Patch recently sat down with Shirley Marshall, the new executive director of United Community Ministries, who began her tenure at UCM earlier this month to see how the job is going. Marshall took over the agency after executive director Cynthia Hull passed away in March.
The agency hosted an open house in September to give the community an inside look at the organization.
Patch: The Route 1 area includes both very wealthy and very poor households. How is poverty often "hidden" in the corridor?
Shirley Marshall: Most poor people are too tired and too focused on survival to be more visible! Truly, working two jobs, caring for children and elderly, taking long commutes, and still struggling to pay rent: who has time to be outside? And the elderly are not likely to hang around. So we have thousands of people who come and go each day, looking fine to the outside world. But they are really living in fear of losing their home and losing the stability they’ve managed to create.
At the same time, the poor that are visible are often misidentified or misunderstood. Sometimes people hang out on street corners for a reason: that’s where their employer picks them up. Sometimes it’s the only place they have to visit with their friends, other than a small and overcrowded apartment. If they have no family, and no links to neighborhood groups or programs, they have little to do except be visible.
Patch: What are the top ways in which UCM is addressing poverty in our neighborhood?
Marshall: We have a three-tier approach to lifting people out of poverty and isolation. First, for people in immediate need we provide financial aid, food, and counseling. Second, to promote long-term independence and stability, we provide job training and placement; all-day preschool; after-school programs; and health and parental education. Third, to engage residents in their community, we have community centers and outreach services.
Patch: In what way are these programs making a difference?
Marshall: First, families and individuals are keeping their homes despite short-term financial crisis. This means fewer people homeless. Second, people get and keep jobs, making them less likely to become homeless and better able to support themselves. Third, children have a better chance for success because they start with an early childhood education and with after-school programs. As a result, they are more likely to support themselves in the future – and less likely to engage in antisocial behavior. Fourth, poor residents are giving back to the community through involvement with school and neighborhood activities. This means a more stable and empowered community for all.
Patch: What is your vision for the future of UCM?
Marshall: Fortunately, thanks to the leadership of Cynthia Hull, UCM is a financially strong and vibrant organization. We can now focus on refining and growing our programs to serve more people. At the same time, we are committed to even greater collaboration with our nonprofit and government partners. Working together, we can weave a tapestry that covers the needs of all struggling residents. Together, we are keeping the focus on programs with the greatest impact and priority services.
UCM has 40 years of service to the community. Our programs adjust from time to time to serve changing demographics, but our heart remains the same. We are here to mobilize community resources, to promote the well-being of families and individuals, and to move people from poverty to self-reliance. I want residents of South County to be proud of their community and proud to support UCM in this fundamental mission.
Patch: Would you like to add new programs to help address poverty in the Route 1 corridor?
Marshall: This community has an astonishing range of excellent programs and services. While we need to extend their reach and make them more accessible, truly ‘new’ programs will not necessarily make the greatest difference. Problems such as lack of adequate transportation and lack of sufficient jobs for unskilled workers require a community-wide assessment, response, and coordination. The greatest need in the Route One Corridor is to coordinate, expand, and advertise the programs currently available – and to raise the resources to make that happen.