More than 120 people attended the inaugural Topeka Community Conversation on Poverty, held Wednesday in the Memorial Union at Washburn University.
Elected officials, City of Topeka administrators and more than 40 community organizations were represented among those gathered to discuss topics such as hunger, nutrition and access to healthy food, the impacts of poverty on public education, access to health care and job creation. A handful of current Washburn students were among the participants.
“Poverty is not a life sentence. It takes all of us to create solutions,” participant Mildred Edwards said during the lunch break.
It was with exactly that mentality that the TCCOP was initiated by the VISTA fellows program in Washburn’s Center for Community and Civic Engagement, also known as Learning in the Community (LinC). Heartland Visioning provided a sponsorship that allowed each registrant to bring someone else for free. Each of the discussion group facilitators also has received specific training through Heartland Visioning.
Acting LinC Director Kris Hart reminded those gathered Wednesday that: "What we do right now is our legacy."
Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast set the stage for the day by reminding participants: “We are a city that needs work. There are more hungry children in our community today than there were 50 years ago.”
Several other surprising facts were brought to light:
Following the un-conference model, participants themselves set the agenda by voting on the nuances of poverty that mattered most to them. Then, small groups discussed, debated and in some cases developed action-plans to bring forward ideas.
In the coming weeks, conversation organizers will prepare a written document that reflects the identified ideas, goals and action steps.
Breaking the cycle of poverty in our community starts with each of us. Keep the conversation going by joining the Facebook group. Organizers already are talking about hosting another event next year.