Strategies for easing poverty in Niagara County are being discussed at a day-long conference at Niagara University.
More than 200 people were expected to attend the sixth annual Niagara County Poverty Conference today, which would be the largest turnout to date. This year’s theme is “Compassionate Communities: Where Do I Fit In?”
Christian Hoffman, director of communication at Community Missions of Niagara Frontier, has been involved in planning the event. Hoffman said the poverty rate in Niagara Falls is about 28 percent, while Niagara County’s rate is 18 to 20 percent.
“This is a solutions-focused conference, so we look outside of the area typically for what does work, what has worked [and] what new ideas are out there,” Hoffman said. “Then we’ll bring in facilitators that have made things work in other communities and we’ll explore what that might look like [if implemented in] Niagara County or Western New York in general.”
One individual credited for helping to make things work in a community is the conference’s keynote speaker, Mayor Walter Sendzik of St. Catharine’s, Ontario. Sendzik was expected to discuss his Compassionate City project.
“When he took office in St. Catharine’s, he had [numerous] meetings about these issues – poverty, mental illness, drug addiction – and what could be done to combat these issues in the surrounding areas,” Hoffman told WBFO. “His outcome was to be compassionate. By looking at your own support circle and comparing it to one of these individuals’ circles, there’s a difference. But you can change this by being compassionate, by showing care and taking action.”
Following Mayor Sendzik’s speech, a number of presentations will be made.
The afternoon session will feature breakout sessions for the business, education, government, healthcare, and other communities. During these group discussions, attendees will talk about how their sectors might integrate some concepts discussed in the morning sessions.
“We really focused on this conference to be for the providers for the facilitators to really understand what is going on and what can be done specifically to help those in poverty or dealing with mental illness or any number of other things,” Hoffman said.
Working with individuals who face hardships can be difficult work, Hoffman noted. But he believes the annual conference helps to remind people why they chose to work in this field.
“Those of us that work day-to-day in dealing with really difficult subjects like with poverty or mental illness or substance abuse can get bogged down in the day-to-day operations,” Hoffman said. “To really come out of that and see some other people that are working and have similar experience day-to-day but then also see the hope of positive things that are taking place other places can be really positive -- not just for those workers that are going to be attending -- but everyone who is dealing with some of these issues.”