While I’ve gotten a lot of attention over the past two and a half years for supporting Waterville’s financial health — from advocating at the state and local levels for a fair system of paying for the city’s infrastructure as a service center to revitalizing the airport, and supporting the arts and our recreational assets, I also have been working to ensure we are developing and retaining our area’s human resources.

Educare and other quality childcare providers, our excellent public schools and area colleges, and job and career training for youth and for older adults, along with a community that understands we are stronger together, provide us with excellent opportunities to nurture and support a highly trained and productive citizenry.

As we work to focus on economic opportunities in Waterville, I propose we rely on our core belief that we are “one nation, indivisible” to guide us. When we allow any community, sector or group to fall behind, it begins to divide us, break us apart, make us less strong. But we can ensure our economy is strong and productive by making the pathways to opportunity open and accessible to all our residents.

Fortunately, research is clear about what works to strengthen those opportunity pathways.

When people have safe affordable housing, when jobs pay enough for people to afford basic needs from healthy food to health care, they have money to keep the economy moving.

When early quality child care is available for parents who are working or furthering their educations, their children’s chances of success in school and in life improve.

When students have access to on-the-job training and educational opportunities in the real world, they learn the skills that will enhance their job prospects, their earnings and their ability to support themselves and their future families.

During the worst recession of my lifetime, research has shown that the federal safety net, including Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit kept 41 million people, including 9 million children, out of poverty in 2012.

The danger, of course, is in thinking we’ve fixed it. Given that we are still in recovery, we need to have constructive conversations about what we need to do today to reinforce and strengthen opportunity across all of our communities.

The people of Waterville have been incredibly generous when tragedy strikes our community, reaching into their pockets and making sure the homeless have a new shelter, the families of children at the elementary school and Educare have access to food when they aren’t in school. But when it comes to problems that are more far reaching, such as jobs, wages, affordable housing, we often don’t know what our role in a solution could be.

We can move only forward when we understand the issues facing poor communities and ensure that our public policies are working to open, not close, pathways to opportunity. That is why a group of us brought Donna Beegle to Waterville in June. More than 275 people heard her story and her solutions to breaking the chains of intergenerational poverty.

Beegle grew up in a migrant family, traveling from place to place, never calling any one place home, at times living with her four siblings in the family’s car. She dropped out of school and had two babies by the age of 19. By age 26, however, she was enrolled in a public program that provided subsidized housing in exchange for participating in a program designed to help her get some marketable skills. Within 10 years, she had her Ph.D. in education and has been working to teach people about the causes and solutions to poverty ever since.

Beegle could not be where she is today were it not for community, state and national support for solutions that help people navigate out of very difficult circumstances toward a secure and stable future. That is why over the next few months, the Waterville Poverty Action Coalition will be reaching out to churches, fraternal organizations, nonprofits and the public to make sure we all know what options are available for each of us to get involved.

The coalition will be developing a list of opportunities to get involved. From helping improve public policies and programs, to providing individual mentoring and support to those in need, we can all play a role in making our communities the way life should be. In the meantime, residents can contact me at the mayor’s office for more information.

Karen Heck, mayor of Waterville, is a senior program officer for the Bingham Program, a charitable endowment that promotes health and advances in medicine in Maine.

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