Poverty talk in Longview yields call for volunteers
Nov. 17, 2015 at 11:23 p.m.
Poverty's many symptoms create multiple battlefronts and call for even more volunteers.
That was one takeaway from a meeting Tuesday night where some of the 500 people who attended a Longview poverty awareness symposium last month got together to discuss what comes next.
"It's like a lot of y'all said, 'We've got to stop talking,'" B'Ann Boiles, director of Boys & Girls Club of Gregg County, said near the end of discussion prompted by the Poverty Conference on Oct. 15.
Boiles, whose nonprofit agency provides a safe, after-school base for children, said those young people are not the only ones who need healthy mentors to stave off poverty.
"My parents — my parents need education as much as their children," she told about 50 people packed in the Junior League of Longview meeting room. "You've heard everybody up here say that volunteers are what's needed. So badly, desperately, we need volunteers."
The request for volunteers even included a call for anyone — "the grandmas," as several speakers put it — who can help identify community members in areas of dense poverty.
"You've got to find that grandma that knows everything about the block," Kevin Marshall said.
The Gregg County veterans service officer said he grew up in Longview and returned a couple of years ago — combined spans of time to give him perspective on the ebbs and flows of good works.
"There's got to be consistency," he said. "Talk is good, but there's got to be consistency."
Local attorney Mike Lewis stressed that grassroots efforts are needed to curb poverty in Longview.
"And it's really going to be us," he said. "It's not going to be government."
One woman recalled the neighborhood effort that removed a building at Nelson and Center streets that was a hub for the crack epidemic in the 1990s. It was replaced with what now is the Stamper Park Resource Center.
"That's still a vital place," she said. "So, it can be done."
Junior League President-elect Kristen Ishihara, who also is a city councilwoman, said she was concerned about losing momentum generated by the Poverty Conference. People there had seemed moved by speaker Geoffrey Canada, a founder of the Harlem Children's Zone, a nonprofit organization that's addressed poverty in its New York neighborhood for three decades.
"We need to be bold and want to take that first step," she said. "None of us know what that first step will look like, but we need to take it."
Some at the meeting advocated for the designation of an umbrella organization to gather volunteers and funnel them to programs and nonprofit groups that best suit each person who steps up. Nothing was decided on that score, but the Greater Longview United Way and Buckner Children and Family Services were mentioned.
So was a 14-year-old boy who teacher and Councilwoman Nona Snoddy said approached her two nights ago seeking a place for the night.
"I didn't have a church or anyone I could call to try to find a place where this child could be safe and secure," she said, adding that she dropped him off at an apartment complex where he said he has a relative — and that was after an uncle had turned her away at the door.
That prompted Boiles to renew her call for volunteers.
"We have those kids," she said, referring to the homeless boy who went to Snoddy. "On the other hand, there are good men, but I don't know where they are on Saturday when we need them. Our middle school and high school kids are growing, and we're trying to keep this 14-year-old ... in the club."
Habitat for Humanity member Lori Weatherford, who also is a Kilgore councilwoman, took notes throughout Tuesday's two-hour meeting. She said she was getting ideas for "a cooperative effort" she will take to the Habitat board of directors, but added that her takeaway from the meeting was about partnerships.
"We have the capability," she said. "We just need to coordinate, and it seems like we're at that precipice of being able to move toward that collaborative effort. ... Please sign up, in some capacity, to help move the ball forward."
Ishihara left the meeting with the call for volunteers on her lips.
"It really is putting boots on the ground," she said. "So we can get something done."