Kitsap Credit Union Engages Community in Fight Against Poverty

During one 2012 role-playing exercise, Elliot Gregg, President/CEO of Kitsap Credit Union negotiates a bill with a vendor with his “wife” played by Kirsten Jewell from the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council.

What does it feel like to be poor, so poor that your kids don’t have enough to eat?

Cathy Brorson, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE) and Outreach Coordinator at Kitsap Credit Union, not only asked the question, she brought together hundreds of people to take a deep look at poverty in their community and to organize a response.

“I mostly wanted to change people’s perceptions,” Brorson says. “It’s been really powerful.”

About 200 people participated in “Life on the Edge,” a day-long discussion and interactive simulation held in May 2012. People were asked to role-play the lives of 36 low-income families. They needed to ensure they had food, found housing and figured out what to do about a delinquent utility bill.

Participants later shared that they felt stress, panic, isolated, anxious, frustrated, and helpless during the exercises.

That event, Brorson says, focused on individuals’ thinking and what they could personally do to help families in those situations.

In March 2014, about 200 decision-makers returned for “Life on the Edge 2.” Rather than focus on the individual, the second event featured a “State of Housing” address by a Kitsap County Commissioner and focused on identifying the holes in the community’s social safety net and how to remedy them.

The long-term goal is to create the kind of programs that will sustain change. Brorson partnered with the Kitsap Community Foundation, United Way, and the Suquamish Tribe, on a poverty alleviation grant to invest $1 million into the community to help bring recommendations made following Life on the Edge 2 into reality.

People are already asking when “Life on the Edge 3” will occur and Brorson has talked with other credit unions about replicating the programs in their communities.

“Too often,” she says, “our assumptions and judgments are made without all the facts.”

The credit unions of Oregon and Washington not only improve their members’ lives, they are foundational to the entire Northwest economy. Learn more here.

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