Published on 05/18/06

Conference aims to lead youths out of poverty

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Poverty plagues Georgia, and it hits no place more than in the southwest corner. A University of Georgia conference there will teach that region's youths financial tools to combat this plague, says one conference organizer.

"Growing Your Pot of Gold," a youth financial literacy conference sponsored by the UGA Cooperative Extension Southwest District, will be May 19-20 at Andrew College in Cuthbert, Ga.

Poverty is a complex issue with many contributing factors, said Laura Johnson, the Southwest District 4-H program development coordinator. And poverty-stricken youths often miss out on a basic financial education.

"We want to educate and guide the next generation out of poverty," Johnson said. "The kids attending the conference will learn saving skills and the time value of money and learn the good and bad sides of credit."

Of the 41 counties in the UGA Extension's Southwest District, 39 have persistent poverty, according to a study by the UGA Carl Vinson Institute for Government. The district roughly encompasses the area from Stewart County east to Peach County south to Clinch County and west to the Alabama line.

In more than half of the counties in this district, at least one of every five residents lives in poverty. A family of four living on $19,000 or less annually is considered impoverished.

Johnson said 58 percent of those in poverty work "but just can't make high enough wages to get over that poverty line."

Southwest District county Extension agents targeted and contacted 7th, 8th and 9th graders affected by poverty in their counties. Transportation, meals, room and the conference will be free for the kids. About 100 students will attend, Johnson said.

Extension agents and Georgia 4-H high school youth financial ambassadors will teach workshops on "your money personality," "savings made simple" and "be a savvy shopper."

"The kids will also have the chance to become Georgia 4-H youth savers, which will help them make a savings goal to purchase something they want," Johnson said.

The students will be given educational materials, too, to take home to their families, she said.

"We want them to develop a better relationship with their local county extension office to become aware of the resources and support available to them," she said.

The kids will have a little fun, too, she said, with a dance, a movie and sports activities.

The conference alone won't pull the kids out of poverty. "But we hope what they learn," she said, "will help them begin to think about these financial literacy issues."

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.