Heather Reynolds has a good idea how to tell when someone has climbed out of poverty.
It has no connection to what’s often referred to as the federal poverty line (“irrelevant,” she says).
Being out of poverty, she told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board, means “earning a consistent wage to sustain your family, having at least three months of savings in the bank, and living independent of government subsidies.”
She even has firm ideas about how to get there.
Reynolds has been the chief executive of Catholic Charities of Fort Worth for more than 10 years, and she says her organization works “fiercely” to end poverty.
In Fort Worth, Reynolds’ organization says, 16 percent of families live in poverty, 15 percent make less than $15,000 a year and 25 percent of children have limited or uncertain access to adequate food.
“Unfortunately,” she wrote in an open letter to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan this month, “many of the people that we serve are the working poor, those who appear to be holding it together, when, in reality, they are one car breakdown, one medical crisis, or a death in the family away from losing everything.”
At those crisis points Catholic Charities sometimes has its first contact with clients of all faiths.
Maybe they’re behind on their electric bills and power to their home is about to be turned off. TXU Energy is one company that works with Catholic Charities to address such problems.
Over the past five years, TXU has collected $2.5 million from its customers and employees for emergency bill payments, said Kim Campbell, TXU senior manager for customer advocacy and community affairs.
So Catholic Charities can get the electric bills paid. But if escaping poverty’s jaws is the goal, the work has only begun.
Clients who want to take that step meet with a Catholic Charities case manager, who asks them about their hopes and dreams and, over time, one on one, helps realize them. Some people know where they want to go but don’t know how to get there.
So if someone wants to become a welder, for example, Catholic Charities can help get them enrolled in classes — and meet with them regularly to encourage them along the way.
It’s crucial that organizations like Catholic Charities work with other local social service agencies. Nobody wants to waste money by duplicating effort.
The network of such agencies in Fort Worth is deep, says Reynolds.
Catholic Charities plans to help 600 families this year, with the goal of helping 10,000 families out of poverty in the next 10 years.
It could happen.