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Progress Village Advocates for Poor in Northern Michigan

Low-income families look to give back to community

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Maureen Robinson was at the Garfield Township Hall in Traverse City on December 8 because she wants to give back to her community.

Maureen Robinson is now giving back to her community through Progress Village.

Mrs. Robinson, of Mancelona, recalls how, at age 22, she was a single mother raising three boys in Northern Michigan and facing the difficult reality of providing for her family in a rural region with few economic opportunities. But after getting involved in the Traverse Bay Poverty Reduction Initiative (PRI), she’s learned first-hand that there is a way out of poverty, and she’s now advocating for others who find themselves in the same financial straits.

“I did struggle with those (financial) issues…. it was very hard for me,” she said. “I think one of the most challenging things is finding employment with a living wage, and getting the courage to go beyond what is comfortable and what is safe.”

Mrs. Robinson’s road to giving back has led her to an exciting new grass roots advocacy group in Northern Michigan called Progress Village. The band of Northern Michigan residents are mostly low-income families who are advocating on behalf of other low-income residents in Northern Michigan. Last week, they held a seminar in Garfield Township, meeting with social workers and others who deal with those in poverty on a regular basis to talk about communicating and supporting those who need a helping hand.

“We want to help other people understand poverty so we can bridge the gap,” said Progress Village member La Fekken of Traverse City. “Our number one message is don’t judge people. It’s all about getting people the help they need.”

Ranae McCauley is a program instructor at the Michigan State University Extension office in Kalkaska and a driving force behind Progress Village. She described Progress Village as “a group of people living in the war zone of poverty and who are alumni of the Poverty Reduction Initiative’s Opportunity Conference.

“It is an authentic leadership group, and we want to be a part of the solution,” Mrs. McCauley said. “We have what it takes, and we want to start today. We don’t ask for income guidelines to join. We are looking for people who are motivated to make change.”

The next item on Progress Village’s agenda is increasing voter turnout for low-income residents in Northern Michigan.

“We have a lot of people in poverty who don’t vote, and I think our politicians frankly know that they don’t vote,” Mrs. McCauley said. “They are invisible. So we are working with them to become their own advocates.”

Donna Beegle, a national expert on poverty, offered praise this week for Progress Village of Northern Michigan, which involves low income residents advocating for other low income residents in the region.

Donna Beegle, a national expert on poverty, likes what she sees when it comes to Progress Village and the efforts of PRI.

“When community members reach out and become navigators and get to know people, showing them possibilities and connecting them to resources, it builds up hope,” she said.

The Michigan Land Use Institute also likes what it sees, and we commend Progress Village and its members for their courage. MLUI also commends PRI in its continuing mission to eliminate poverty in our region.

MLUI, in its own policy work, believes a huge step in the right direction in this regard will be working with the Grand Vision to think ahead, long-term, about how we shape our communities. We outlined our strategy for helping low-income families in our 2011 report, Families on the Edge: Designing Communities That Work.

The report found that with some thought about how we shape our communities, we can greatly reduce family expenditures on transportation, energy, housing and food.

We look forward to working with Progress Village and PRI in the future to address all these issues because, when we come together as one, we can do great things for our most vulnerable citizens.

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