Leonard Brock, director of the Rochester-Monroe County Anti-Poverty Initiative, says he knows there's a risk that people will lose patience with the effort, even though he's warned since the group's 2015 beginning that it will be a long haul.
"I hear all the time in the community, which is interesting, 'Leonard, what are you doing with the $500 million?'" Brock says. "I think some of the impatience comes because people just assume I'm sitting on money that we haven't done anything with yet. They have the wrong impression."
The state awarded Upstate New York $500 million in late 2015, but that's for projects and initiatives over the entire Finger Lakes area. It's unclear how much will go to the anti-poverty group's work, but certainly nowhere near $500 million.
The group is getting ready to start its first program, and Brock says he hopes that helps convince the community that the initiative is hard at work.
An adult mentoring program will get underway in the group's three pilot neighborhoods: Beechwood, Marketview Heights, and EMMA (East Main, Mustard, and Atlantic Avenue) before the end of the year. To shake out any bugs, it will start with about 25 families, and quickly move to its stated goal of serving 300 families, Brock says.
"People have to see that we're doing something," he says. "They have to see that families are being impacted. We have to get going."
The anti-poverty group's overall goal is to cut poverty in Rochester in half over 15 years.
The mentors will help the working poor overcome barriers to employment such as lack of child care or transportation, help them find living-wage jobs, and then provide coaching to help them keep the job. The mentoring relationship will last as long as the family needs it, Brock says.
"It's kind of hard to predict, but we're willing and able to spend as much time as needed to help the family move toward self-sufficiency," he says.
The mentors, who will likely have backgrounds in human services or education, will also help underemployed people find better jobs, he says.
The group is recruiting families with the help of neighborhood groups, churches, barbershops, and other people and organizations, he says.
The anti-poverty group is working with the Catholic Family Center, Action for a Better Community, and Community Place on the mentoring program. The latter two groups are hiring the mentors and working on other aspects of that part of the program, while the Catholic Family Center is building a peer mentoring network, Brock says.
The two years and three months of the mentoring program will cost about $2.9 million, he says. The anti-poverty group has $1.5 million from the state, and the rest from private donors, including Wegmans and ESL.
It's important for people to understand that this initiative isn't about one group fighting poverty, Brock says. It's about people and organizations coming together to better use resources to improve the lives of the working poor, and that lifts up the entire community, he says.