About 500 people come together to address poverty in Stone and Taney Counties

BRANSON, Mo. -- Two counties in the Ozarks face a problem with no simple answer. More than one in 10 people in Stone and Taney counties live below the poverty line. That's higher than the state and national averages.

That is an issue that community leaders want to change. More than 500 people met for the Poverty Summit at College of the Ozarks Friday morning.

"To see what we can do together to move the needle on poverty and help our neighbors in need," Dr. Sue Head, with the Stone and Taney Counties Poverty Initiative, said.

Dr. Head says they've been gathering data about situational and generational poverty that persists in the area.

"It's just how people have grown up and there's just not been that help out there to kind of bring them along and show them a different way," Stone and Taney Counties Poverty Initiative Member and Assistant Police Chief with Branson Police Eric Schmitt said.

The recent research shows there's been economic growth, but it's driven by low-wage and part-time jobs. Business owners admit that makes it hard on employees.

"Taking care of them in January and February is high-priority for us, but we know that that's something that needs to be more wide-spread in the slower times of the year in Branson," Branson Chick-Fil-A Owner Kevin Hutcheson said.

The new data highlights barriers, or things that tend to keep people in poverty, like a lack of sustainable wage jobs, not enough affordable housing or affordable quality child care options. However, initiative leaders say it's not only about knowing these things, but about knowing how to improve upon them.

"There are a lot of people who care in this area. We are trying to get them to mobilize together, so we have more collaboration and more energy," Dr. Head said.

That's why, they say, mobilization is the next step, coming together for real change.

"Join forces, stand shoulder to shoulder and make a difference," College of the Ozarks Student Kortney Cambers said.

Members of the initiative also visited other communities outside of Missouri to get ideas to address poverty locally.

Read the original version of this article at www.ky3.com.