Launch of new One-to-One program starts the clock to reduce child poverty

'This is not business as usual'

CINCINNATI -- The Child Poverty Collaborative on Tuesday introduced the 28 local agencies that will start working with families immediately to reduce Cincinnati’s child poverty rate.

The group’s ambitious goal is to help 10,000 children and 5,000 families lift themselves out of poverty in the next five years. And with Tuesday’s launch of the One-to-One Learning Collaborative, the clock starts now, said Ross Meyer, vice president for community impact at United Way of Greater Cincinnati.

“Now with One-to-One, we can measure the impact and hold ourselves accountable to what’s working,” he said.

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The One-to-One program is designed for the agencies to work together and share information about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to helping families on their paths out of poverty.

The goal is for the families to set their goals and determine what they need to get there rather than there being a one-size-fits-all approach, said Michael Fisher, CEO of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and a co-chair of the Child Poverty Collaborative.

“This is not business as usual,” Fisher said. “For us to share, for us to not compete, for us to put the family at the center and help them co-create these solutions. We believe it can work.”

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley echoed that sentiment.

“We will succeed,” he said. “I don’t mean that every single person will get out of poverty. I mean we will help co-create a plan to get them on the path within five years.”

If that can happen for 10,000 children and 5,000 families, Cranley said, “This would be the largest, single poverty-reduction effort anywhere in the country that is being reported out on a regular basis.”

The key to success, Meyer said, will be for the participating agencies to work together, share information and not be afraid to fail, admit to failing and learn from it.

“If we don’t have that level of trust and transparency, we won’t be able to do it, and we’ll just get more of the same,” he said.

For the agencies at the forefront of the work, the key to success will be meeting families where they are and not judging them, said Rachel Smith, a block captain for Healthy Homes: Block by Block, one of the 28 agencies.

Smith talked about how an old, felony conviction prevented her for years from getting a job to support herself and her children. She knows how it feels for social service organizations and government agencies to assume they have the answers without truly listening to what families need or to make judgments without knowing the full story, she said.

“Regular systems might view a family as living in poverty,” Smith said. “But if you ask them, they’re not. They’re rich in family. They’re rich in religion. They’re not necessarily poor.”

Shellie McLellan, left, and Rachel Smith.

Building trust from the beginning will be crucial, added Chellie McClellan, who leads Healthy Homes: Block by Block.

“If the first thing they need, if that need is not met, you lose credibility,” she said. “If you come in with an agenda right off the bat, they’re like, ‘you’re working for them and not for us.’”

The goal is to have 500 families enrolled in the One-to-One program within the next 18 months, Meyer said.

As the agencies begin that work, the Child Poverty Collaborative will continue its other efforts aimed at working with local companies to create more opportunities and stability for entry-level employees and to change policies that are making it more difficult for families in poverty to get ahead.

“Any one of those alone, if we don’t make enough progress, the impact won’t be sufficient,” Meyer said. “That’s the biggest risk.”

More information about the Child Poverty Collaborative is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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