Horizons: Partnerships key to fighting poverty

This article originally appeared in the Pine City Pioneer on September 23rd and was written by Judy Lawhon…

Partnerships are what it will take for the Horizons program to make an impact on poverty. That’s the message that VISTA volunteer Sean Stevens conveys repeatedly as he talks about Horizons goals and projects.

Stevens’ position is a partnership between Horizons and the city of Pine City. He said this shared position is innovative for Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) which is a national service program designed specifically to fight poverty. Most times, the positions involve organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or literacy programs (such as at Pine City Elementary). Stevens said Pine City has been very proactive in including Horizons goals for lowering poverty levels in the area in its comprehensive plan.

Stevens comes to Pine City with extensive experience in doing community service, helping cities with economic development and working with small businesses. He was a VISTA volunteer in Boise, Idaho where he helped the city navigate economic difficulties. When he and his wife decided to move back to Minnesota with their children, he said the opportunity to come to work in Pine City provided an opportunity to use his background and knowledge to make a difference.

“You can always make money in private enterprises, but not always have the great opportunity to serve. This is an opportunity to get back into serving a small community,” he said.

Horizons is a program supported by the University of Minnesota Extension that involves leadership education, community discussion, visioning and action for rural communities to help eliminate poverty and encourage a positive future for the communities. Pine City area residents who are concerned about poverty issues in the area went through the visioning process and after extensive leadership training and setting goals, three work groups were established. These groups are Everything Pine City, Youth Looking Forward and People Helping People Prosper.

Pine City Horizons recently received $10,000 to help towards accomplishing their goals. The money was not available to the group until it had three work groups with each having different plans and one big work plan. The U of M Extension also required a fiscal agent for the funds. The requirement was a nonprofit organization to have the checking account and keep records of how the money was spent. Pine City’s Pregnancy Resource Center agreed to act as fiscal agent. They do not influence spending, only keep records of transactions.

Lezlie Sauter who works for Lakes and Pines, Inc. has been involved in the program since the start. She is now part of the Everything Pine City work group, along with Becky Schueller and Nathan Johnson, that is in the process of putting together a complete and comprehensive resource guide for Pine City residents. This includes kiosks that will be placed throughout the city with information, phone numbers, websites of places where people can receive assistance along with a place to post community events and other relevant information.

The group has also developed a spread sheet that will be updated yearly that includes resources available. “There is so much information and services available that people don’t know about,” said Sauter.

She said it’s been a struggle to complete all of the requirements to receive the $10,000. It’s been difficult and continues to be time intensive. “These are big ideas and a lot of work to be done by volunteers,” Sauter added.

Becky Maki is with the Youth Looking Forward work group. She said the group has three goals: after school programming; working with Kettle Kinship on mentoring; and facilitating clear communication about parent education opportunities. She sees partnerships and sharing resources as the key to successfully helping people. She sees the work group’s role to partner with the PTO, Early Childhood Coalition, Kettle Kinship, Pine Center for the Arts and Pine Tech as the only way to make the best use of resources.

“We are not in competition with anyone. We are taking the right track to be behind the scenes and pulling people together,” she emphasized.

Stevens said he is impressed with the level of activism and involvement of the people of Pine City. “People are so involved (in this community),” he said.

The community garden is one Horizons project that has been very successful. It is in its second season. Another Horizons initiative is participation in Angel Food Ministries, a program where food is available for purchase at approximately one-half of the cost in stores. Information about Angel Food is available at the Pregnancy Resource Center in the Pine Government Center.

Another goal is still in the planning stages. A store would be opened and clothing, sports equipment, appliances and other goods and services would be available for sale, trade or barter.

He said the Horizons group really thought about how poverty manifests itself and about how to create solutions. “It’s almost impossible to identify homeless and emergency housing needs in rural areas,” he said. “It’s difficult to understand how big the problem is in a rural area.”

For instance, he said there may be few resources in this city for victims of abuse and often it is extremely difficult for them to get to Hinckley or Cambridge for help. “What can Pine City do, who can we partner with?” he asked.

One way to bring awareness of resources available to Pine County residents is through Operation Community Connect. Horizons staff is hosting this event on Oct. 26 at the Lighthouse of the Pine City Evangelical Free Church. The community is invited. Organizations from throughout the area will be available to provide information about the services provided. Again, the word “partnerships” comes to mind—organizations working together in one location to help the community.

“People involved in Horizons realize that they can assist each other; they don’t have to tackle problems on their own. This is a good path to getting things done,” Stevens added.

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