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A Conversation With … Francine Pratt

Director of Prosper Springfield

Posted online

What is Prosper Springfield?
Prosper Springfield is an initiative. It’s not an organization; it’s not a program. It came out of the Impacting Poverty Commission. They actually studied the effects and causes of poverty, rather than assumptions as to why people were living in poverty. Prosper Springfield is responsible for making sure that all of the action items that we said we were going to do in the community … that we were doing those things. Based on the research, we should be able to reduce poverty and increase post-secondary attainment by 2025.

What are your main areas of focus?
Education, health, housing, job/financial and transportation. There’s 300-plus organizations and entities across Springfield that are doing some type of work related to that. When this started in October 2015, we were at 25.7 percent [of people living in poverty]. Our goal is to get to 20.7 percent. With that is also a post-secondary attainment goal. In 2015, we were at 39.2 percent, and ideally, we need to get to 60 percent by 2025. But realistically, we need to get to 48 percent. The two (relate to) workforce development. If we can increase skills, they can take advantage of the better paying jobs. I always like to give an example of a family that went through the (Northwest Project). They got their car fixed. They doubled their credit score. They doubled their income to almost $18,000 a year, and they were able to get their debt wiped out. So Northwest Project wanted to help increase those skills so they could get even better paying jobs. This family was just ecstatic that they had done that. Their response was, “We’re simple people; we’re good. We’ve never lived this great in our life.” We have to be careful to use the federal [poverty] guideline as our baseline … but we also have to tell the stories of the families that we’re impacting and helping.

Why does our community struggle with such a high poverty level?
You have the impact of low wages and people not understanding the “cliff effect.” You might have two people who are working and making minimum wage, and because they are making minimum wage and they’re falling below that poverty level, they’re entitled to (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), assistance with food, or even assistance with child care. Once they make 50 cents or a $1 more an hour, they lose that. If they lose that, even though they’re working, they can’t afford to pay child care, they don’t have enough for food and they can’t pay their rent.

What drew you to nonprofit work, and how do you personally connect to this initiative?
I had a very good upbringing. I saw, even as a child, how people who had less than were treated, and it always bothered me. When I went though my own situation of domestic violence … I had to flee not only the county, but I had to move from southern California to northern California and I stayed with different friends, sleeping on their couch and my kids sleeping on the floor until I could get a place. Going through my situation, I saw the different people who gave me a hand up. That’s probably been the biggest driving factor.

Can poverty be solved?
To say that we’re going to get rid of poverty is not realistic, because not everybody is going to want the services that are available, whether its pride or mental health issues. (We want) to work with employers, with the community, to work with skill sets to try to at least get people to $12.50 an hour – that’s what they call a living wage. It’s unrealistic to think that we’re going to tell all businesses that we’re going to raise everyone to $12.50. But you have businesses that are willing to help someone who works for them to increase their skill set or increase their education so it’s earned. We can put a dent in it.

Francine Pratt can be reached at fpratt@cpozarks.org.

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