

Summit attendees reviewed the Central Iowa Community OpportUNITY Plan—a game plan created to help 20,000 of our neighbors rise out of poverty. The plan was created by community leaders, volunteers, and those experiencing poverty themselves. It encourages action within four key areas:

Education and Workforce Readiness: Ensure all children and adults are prepared for central Iowa jobs.

Affordable and Available Housing, Transportation, and Food: Secure more affordable housing for low-income people, improve transportation to jobs, and improve accessibility to affordable, nutritious food.

System Change: Advocate for public policy changes, such as the “cliff effect,” in which low-income workers suffer a catastrophic loss of public benefits when they reach a certain income.

Refugees: Ensure Iowa’s growing refugee population is welcomed and each individual and family has adequate resources to succeed in their new home.

Taking Action + Making a Difference

Our community is already making great strides through promising collaboration, and now is the time to capitalize on such great momentum! These local organizations are stepping up and taking action.

The Housing Tomorrow Plan and Viva East Bank are working together to improve access to affordable, safe homes and a new Centralized Intake System to help connect homeless individuals and families with appropriate shelters as soon as possible.

DART Forward 2035 is working to improve public transportation from where people live to where they work.

Hunger-Free Polk County will improve access to food for more than 54,000 Polk County residents who are food insecure.

Central Iowa already has the pieces in place needed to bring solutions to scale, thanks to the collaborative spirit of our communities. United Way of Central Iowa has agreed to coordinate this community-wide action on behalf of countless partners.

We CAN reduce poverty in central Iowa.

Poverty should not be a permanent condition. At the OpportUNITY Summit, central Iowa’s leading nonprofits, companies, government entities, and faith-based organizations signed a pledge and stated their commitment to the goal of helping 20,000 individuals escape poverty. They know that if everyone works together, they will be far more effective than any one group will be on its own. Collectively, we CAN reduce poverty in central Iowa!

Central Iowa can be the first region in America to reduce poverty at this scale. We call on all central Iowans to read the OpportUNITY Plan and commit to creating change, large or small, to reduce poverty in our community. Let's set an example for the rest of the world.

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Mary Bontrager, Executive Vice President, Greater Des Moines Partnership
Robert Brownell, Polk County Board of Supervisors
Marvin DeJear, Director, Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families
Angie Dethlefs-Trettin, Vice President, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines
Mary Sellers, President, United Way of Central Iowa

TAGS: Income, Advocate, Essential Needs, Financial Stability

Andy TeBockhorst

About The Author: Andy TeBockhorst