Conference raises poverty awareness in Utah

By By Edgar Zuniga Jr.

By Edgar Zuniga Jr.

One out of every 10 Utahns lives below the poverty line, according to Utah Issues — an alarming fact in a state where more than one out of every three individuals is a child.

U students, community members and nonprofit organizations — including Utah Issues, an organization aimed at improving the quality of life for residents — hosted the Urgency of Now Poverty Awareness Conference at the Fort Douglas Officer’s Club on Thursday to raise awareness about these facts.

“You have to organize events like these because they really do raise awareness and help,” said Jennifer Bauman, LEAP professor who organized the event. “There is power in numbers, and the conference was successful in bringing people together and sharing ideas.”

The Rt. Rev. Carolyn Tanner Irish of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah delivered the keynote address, focusing on the importance of finding systematic solutions to combat poverty. Tanner said it is important to find real solutions to end poverty through changes in public policy.

The panels that followed the keynote address focused on topics such as early childhood development, housing, nutrition and health system reform.”I think the conference has been a sucess. Poverty is here, in Utah, and it’s important to get the word out and let people know,” said Rachel Turner, a junior in communication science and disorders and a LEAP peer advisor.

Irish said that many times, Utahns do not know what poverty is looks like.

Terry Haven, from the child advocacy organization Voices for Utah Children, presented a series of statistics. Haven said every 36 seconds a child is born into a poor family in the United States, and that Utah children living in poverty, if standing hand in hand, would stretch from Salt Lake City to Logan along I-15.

One-third of children in the state receive free or discounted school lunches, but in the Salt Lake City School District, that number jumps to two-thirds of all children. There also is a correlation between average household income and elementary school test scores, according to a Utah Issues study.

In some East Bench neighborhoods where the average household income is more than $90,000 a year, students score, on average, in the lower 70s to upper 80s on standardized tests. In West-side neighborhoods, where the average household income is between $30,000 and $35,000, average test scores range from the 20s to the 50s.

The conference ended with remarks from Utah first lady Mary Kaye Huntsman. Fred Esplin, vice president of institutional advancement, presented Huntsman with an award.

“I’m passionate about these issues that affect many of our youth,” Huntsman said. “I feel it is very important to address poverty and to teach children to believe in themselves, regardless of their circumstances. It was a great conference, and I was honored to be a part of it.”

The week’s events were sponsored in part by the Kepler Fund and Intermountain Healthcare. LEAP students, LEAP peer advisors and members of the Lumen campus ministry were involved in organizing the events. LEAP also held a food drive in conjunction with the conference.