Friday, November 17, 2017

Reflections of From Poverty to Possibilities, Community

Guest Blogger: Lindsay Morgan Tracy, Vice President, Community Impact & Engagement 

During the From Poverty to Possibilities summit, I loved it when Anita, a Pierce County citizen who has gotten out of poverty, challenged us - - those who make up the system of nonprofits, government, service providers -- to look at service gaps. 

While Anita is now happily employed and has reached many of her dreams, she reminded the audience that the struggle continues as she loses eligibility for key benefits. This experience is known as the “benefits cliffs” describes what happens when public benefits programs phase down or out quickly, leading to an abrupt reduction or loss of benefits for families as household earnings increase, but have not increased enough for self-sufficiency to be reached.

We all talk about this cliff but who really is coalescing around this in our cities or county? This cliff incentivizes people to stay in the system. Many who are making the bare minimum wage are on government supports (which OUR tax dollars go to). 

On that vein of minimum wage –Mia Birdsong, our keynote speaker stated, “Our living wage is not a livable wage.” I know that calculating a living wage is not easy, nor is it apples to apples across our county or state. 

Yet in the 2017 Self-Sufficiency Standard stated that a single adult with a preschooler and a school-aged child in Pierce County needs to earn roughly $56,192 a year in order to meet their basic needs. This equates to $26.61 an hour.
This number does not take into consideration any debt or college loan that the adult brings into this family. This calculation also makes the assumption that they are saving $158/month. In fact, 39% of Americans have $0 saved in 2017. And let’s end this data-laden paragraph on a high note - - now 43% of Americans have $1000 or more set aside for an emergency which is up from 31% last year. Kudos!

As we all need to take ownership in the system that was handed to us…we also have the power to augment/dismantle the system and shift it for the good of the people.
Like me, you’ve all been in meetings where at least one person says, “That’s been tried.” But the question I have is “Where are the learnings” so we can keep trying and do it differently. Are the same people in the room or are there different skills sets and competencies?

We cannot start without answering specific questions. This aligns with the question that many tables asked at our event, “What is the definition of poverty? We cannot change it until we agree on this.” We can agree that things need to change and I know that the collective voice of the people in the room could move mountains. I know that the food banks or food justice organizations all came together to work differently with one another and that progress is being made in our county due to their difficult work.

In essence, who can hold all the collectives groups and people together and break down silos toward the good of our shared efforts? Do we need this? I’d love your thoughts as I feel we can make more than incremental change in our county - - I don’t feel it, I know it.

For more information or questions contact Lindsay at

Graphic:  Visual representation of the benefits cliff, Columbia University

Friday, November 3, 2017

Message of Hope

Guest Blogger, Dona Ponepinto, President & CEO, United Way of Pierce County

After 30 years in the United Way movement, I still wake up every day with a strong sense of purpose. Yes, the issues we are tackling seem insurmountable and the nearly daily dose of bad news is filled with pain and suffering. Fortunately, we live in a world where kindness and support dominates. I am continually filled with hope by the inspiring things humans do on a daily basis. An inspiring article in Forbes once that summed it up to a T.

These human gifts include but are not limited to these seemingly simple acts: Help, Empathize, Teach, Love, Persevere, Learn and Believe. 

Help comes in many forms from helping babysit a neighbor’s children so she can get to her job, opening doors for people with their arms full, giving up your seat so someone who is frail can rest comfortably on their commute.

Empathizing with someone means going beyond recognizing someone’s situation, it’s being able to imagine it yourself and therefore putting away judgement or criticism. 

Teach others a skill or even being a good example for others is a wonderful way to provide service. Reading to a child, showing a coworker a useful trick in a program—there are hundreds of ways to share knowledge-- knowing there is nothing in it for you. 

Love and building a culture of caring happens at home and in business. When people feel like they can engage openly and connect with compassion the difference can be felt.

Persevere and you can achieve nearly everything. I see hundreds of examples of perseverance every year-- from the single mom who was going nowhere who is now in college, working hard and eager to contribute to her community financially and through services to the family sleeping in a one-room apartment that are making plans to buy their first home.

Learn from your children, coaches and even mistakes. Be bold and open and curious about the world and don’t be afraid to think differently. It will open your mind, your heart and you will thrive.

Believe in change, goodness and a world of hope. If I didn’t believe in possibilities I would not have spent decades taking on tough challenges. I am so grateful to work with inspiring people and to see real and measurable change happen in our community. There will always be bad news but if we practice these activities, they become part of our daily lives.

And that is the best gift you can give during the season to yourself and to others.