Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Leadership Austin Engage Breakfast - Poverty in Central Texas

January is "Poverty Awareness Month", and while not the cheeriest of topics to launch into the new year, it is worthy of our attention.

This morning's Leadership Austin Engage Breakfast Series hosted a panel discussion on the topic of Poverty in Central Texas at Chez Zee Restaurant. Panel moderator Jim Walker and panelists Frances Deviney (Director of Texas Kids Count) and Dan Pruett (Executive Director of Meals on Wheels and More) addressed the issues facing the poor in our region.

There is not enough talk in Austin about poverty. As a community we place much of our focus on music, arts, health and lifestyle. While these are the good things that make Austin, Texas one of the coolest cities in the world, we sometimes forget about those who are in the shadows of our society. A truly GREAT city is judged on how it treats its young, old, sick and poor.

Austin ranks near the bottom when it comes to money donated to charitable causes based on a per capita basis. 48th of the 50 largest cities in America (I have heard that our ranking is rising, but still in the bottom third). This is not acceptable for a growth oriented community that prides itself on a powerful entrepreneurial spirit.

Texas is a state with very low taxes, but that also means we have very low spending on programs to help those in need. We are the 2nd fastest growing state in the country, which means that more people are coming to our region who will need more services. Federal and state programs come up short as they focus on those living under the "official" poverty level (which is way way low income levels). But there are many people who do not qualify for government assistance, yet still need help.

We have amazing non-profit organizations in Central Texas, but if the current economic conditions worsen, there will be more people in need. As a community we need to be proactive in providing the safety nets for our fellow citizens.

Often those who work in the business community do not see poverty first hand, so they assume it is not a major problem in our region. But it is. Poverty is not just a numbers game on some government chart, instead it is a state of being for real families who live and work close to us.

As you plan your new years resolutions and goals, have you looked toward giving back as one of the items on your "To Do List"? Make a commitment to philanthropy in your community (regardless of what city you live in, there is need all around you). If you do not know where to start with giving back in Central Texas, check out "I Live Here, I Give Here" or send me an email and I will help you find other sources.

You can also join the Some Assembly Required - Philanthropy Discussion Group on LinkedIn.

Thank you to Leadership Austin for a great program. If you are not familiar with the Engage Breakfast Series, each month they bring together a panel of experts and address the pressing issues of our community.

Have A Great Day.