It’s a lofty statewide goal: breaking the chains of generational poverty and cutting childhood impoverishment in half by 2030.
But it has to start somewhere.
And for Citrus County, it begins with a free neighborhood cookout from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7, at Jim LeGrone Park, 405 SE Seventh Ave. in Crystal River.
This is the first of several such community get-togethers organized by the newly formed Prosperity Citrus.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce launched this initiative earlier this year and it has filtered down to individual county chambers, including Citrus, that tailored it for their respective communities.
Citrus embraced the initiative and ran with it from day one. So much so, it has garnered kudos from Florida Chamber president Mark Wilson, who said he is impressed with the leadership in Citrus County.
“After the Citrus Chamber had me present key data, gaps and recommendations, your community leaders organized, created a vision and got to work,” he said.
State data shows over half the households in Citrus County are ALICE (asset-limited, income-constrained, employed). Overall, 15.7% of citizens live below the poverty line, but taking into consideration children under 18, the number jumps to 26.2%.
Bottom line: There are nearly 6,000 children living in poverty in Citrus County and that is unacceptable, said County Commissioner Holly Davis, who is leading the charge locally, along with the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce and other governmental, community and nonprofit representatives.
While the event is about bringing people in the neighborhood together for a good time, it’s also about ascertaining the needs of the folks who live in that area and come up with a plan to help them.
Property Citrus members believe it’s easier to do that in an old-fashioned community get-together.
34428, 34429 ZIP codes targeted
For the inaugural event, Prosperity Citrus is inviting Crystal River folks who live in the zip codes 34428 — identified by the chamber as the most impoverished ZIP code in Citrus County with 56.9% poverty — and 34429 to attend.
Davis said the idea is to meet with the neighborhood, have a meal, play games — all in a non-intimidating environment.
She said it is for “families living on the edge or below the edge.”
“That’s who we want there,” she said. “We want them to succeed and know that we’re there to help.”
She stressed that this is for people who live in those two ZIP codes and not for anyone and everyone in the county.
The chamber has identified 10 root causes of poverty and are the 10 pillars to prosperity: food, housing, health, safety, justice, voice, education, transportation, child care and employment.
Davis wants to start conversations with folks and develop relationships.
“Many times, folks want to achieve something and don’t know how to do it or that tools exist,” she said.
Each ZIP code has its specific needs and the events will be tailored to meet those needs.
There will be 10 tables set up to allow residents and mentors to meet and talk.
“We want them to succeed and know that we’re here to help,” Davis said.
When the event is over, she hopes people will go away happy and armed with knowledge about how to secure help for their individual needs.
The free event includes a cookout at the city of Crystal River YMCA Community Engagement Center, where residents in the neighborhood can have hot dogs, hamburgers, snow cones, popcorn and more.
Local emergency management responders will be there, along with basketball players and the Harlem Globetrotters.
Citrus County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Josh Wooten said the initiative will eventually get around to all 13 Citrus County ZIP codes.
The plan is to combine two or three ZIP codes at a time.
Trained counselors, he said, will be at each event to answer people’s questions and share with them what resources are available countywide.
Specifically, they want to know their neighborhood’s issues, whether they need assistance, job training, location of neighborhood food banks.
“We have a lot of economic services but if you don’t know about them, they can’t help you,” Wooten said.
Benefiting the entire county
While Prosperity Citrus is designed to help low-income folks, the success of the program will ultimately benefit everyone who lives in Citrus County.
There are 149,657 people who live in the county. Florida Chamber projections call for another 12,000 to 30,000 to move here in the next decade.
If those estimates hold, it means Citrus County will have to create 5,000 new jobs by 2030, Wilson said at a Citrus County Chamber luncheon in January.
That, he added, will be difficult if such poverty is allowed to worsen and reading scores of third-graders are not improved.
For more information about the Aug. 7 event in Crystal River, call 352-726-1931, ext. 2240.
To learn more about Prosperity Citrus and the poverty rates in each ZIP code in Citrus County and statewide, visit www.flchamber.com/floridagapmap.