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Democracy House Joins Coalition to Examine Poverty

Students from Democracy House, along with a group of government leaders, social service providers, students and educators recently discussed poverty in Middlesex County at a workshop at the College. The Poverty Forum drew more than 125 people. "As the recent data indicate, the number of people living at the 'poverty level' is increasing at the same time services for low-income families are being cut," said Joann La Perla-Morales, Middlesex County College President. "The Poverty Forum is an opportunity for New Jersey residents to become aware of the very real issue and to encourage citizens to take action to improve services for the economically disadvantaged. We are very proud that our Democracy House students are playing a significant role in the workshop." Freeholder Blanquita B. Valenti, chairperson of the County's Human Services and Senior Services Committee, said "Poverty is a growing problem here in Middlesex County, especially with the tough economic climate found nationwide. In Middlesex County, the majority of those living in poverty are children. We must work together to find solutions and to help those most in need of our help." The program included speeches by several experts on poverty, which were followed by breakout sessions led by Democracy House students. Jennifer Altman, Democracy House director, said she was pleased the organization could assist in the event. "The AmeriCorps coordinator, Jessica Gulutz, and I enjoyed working hand-in-hand with the County's Poverty Forum Planning Committee to design this event and bring it to the Middlesex County College campus," Dr. Altman said. "The Democracy House students gained invaluable experience working directly with high-level social service practitioners and in presenting findings to the larger audience. We hope to continue working with the County and local poverty specialists to develop service events and other forms of civic engagement for the entire college community." The statistics are stark: Lisanne Finston of Elijah's Promise soup kitchen in New Brunswick said 11.5 percent of people in Middlesex County are "food insecure" – they don't know where their next meal will come from – and the figure is 51 percent in New Brunswick. "Good food and food security is a right, not a privilege," she said. Allan Lichtenstein, of Legal Services of New Jersey's Poverty Research Institute, highlighted the rising poverty level and said that almost one-quarter of New Jersey residents live in poverty, with higher rates for children. State Senator Joseph Vitale spoke on health insurance, particularly for children. "The challenges are pretty significant," he said. "But we can meet those challenges."