Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mercer Students Lead on Anti-Poverty Initiatives

Mercer University students are not just learning about poverty - they're doing something about it. LEAP (Local Engagement Against Poverty), is a student-led initiative to address the needs of those living below the poverty line in Macon and Bibb County including educating and engaging Mercer students to commit to at least 10,000 hours of community service to support sustainable measures to reduce poverty in our community. Beginning today, and running through March 27th, Mercer Service Scholars will host the LEAP conference. A diverse schedule of events includes speakers, panel discussions, and a simulation, and a Day of Service on March 26th.  I hope that the Middle Georgia community will engage with these student leaders. There is no better time, and no better place.

Second only to Mississippi, 300,000 more Georgians fell into poverty between 2008-2009, a 20% increase that exceeded the national average. Children are disproportionately impacted by poverty because of the long term consequences for academic achievement, health and productivity, so it is important to note that even before this sharp increase, 25% of Georgia's children lived in poverty. Now, that number has no doubt grown. Now, nationally, 25% of children live in poverty, the most since the Great Depression.

In Bibb County, where I live, and where Mercer University's main campus is located, over 20% of residents live in poverty. 18.6% of households earn between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, the largest income group ; however, 14.3% of households, the second largest group, makes less that $10,000 annually. And, pay attention, we're talking about Bibb County, where there are pockets of wealth, especially in North Bibb. The City of Macon was ranked by Forbes Magazine as one of the ten most impoverished cities in the nation.

The verse in Matthew 26 that reads, in part, "the poor you shall always have among you" is not a commandment, and it's time we stopped treating it as such. There are proven interventions that can reduce poverty, and it is not only the right thing to do, it's what makes economic sense.

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