Poverty Summit Ignites Leaders to Take Action Toward Policy Change

Keynote Speaker Dr. Michael McAfee Urges Leaders to Take Action Toward Policy Change

United Way of Pierce County, in partnership with The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation held its second annual From Poverty to Possibilities poverty summit, which has become a keystone for community activism, considering one in three Pierce County residents struggle to make ends meet. Approximately 250 participants turned out for the half-day summit and represented direct service organizations, advocacy groups, faith-based organizations, government leaders, academics and individuals with lived experience of poverty, .

Held on November 7 at the Hotel Murano, the day focused on understanding the systemic factors and racial, social and economic inequities that perpetuate poverty while engaging diverse stakeholders in solutions to grow opportunity in Pierce County. Building on the findings from the inaugural event, this year's summit delved deeper into these systemic obstacles with a focus on policy implications, including access to affordable, quality childcare.

The keynote speaker and panelist, Dr. Michael McAfee, President and CEO of PolicyLink, a national organization dedicated to advancing racial and economic equity, presented an inspiring accounting of some of the systems change that are taking place in other parts of the country. His provocative approached included an inspiring message promoting ‘radical imagination’ and he urged the audience to push forward when it comes to policy change. “You need to constantly ask yourselves what you can do to scale-up your efforts and do the next thing,” challenged Dr. McAfee.

Other presenters included, Bruce Dammeier, Pierce County Executive, who shared that getting a job is not enough—wages must be self-sustaining for families to move out of poverty. Kathi Littman, president and CEO Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, said, “We are pleased to join forces to shine a light on poverty and lend our influence and leverage the power of the community to solve problems. Our community will not be stronger until every member of our community can experience economic equity—and that includes women and families, who are especially impacted by poverty”.

In addition, Susan Barbeau, Executive Director of First 5 FUNdamentals, unveiled the State of Child Care in Pierce County, which lifts up the critical role the benefits cliff effect plays in a woman’s ability to move from crisis to self-sufficiency. She explained that public benefit programs taper off or phase out quickly when household earnings increase. The abrupt reduction or loss of benefits can be very disruptive for families because even though household earnings increased, they usually have not increased enough for self-sufficiency.


Two separate panels focused on policies, addressed barriers to self-sufficiency and childcare and family advocacy. Panelists included: event moderator Carol Mitchell (Justice Services and Special Projects, Office of the County Executive), Jacques Colon (Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department), Lauren Flemister (City of Tacoma), Dr. Lori Pfingst (Washington Department of Social and Health Services), Dr. Michael McAfee (PolicyLink), Nicole Sherman (Columbia Bank), Kelly Blucher (Goodwill Olympics and Rainer Region), Luc Jasmin (Washington Child Care Center Association), Fahren Johnson Greater Tacoma Community Foundation and Frank Ordway (Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families ).

According to Dona Ponepinto, President and CEO, United Way of Pierce County and a member of the Governor’s Poverty Reduction Work Group, shared with the group, “We set a bold goal to lift 15,000 Pierce County households out of poverty by 2028. When everyone pulls together for a united cause, the power becomes unlimited. The transformation that occurs from the entire community is something greater than just what a small group or an individual can achieve.”

Continuing participation will be essential, noted Ponepinto.  “We are thrilled by the turnout from so many who joined the conversation and provided great insights opportunities for connections, solutions and out of the box thinking when it comes to addressing barriers for hard working families. Creating an action plan, building public will and taking on systems goes far beyond the good program work being done in our community. We must get at the root of the problem and make some serious policy shifts.”

About United Way: United Way of Pierce County has a bold goal to lift 15,000 households out of poverty and into financial stability by 2028. We will achieve this by mobilizing local businesses, community organizations, governmental agencies and individuals, to make a long-term measurable difference in our community. Together, we are creating a stronger community. To learn more or to join our fight against poverty in Pierce County, visit www.uwpc.org.

2018 Poverty to Possibilities Sponsors: WESCU, State Farm, KeyBank, Regence, WorkForce Central, Harborstone and Media Sponsor, The News Tribune and the Tacoma-Pierce Chamber of Commerce.


Media Contact: Katherine Ransom, Vice President, Marketing & Communications                    

Telephone: 253.284.2549 E-mail: katheriner@uwpc.org