Friday, September 11, 2009

Citizens League Action Group: Poverty

For the second installment about the Citizens League Action Groups, I'm excited to feature guest blogger, Meredith Salmi. Meredith and I first met while organizing non-partisan legislative candidate forums in Dakota County during the 2008 elections. Meredith is a 25-year-old Minneapolitan who works in public policy at Arc Greater Twin Cities. She is also co-chair of the Citizens League’s Poverty Action Group and shares her insights into poverty and her experience of civic engagement below. 
This past January a group of twenty or so of us young(er) adults looked across the table at each other with one single passion:  Poverty. We didn’t necessarily agree on what causes people get in or out of poverty or even the definition of poverty, but what we agreed upon is that we wanted to make an impact, however small, on the lives of Minnesotans in poverty. In the coming months, our meetings dwindled in attendees and grew in the number of reasons people live in poverty, but the theme of food access seemed to be a constant interest of the group’s.
We came up with a purpose statement to guide our work:  The Poverty Action Group is working towards reducing food disparities as a medium to empowerment in lower-income communities. With our purpose statement in mind, we set up many one-to-one meetings with leaders in food access in the Twin Cities to get an idea of how our group could make an impact. Turns out, trying to make a difference is a tough nut to crack.
One thing that I (and many other people) have noticed about our generation is that we like instant gratification. We text fast, we like our food fast, and gosh darnit, systems changes better be fast too. Our group had a commitment to work through this fall which, as we looked at creating a project on our own, seemed unreasonable. These things take years…people dedicate their lives to systems change. So we decided to latch on to something someone was already doing—give them the people power that they might be lacking.
So after another round of community interviews, we got connected with NorthPoint in North Minneapolis, a health and human services center. NorthPoint is one organization of many who are part of a grant to examine and make a difference in the health disparities on the Northside. NorthPoint’s role is to ask Northside residents how they get their fruits and vegetable and what produce they’d like to see accessible on the Northside. Our group has surveyed Northside residents at various community events about their healthy food access and will have the chance to assist in holding focus groups with Northside youth.
Although our project is short-lived and might not create the systems change that we had dreamed about back in January, my involvement has given me many benefits. Probably the most important is that I feel more connected to my community. I was able to take time with my neighbors on the Northside just by surveying them on their daily lives. I also feel engaged in the food policy occurring in my city and my state, something that does not intersect with my typical policy interests. For example, I’ve become educated on Homegrown Minneapolis and have been examining our zoning policies around farmers’ markets and home gardens. Our group will be done this fall with our project with NorthPoint, but we’ve already been braintstorming some ideas of how to stay connected—and maybe debunk the idea that young adults only stick around for the short-term.

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