“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”

Bryan Stevenson, attorney and founder, Equal Justice Initiative


 Ours is a community of great opportunity. Unfortunately, 35 out of every 100 central Iowans live in poverty.

Over the past year, community members have come together to develop and refine a Central Iowa OpportUNITY Community Plan to take action against poverty in central Iowa. The plan's goal is to have a realistic game plan of actions, big and small, that can bring financial stability and prosperity to the one-third of central Iowans who live in or near poverty.

OpportUNITY begin in June 2014, when over 100 community members came togeth­er to learn about the great attributes and challenges of our community and the concerns people have about poverty in central Iowa. The group represented four sectors in equal numbers: business leaders and philan­thropists, government and school leaders, non-profit and faith leaders, and community members who have lived with the stresses of poverty. This last group provided tangible and real-life accounts of the struggles of living in poverty.

This was the beginning of a journey that has brought us to the development of the Central Iowa OpportUNITY Community Plan. The overarching message of the plan is that we CAN bring prosperity to all if we work together. Over 1,000 individuals and 200 organizations and businesses have signed on to support OpportUNITY, an affirmation that this is important and needed work in our community.

This community plan is designed to inform, inspire and encourage action to help central Iowans move out of poverty. The overall goal of OpportUNITY is to increase the percentage of people who are financially self-sufficient from 64.7% in 2013 to 75% in 2020. (American Community Survey Poverty Thresholds, 2013)

The plan focuses on four community priorities and includes action steps and measures for each.

  1. Education:
  • Early Childhood-Grade 12: Support investments in education and literacy efforts; increase access for children to educational opportunities and parental engagement in their child’s education; and increase out-of-school academic opportunities.
  • Adult Education and Employment Readiness: Increase access and opportunities for adults in all demographic groups to earn a high school or equivalency diploma and engage in post-secondary education or job training.
  1. Transportation, Homelessness and Housing: Secure more affordable housing and reduce homelessness; provide easy access to low-cost transportation so central Iowans can get to work and school.
  2. Change: Individual, Place Based, and System Change (New Iowans, Cliff Effect): Encourage individuals to get to know and appreciate neighbors and other community members; develop an equitable approach to address poverty based upon need as determined by zip code; address policy issues such as the cliff effect, and support refugees and immigrants coming to live and work in Iowa.
  3. Food Insecurity: In food-insecure households, access to food is limited by a lack of money or other resources. For families to thrive in our community, healthy and nutritious food needs to be accessible and affordable.

United Way of Central Iowa has led this work with the support of many people and organizations. With the OpportUNITY plan in place that outlines the work over the next 15 months, we have a roadmap for continuing this journey toward poverty reduction. However, it will take the passion and effort of many to reach our destination.

Learn more about OpportUNITY

Dr. Helene Fein

About The Author: Dr. Helene Fein

Dr. Helene Fein is the former director of community impact services for United Way of Central Iowa.