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Professional Development Explores Poverty in Fort Smith

The Framework for Understanding Poverty Workshop is a two-day annual event that happens every summer. Sharla Whitson, principal of Bonneville Elementary and Fort Smith Public Schools social worker Henry Burris have established a lasting trust that allows the participants to take an in-depth look at our community in its most sensitive and vulnerable state.

The first day consists of training on poverty itself. Many concepts are learned from the teachings of Ruby K. Payne in her book, "A Framework for Understanding Poverty". which provides much of the outline for the participants training. One of the key concepts is that anyone can experience poverty and homelessness. It may be situational, or generational. Teachers must not assume that children are coming to them from a stable environment. Teachers can be a positive light in their lives. The participants are reminded that it takes just one trusted adult to help a child in need. 

The second day of the workshop includes visits throughout the community. The first stop this year was Antioch for Youth and Family on North 32nd Street where CharoletteTidwell shared her experience and mission with the workshop participants. Antioch is in the process of building a kitchen and offices for social service. Stop two on the tour was the Community Rescue Mission, a non-profit organization located at 310 North F Street. Jeannie Newton, program director and case manager for families greeted the group and showed them the new family shelters scheduled to be finished in October. The final stop on the tour was at the Riverview Hope Campus, located at 301 South E Street. The campus provides compassionate social services through partnerships with Fort Smith River Valley organizations. Director Chris Joannides explained that the Hope Campus now offers many services including a Mercy Primary Clinic, safe cots to sleep on, a beautiful cafeteria, laundry facilities, internet access and an array of agency representatives in one large room who help residents apply for things such as utility help and insurance. 

Stephanie Tierra, a teacher at Chaffin Junior High who has been attending the annual event since 2013, said, "This is truly a highlight of my summer and I always look forward to learning something new! I appreciate the time and effort that goes into preparing this for us. As a life-long resident of Fort Smith, I am always looking to learn more about what our community offers in order to better share these services with citizens and students and this tour does just that."