Shiawassee Hope will host its second annual conference for people who are struggling in poverty on Tuesday, Oct. 20, at Owosso First Church of the Nazarene, 1865 S. M 52. Doors will open at 8:30 a.m. The event begins at 9 a.m. and will end at 3 p.m.

In October 2014 approximately 50 people living in poverty attended the first event, which was at that time called an Opportunity Conference. Dr. Donna Beegle who grew up in generational poverty was the presenter. She shared a message of hope for people who always feel like they are struggling to get ahead. Attendees (called Neighbors) were then paired with a Navigator, a specially trained volunteer who began addressing poverty barriers with their Neighbor at the conference and on an ongoing basis afterwards.

Over the past year, as Navigators and Neighbors have worked together, a number of successes have been noted. Individuals have found employment, been spared from eviction from their homes, started college and more. Individuals who attended the conference last year reported feeling less isolated and more hopeful after hearing the conference speakers.

There will be some changes to this year’s conference. One notable difference is that the speakers will all be local. In addition to locally certified poverty coaches, the speakers will also include those who have lived in poverty and are now moving toward more hopeful futures. Rather than being called the “Opportunity Conference,” organizers have chosen the designation “Hope Conference” instead.

While the conference is open to anyone who would like to attend, organizers say they have been working specifically with organizations that serve 18 through 25 year olds. “We feel like it’s really important to support these young adults as they transition out of high school into employment, technical training, or other education experiences. For some young adults, that support is built in through their family systems. For others it is not,” says Marlene Webster, co-coordinator of Shiawassee Hope.

“As we have hosted Community Conversations on Young Adults in Poverty over the past several months, we’ve heard stories about young adults who sleep in their car, who bike several miles to work, who juggle to work 40 hours a week and try to attend college at the same time. We want to connect these individuals to a community support network that will help them move out and stay out of poverty,” says Penny Corbin, co-coordinator.

The theme of this Hope Conference is “My future is so bright I gotta wear shades.” Conference planning has been organized by Deb Grazier, pastor of First Congregational Church, who is leading a team of people from across the community in planning a day of fun and education for people who live in poverty. “Our goal is to help people understand that they are not the cause of poverty, that they have value and worth, and that they have the strengths necessary to being to take a courageous walk out of poverty,” says Grazier.

In addition to positive, uplifting speakers, the day will include door prizes, gift bags, breakfast and lunch. Transportation and childcare will also be provided. In addition, several agencies will be on hand to help neighbors address barriers such as housing and access to education. And again this year, Neighbors will have a chance to connect with a Navigator who will provide encouragement and coaching for months to come.

The conference is free and walk-ins are welcomed. However, individuals needing transportation or childcare are encouraged to pre-register. To register, persons mare asked to call MaLissa Schutt, (989) 725-9303.

‘Hope’ Conference was last modified: October 14th, 2015 by Karen Elford