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Erie Times-News article on the Annual Erie Together Community Forum
Posted on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 7:00 AM


Jenna Uhlig may have summed it up best Tuesday when addressing the Erie region's ongoing battle against high poverty.

The 18-year-old is part of McDowell Senior High School's Exposure Club, which this year pulled off the first large-scale, student-organized effort to assist Erie Together, the local anti-poverty initiative.

Uhlig spoke Tuesday to a crowd of about 350 at Erie Together's community forum at the Bayfront Convention Center.

The event, the fourth since February 2010, has become an annual rallying cry for the Erie area, with coordinators hoping to recruit and energize volunteers, and encourage them to further Erie Together's challenging cause in their own lives.

Uhlig and the Exposure Club organized a concert in May that raised $1,700 for a free child literacy project supported by Erie Together.

"At times, my generation seems more focused on themselves and too busy to recognize the unfortunate problems that surround them daily," the Millcreek teen told the crowd.

"However, the members of Exposure and I have defied this stereotype and will continue to donate our time to making a difference in our community," she added.

Uhlig's words could almost be a mantra for Erie Together, which used the forum to report project highlights and goals.

So could the words of Paul Gambill, a community resource specialist with the U.S. Probation Office's bureau in Erie.

Gambill was one of six panelists who spoke about advancing the Erie Together movement through their own lives, either at home, school or work.

Gambill reached out to the initiative and, in July, helped develop an ex-offender strategy to help smooth the transition of those with arrest records and criminal convictions re-entering the Erie community.

"We need to put these folks back to work," Gambill told local leaders and concerned residents from various sectors, including business, education, religion, social-services, and the nonprofit community. "These men and women need an opportunity to support their families."

John Rushe, co-owner of a local insurance agency, also spoke about opportunity.

He helped Erie Together through educating low-income residents aspiring to be first-time homebuyers.

"Poverty will be battled one family at a time," Rushe said Tuesday. "We all need to donate our time and professional talents to the community. I'm very thankful for that opportunity. We can have an army of volunteers doing things."

Erie County's poverty rate of 15.8 percent, and the city of Erie's rate of 25.7 percent, are still among the highest in the state, but both rates are down for the second straight year.

Officials said 80 families have completed Erie Together's family action team program, learning how to be self-sufficient by saving money and paying off debt.

The project also touted the success of the Grapevine timeXchange in North East, where nearly 25 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level.

The timeXchange is a program in which residents bank hours of work they perform in exchange for work they need to have done.

So far, 119 people have exchanged hundreds of hours of service, said Donna Miller, director of curriculum and instruction for the Girard School District and a key member of Erie Together.

"This is a terrific example of people helping people," Miller said.

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