March 21, 2004 - Kalamazoo Gazette: Costa Rica RPCV Kim Crider to confront county's poverty

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Costa Rica: Peace Corps Costa Rica : The Peace Corps in Costa Rica: March 21, 2004 - Kalamazoo Gazette: Costa Rica RPCV Kim Crider to confront county's poverty

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Costa Rica RPCV Kim Crider to confront county's poverty

The Peace Corps in Costa Rica

Costa Rica RPCV Kim Crider to confront county's poverty

New hire to confront county's poverty

Sunday, March 21, 2004 388-8551

Kim Crider yearns to hear the stories, see the faces, peer into the eyes of poverty that most of us would rather avoid.

"I need to hear people tell me, 'Kim, I am on the verge of losing my house. I don't have a job. What are we going to do?'

"I need to hear that," she said. "That is going to keep the fire going under me."

Crider was brought to Kalamazoo in January to coordinate a daunting task -- reducing poverty.

About one in every eight people in Kalamazoo County and one in every four in the city of Kalamazoo lives in poverty, according to the 2000 Census and government poverty measures.

Last March, the Kalamazoo County Poverty Initiative was launched with considerable promise and publicity. More than 100 people representing government, education, business, social services and faith-based organizations gathered at a church in Kalamazoo's Northside neighborhood to sign an agreement outlining the initiative and pledge to take part.

Little has been heard of it since.

"It's time for action," Don Cooney, a Kalamazoo city commissioner and initiative organizer, said last month. "We want to move on it now."

The initiative's stated mission is to "improve the quality of life for all citizens of Kalamazoo County by effectively alleviating the causes, consequences and incidence of poverty."

A 15-member steering committee representing public and private agencies that signed on to the initiative made finding a coordinator its first priority. As Kalamazoo County Chamber of Commerce President John Long put it, the initiative needed someone who would wake in the morning thinking about poverty and go to bed thinking about poverty.

That's where Crider comes in.

Raised in Cleveland, Ohio, the 29-year-old social worker recently spent three years in Costa Rica with the Peace Corps. She has a master's degree in social work from Andrews University and worked as a child protective services caseworker and as a social worker for the Salvation Army.

Short in stature but long on optimism, Crider is upbeat and outgoing, traits that should help her as she settles into the job ahead. Since coming to Kalamazoo, her first task has been getting to know the community.

"I've just been sitting down with people, listening to their input on how this initiative can really be successful," she said.

"I'm still just getting my feet wet."

Crider said she is impressed by the number of agencies and resources Kalamazoo County already has to apply toward poverty reduction.

"We've got to work smarter, we've got to work better together to really pull this thing off," she said.

Long stresses the initiative is not intended create a new level of bureaucracy. Rather, it is to serve as the central source for facilitating communication and sharing of resources for organizations already devoted to reducing poverty.

"We're not just saying we're going to just do with what we have," Crider said. "Part of my job is to find grants and new resources."

She said she has been hearing consistently from agencies that serve the poor that financial and other resources aren't keeping pace with the growth in clients.

Crider is scheduled to meet with the initiative's steering committee next week, at which time she expects them to map out goals and objectives for the months ahead.

Kalamazoo Mayor Robert Jones said cities across the country are wrestling with intense poverty, which some view as an inevitable "fact of life" for a segment of the population.

"I used to be a cynic. I felt that some people you can't help, some people you can, that you really can't end poverty," the mayor said at a reception last month to introduce Crider.

"You may not be able to really end it, but I believe poverty can be reduced, and be reduced by major proportions," he said.

"Working together, we can make a difference."

Crider, whose office is at the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she welcomes input from the public that might help move the initiative toward its goal. She can be reached at 381-4000 or by e-mail at

And she wants to hear from people about their everyday struggles, to better understand the challenges.

"We can't just let people fall through that safety net," she said. "There's so much work to do. ... We are not without hope."

© 2004 Kalamazoo. Used with permission

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Story Source: Kalamazoo Gazette

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