DALLAS -- Last year, the Polk County Commission for Children and Families launched three new initiatives: a teen pregnancy/STD awareness campaign, a homeless connect event and a fifth-grade mentoring program at Dallas' Whitworth Elementary School.
Pleased with the success of those programs, the commission is dedicating the majority of its state funding in 2012-13 to continuing those programs -- plus $1,000 to hold a new event, a "poverty simulation."
Brent DeMoe, the commission manager, said a poverty simulation tries to place individuals in scenarios those living in poverty would experience. Those may include having to apply for food stamps, losing a job or being unable to pay bills. The plan is to have the county's Health and Human Services employees and others who work with low-income families participate.
Herm Boes, a PCCCF board member, participated in a poverty simulation in February. He was given the role of a husband trying to support his wife, teenage daughter and mother-in-law on a minimum-wage job.
Each participant is given a set of obstacles to overcome. His was the inability to cash his paycheck to pay bills. That made it impossible to pay utilities on time and put gas in his car, which in turn prevented him from going to work the next day. Boes said the scenario snowballed from there, as his job was filled temporarily in his absence. Having lost a week's pay, his family fell behind on its rent.
"It gives you a hands-on experience of what people are going through," he said. "It was a great experience. I'm excited Polk County is going to do it."
The three programs continuing from the last fiscal year are:
* The Polk County Homeless Connect, which connects people who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness with assistance. The first event, held in January, served 500 people and brought in more than $80,000 in resources.
DeMoe said the Homeless Connect cost only $2,100 to organize and this year the commission is budgeting $3,000 for it.
* Whitworth's "Five Forward" mentoring program will expand this year in hopes of reaching more students.
"Last year we did an intensive mentor program for six months, now we will be able to do it for the whole school year," DeMoe said.
The program will cost $20,000, plus $1,463 for a program evaluation.
* The newly launched Public Health teen pregnancy campaign, "The Place," will use $6,000 in continued funding for outreach in the Spanish-speaking community and incorporating informational classes in local schools.