About 20 people came out Tuesday for the second of four community focus groups hosted by Sedalia-Pettis County United Way, with the topic of the evening focusing on income stability.
Tuesday’s event follows last week’s focus group focused on education, and all the planned focus groups are an effort by SPCUW to move from a “community chest to a change agent.”
Those in attendance — about one-third were also at the first event — discussed some of the same questions as attendees last week, but the questions were now geared toward income stability in the community: What do we want our community to look like? What are the two or three most important concerns? What do we want income stability to look like? What is our responsibility in that?
Much like the education discussion, several of the same problems and solutions were mentioned by the three small groups. When asked to name two or three top concerns, affordable housing that meets standards graced two lists and employment availability for all skill levels with the opportunity to make a living wage also made two lists.
A group comprised of Sherelene Cripe, Jack Menges, Deidre Esquivel, Laura Wallen, Lorraine Neider and Debbie Busker discussed education and housing the majority of the time, and they seemed to come back to the same question each time: “How do you get people to take ownership in their community?”
“We deal with people who come from Chicago because they hear this is a good place to get help,” said Menges, Executive Director at Open Door Ministries. “They tell us outright, that’s why they came here. … We have this reputation and how do we (change it)?”
Everyone also worked to find possible solutions, or at least a place to start, when it came to the responsibility question, and several groups agreed it has to start with realizing what Sedalia already has to offer.
“In order to change our weaknesses, we have to recognize our strengths,” said Esquivel, SPCUW board president, echoing a statement from Menges.
“Everyone knows about the bad housing, but we need to know about the good housing,” Menges said. “When they come to us and say ‘this is how much I can spend,’ this is where we end up sending them, to these people we’ve been talking about. How do we get to a point where we’ve got something that can compete with this? We need to know where are some good housing opportunities.”
Many of the same answers came up multiple times throughout the night, which seemed to show most community members see the same problems, and that these focus groups are now trying to find the answers.
“It struck me how much overlap there was at the different tables,” Chris Stewart, SPCUW board member and facilitator for the focus group, told the Democrat after the event. “I was pleased to see that. It definitely shows that when it comes to it we have a consensus on what the issues are.”
While the events are open to anyone, many of the same people attended the education and income stability focus groups, and several were SPCUW board members. Stewart noted she and Executive Director Linda Kirk are trying to encourage more people to attend.
“We want more race, ethnicity and income diversity,” she said. “We tried for this one, and we’ve had several people here say they’ll help spread the word for the other focus groups. We’re hoping to create some better diversity next time.”
SPCUW will host two more focus groups this summer: Safety Net Services, July 8; and Health, July 15. Each event is from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Fox Theater Event Center, and refreshments are provided. RSVPs are requested at least four days prior to the event by calling 826-2980 or by emailing email@example.com.