President’s Message: No One Aspires to Be Poor

Rene GellermanHow do we create pathways to opportunity without understanding the reality of those who experience poverty?

This is something we think about a lot: the fact that in the Quad Cities, there are about 116,000 people struggling to earn enough to meet their basic needs. This equates to roughly 33% of the population — or one in three people in Scott and Rock Island counties.

Contrary to common misconceptions, many of these folks are employed and doing their best to provide for their families, day by day. They are our coworkers, neighbors and even family members, and they care just as much as any of us about feeding their children, financing their way through college or career training, or looking after a sick relative. Despite their best efforts, they still need help to make their families financially sound.

I’ve yet to meet a person who aspires to be poor — still, there are so many factors that conspire to maintain poverty as a permanent condition.

Throughout my entire professional life, I’ve observed the political finger-pointing as our country and local community grapple with prioritizing possible solutions. Rare is it that people can be guilted or goaded into sustainable actions to help their neighbors or themselves. In other words, we cannot catalyze change by making people feel bad about their understanding of poverty or diminishing the efforts of those who are trying to overcome it.

We can, however, create change through compassion. Common solutions are created from compassion and the recognition that we all have some control over our destiny and the ability to mobilize and act on shared interests.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to poverty alleviation. But there are some tactics that just plain make sense.

If we shift our thinking and work differently, we can help more people change their lives and change the course of a generation. I absolutely believe that if we sharpen our understanding, we can inspire hope and align the people and systems designed to help on the things that matter. 

I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I believe we can start by prioritizing education and jobs. We need more people to enter the conversation and take an active role in helping more of our kids succeed in school and life and empower adults to utilize their talents in jobs that pay a wage that allows them to take care of their family. 

I hope you will join me. The craziest thing we can do is nothing.

With hope and gratitude,

Rene Gellerman
President & CEO
United Way Quad Cities