Delivery of services focus of Falls poverty conference

Paul Battson/contributorNicole Tzetzo, VP of Administration & Finance for the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, addresses attendees at the fifth annual Niagara County Poverty Conference – Interrupting Poverty. The foundation awards grants to organizations in Western New York and Southeastern Michigan. The conference was sponsored by the Niagara County Coalition for Services to the Homeless.

The Niagara County Poverty Conference drew the largest number of attendees in the event's five-year history on Friday, when multiple stakeholders convened at the Doris Jones Resource Building on Ninth Street to explore this year's theme, "interrupting poverty."

The conference featured 180 attendees with local leaders and officials from outside the community in discussion about addressing impoverishment with particular focus on how the behavioral health sciences can inform strategies.

Christian Hoffman, communications and development manager for the service agency, Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier, also served as the co-chair of the conference. He said the event was meant to elevate possible action, rather than simply recount the affect of poverty on the community.

"We really try to focus as a solution based approach," Hoffman said, not just a presentation of "awful statistics about poverty."

One of those approaches was pioneered by Ideas 42, a non-profit behavioral design firm based in New York City. The local conference took its theme "interrupting poverty" from the organization, which has advanced ideas on how to improve outreach and efficiency in the human services currently serving those in poverty.

"Advocating for a behavioral approach to poverty alleviation is not equivalent to suggesting that people in poverty should simply behave differently. In fact, we reject both the false rhetoric of a 'culture of poverty' and the myth that to escape poverty, people just need to 'pull themselves up by their bootstraps' and try harder. Instead, we contend that the burden of change rests primarily with the individuals and organizations who have the power to design programs and systems in ways that take universal human tendencies into account," the firm wrote in a research paper discussed Friday.

Anthony Barrows and Julie Chambers from Ideas42 presented their findings and ideas at the event.

Hoffman likened to an opt-in versus opt-out approach to retirement savings, an example discussed in Ideas42's work. By enrolling employees in a retirement program, and giving them the choice to opt-out instead of the other way around, program participation increased by 50 percent.

“Each year, the conference committee looks to bring in new and interesting ideas from other areas of the region or country, and introduce them to the agencies, organizations and community members that attend the event,” Hoffman said. “This year is no different, as we are excited to discuss what small tweaks in existing services can make big differences to individuals and families struggling to get by.”

The all-day conference also featured local leaders who are addressing those in need, including:

• Sister Beth Brosmer, executive director of Heart Love and Soul, whose DayBreak program is building a "one-stop" shop and "single point of entry" for those in need who do not yet have access to available services;

• Adam Bartoszek, volunteer center program manager for Project Connect Niagara, is another organization that seeks to streamline the about 70 human service providers in the city of Niagara Falls, making them more accessible to disadvantaged individuals and

• Natalie Beilein, founder of the Western New York Career Pathway Alliance, which educates local students on career options and the ways to attain them. 

In addition, the Falls Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo presented on the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative, a local $1.5 million grant to address disadvantaged populations, a plan that is being developed among local committees over the next year.

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