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City Begins Work on “Shared Prosperity” Anti-Poverty Plan

Sehvilla Mann

Ever since the City of Kalamazoo received a $70 million private donation last year, leaders have said they want to use some of the money to fight poverty – a major issue in a city where 36 percent of children are poor.

Those leaders have also said it would take a while to work out the details. On Monday commissioners got a start, with a three-hour discussion on how to move from ideas to concrete steps in the “Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo” initiative.

WMUK speaks with Kalamazoo Vice-Mayor and longtime antipoverty activist Don Cooney after Monday's meeting about the need for the program and how to begin building it. 

The city has said where it wants to focus: employment, families and children. Assistant City Manager Laura Lam says Kalamazoo wants people to have more access to jobs with good pay; to see families emerge from economic precariousness and to “promote the healthy growth, development and learning” of kids.

But moving from goals to actions will take more work. With the exception of a handful of summer youth programs that the city appears poised to expand, Kalamazoo is still putting flesh on most of the ideas tied to Shared Prosperity. Commissioners went back and forth Monday on Lam’s recommendation to hire a consultant for the project.

Lam told the board that a consultant would not take the place of community input. Instead, she said, that person would take the suggestions already made by the community and determine what was needed to make them happen.

For example, she said, many in the community have said they want to see support for local entrepreneurship. Rather than rush into an effort “that may not be the needed thing,” Lam says, a consultant could help the city act effectively.

The board does expect to consider on April 3 a proposal to bolster several summer programs for children and teens.

They include the Supervised Playground Program, which met at LaCrone Park in 2016 as a pilot and wants to expand to four sites; the All Things Possible Program, designed to help hold kids’ interest in school at an age when they sometimes begin to turn away from it; and the Summer Youth Employment Program, which gives teens summer jobs while introducing them to careers.

The parks department says it’s had room for around 115 kids in past years, many fewer than apply. With increased funding the program could go up to about 350 youth employed.

Vice-Mayor Cooney says he would be glad to see the program bring in more teens, and increase its offerings.

“We’re doing some innovative things this year around bringing them to career centers such as in Lawrence, in bringing them to college campuses, probably having a career fair at the end of the summer,” he says.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in January 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. Before that she covered a variety of topics, including environmental issues, for Bloomington, Indiana NPR and PBS affiliates WFIU and WTIU. She’s also written and produced stories for the Pacifica Network and WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Sehvilla holds a B.A. in French from Earlham College and an M.A. in journalism from Indiana University.
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