Wesley Foundation fall seminar launches discussion on poverty

The Wesley Foundation and United Methodist Church held its seventh annual fall seminar on Sunday, titled “The Reality of Poverty Here at Home.”

The panel of speakers for the seminar consisted of four distinguished University professors from a variety of different departments: Tom Ulen, Swanlund Chair Professor Emeritus in the College of Law; Craig Gunderson, Soybean Industry Endowed Professor of Agricultural Strategy in the college of ACES; Barbara Fiese, professor of Human Development and Family Studies and director of the Family Resiliency Center; and Ruby Mendenhall, professor of Sociology and African American Studies.

“The fall seminar offers a chance for people of lots of different backgrounds, ideas and interests to come together and relate, talk about a topic, and collaborate and work with these distinguished speakers to come up with ideas,” said Derek Attig, director of communications for the Wesley Foundation and Wesley United Methodist Church.

The speakers gave presentations on several subtopics related to poverty including a general overview of poverty in the U.S., food security, children and families in poverty and housing, earned income tax credits and economic mobility. Toward the end of the event, the panelists were able to respond to questions and comments from the audience. 

“I hope that they’ll get a clearer picture of what we’re doing in regards to poverty, what more we could do, and specifically what things are likely to help in minimizing the pain of poverty,” Ulen said.

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According to Attig, this year’s topic was chosen in part due to Wesley’s commitment to working on poverty-related issues. The organization is home to the Wesley Evening Food Pantry, which serves more than 1,000 people every month and works to alleviate food insecurity in Champaign County, where the poverty rate is 20.5 percent, according to the Social Impact Research Center. Wesley has also declared October as its poverty awareness month.

The link between education and poverty was one of the recurring issues discussed throughout the presentations.

“Early education is key,” Fiese said during her presentation. “It’s important that young children that are being raised in households with limited resources are enrolled in high-quality early education.”

The fall seminars held in previous years covered a number of different topics, including issues related to church and state, religion and politics, religion and war, and the relationship between the University and faith institutions.

Throughout the month of October, Wesley will continue the dialogue on poverty by hosting discussions with representatives from six local non-profit organizations: Habitat for Humanity and Restoration Urban Ministries on Oct. 12, Crisis Nursery and Local Immigration Issues on Oct. 19, and the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and Salt and Light on Oct. 26.

Attig said that students who are interested in solving the issue of poverty should get involved. He suggested students attend seminars and events, volunteer at food pantries, get involved with social justice groups through the student center, join RSOs like  “Illini Fighting Hunger” and participate in the yearly Day of Service.

Ulen stressed that people of all backgrounds and specializations can still help with the fight against poverty.

“The more people inform themselves about this, then the more they can match their talents and time to what most interests them and what they’re best at,” he said.

Camille can be reached at [email protected].