Event aims to raise poverty awareness



A special program coming to Hays next week will enable residents to get a closer look at the struggles of poverty.

"A Poverty Experience," sponsored by Kansas Head Start Association, Early Childhood Connections and Sunflower Bank, is part of a statewide financial literacy initiative.

The event will share real-life stories and take participants through a simulated exercise to help them understand how poverty could affect their families, said Peggy Kelly with the Kansas Head Start Association.

"One of the goals of Head Start is to help people move out of poverty," Kelly said. "We felt it was important to give (the community) some sense of the situation that people are living with and dealing with so they can be coming from a perspective of understanding and then helping people move forward."

The event, presented by Lucas Moody with the Augusta-based Mid-Kansas Community Action Program, will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hays Recreation Center, 1105 Canterbury. Seating is limited; those who want to make a reservation should call (785) 623-2430.

The goal is to increase community awareness about the issue of poverty, which sometimes is stigmatized based on media images or thought to be more of an inner-city issue, Moody said.

"Poverty is so different from something you're going to see in downtown St. Louis compared to small-town Kansas," he said. "We're educating on the fact poverty has many different faces, and it's not just typically what you see or hear in the news.

"It may not be you're walking over a homeless person in the street, but we have families doubled and tripled up. Are we counting those families as homeless?"

Recent estimates from Head Start suggest 14 percent of the general population and 13.4 percent of children are living below 100-percent of the federal poverty level in Ellis County.

The financial literacy initiative also will include Money Smart, a financial education program, for Head Start families. The state initiative is in a pilot phase starting in four communities: Hays, Wellington, Hiawatha and Holton.

Because Head Start services are income-based, the organization works with many families who are fighting poverty. Circumstances for each family differ greatly, said Terry Wilson, a coordinator with Early Childhood Connections in Hays.

"There's two different kinds, generational and situational poverty," Wilson said. "Generational is if they've been in poverty for two or more generations, and situational would be medical, loss of jobs, going back to school. And we see a lot of that in this area."