Freeborn County’s Lift One; Lift All teams up for Homeless Day on the Hill
Today we welcome Amy Gauthier, member of Lift One; Lift All: Freeborn County Beyond Poverty – a group born out of our Leaders Partnering to End Poverty program. Lift One; Lift All members traveled to Homeless Day on the Hill last month to push legislation to benefit the homeless in their county. This is Amy’s experience.
March 12th 7:30 a.m., six very motivated women piled into a vehicle and head north. To the Capitol or bust! We were armed with coffee and conversation. We had no real plan on what we were going say or how we were going to say it. We had half a handle on the issues being presented at the Capitol and how they pertained to our very special piece of Minnesota. We just knew we were going and we were motivated to make a difference!
“We” are Lift One; Lift All: Freeborn County Beyond Poverty, a group focused on building leadership capacity to increase opportunities for people to move out of poverty in Freeborn County. Last month, we headed to Homeless Day on the Hill to ask our legislative leaders for their support of new homeless legislation. Little did we know, we were also on a leadership journey to strengthen our relationships and explore new ways to further our work.
Together, we made something beautiful happen.
The bits and pieces of chatter I picked up from the front seat were endearing. I was getting to know these women in a way I never had before. It was a two-hour drive spent connecting in a very tight space. Inadvertently, it prepared us to face what we were barreling toward at 75 miles per hour.
Upon our arrival at the Capitol, we were treated to a performance by zAmaya Theater Project in the breathtaking chapel of Central Presbyterian Church. It had me in tears within the first five minutes. The actors portrayed stories of homelessness and struggle that are so common and so persistent it just broke my heart. We were also given a registration folder plump full of information about what issue we would be tackling: The Minnesota Workforce Bill, specifically, Prosperity for All and Homes for All.
Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) is the largest workforce development program in the state, serving 28,000 parents and 70,000 children. In fact, 70 percent of MFIP participants are children. In Freeborn County, 12.4 percent of households live in poverty. Sixty-six percent of these are single parent households, meaning 17.3 percent of Freeborn County children live in poverty. Some of our elementary schools have upwards of 50-75 percent of children receiving free or reduced lunch. Poverty in our community really touches all of us. We all have experienced poverty or know someone that has.
We were at the Capitol to lobby our representatives to support funding for transitional housing and homeless programs, and increase the MFIP grant by $100 per family, per month. Did you know the MFIP cash grant has not been raised since 1986? And a family of three receives a cash grant of $532 per month? Can you imagine $532 to cover housing, transportation, and basic living expenses each month?
Armed with our new-found knowledge of the issues at hand and the huge gut check we just experienced watching the performance, we proceeded out of the church and started our walk up the Hill.
Our first meeting was with our local House Representative. She was pulled off the floor by her Legislative Aide and we met with her in a busy hallway. Logistically, it could have been a nightmare, but through sharing our personal testimonies about why increasing the MFIP grant is important, we kept her attention. We were truly able to educate her on what MFIP is, why it is a critical resource for her constituents, and why she should support an increase in the grant funding. Mission accomplished!
Next stop: Senator’s office.
When we arrived at our Senator’s office we found he had not yet returned from a previous commitment. This presented an opportunity just too awesome to pass up (with permission, of course): I sat his chair and played Senator for a photo or two! The day to this point had been an emotional one, full of authenticity and teachable moments. Taking a genuine, spontaneous, fun break had the group laughing and raised our spirits.
The energy definitely carried over to our conversation with the Senator when he arrived a few minutes later. He was engaged in our discussion; asking questions and genuinely listening to our stories and responses. We were able to share some very impactful information and gain the Senator’s support.
In my life and my leadership journey I have learned a lot about the difference between being willful and being willing. The first is a controlling type of behavior: pushing. The second is open, letting opportunities emerge naturally instead of by force. This entire adventure to the Capitol was one of willingness. It was very clear as our stories emerged naturally in the different meetings, the right information was shared by the right person, at the right time. It had a very natural flow indicative of our experience and growth within the Leaders Partnering to End Poverty movement in our community. This is energy that is going to allow us to continue our work as Lift One, Lift All: Freeborn County Beyond Poverty, and build genuine bridges of trust in our community.