First Table Talk Challenges the Every Day Citizen to Take Action

On May 1st, 2019, a small group of panelists and community members gathered to discuss the state of poverty in the Midlands. The discussion was part of the “Table Talk” event series – a three-part series that dives deeper into the areas of opportunity revealed in the On the Table report (poverty, economic development, and race relations).

The panel included representatives from Mission Lexington, Sisters of Charity Foundation, and United Way of the Midlands. Topics focused on what is currently happening in the region to address the issue of poverty, what needs currently are, and how the everyday citizen can get involved.  Below are some of the highlights from the discussion:

Merritt Bishop, Director of Social Services, Mission Lexington

  • Work to address poverty: “I serve as the first line of defense when clients (or what we like to call neighbors) come in to see us. A lot of what we focus on is funding for rent, clothing, utilities, and living expenses. Our goal is to address everything that has brought our clients to us. We try to take a holistic approach and ask what we can do in-house and what others can do in the community. We address their immediate needs as well as a long-term, sustainable action plan for them.”
  • Realities & myths: “The number one myth we face in our area is that there is no poverty. There are big pockets of wealth in Lexington and big pockets of poverty in Lexington. But if you don’t see that in your day-to-day routine, it’s hard to address it and think about what you can do in your community. “
  • Mission Lexington’s approach: “We try to think more outside of the box by looking at the holistic picture of what’s really going on. I think our clients really respond to that. They know the pieces that need to go into place but it’s not always easy.”
  • Barriers hindering our region: “Transportation is a huge barrier that we face. Also, a lack of education. I think those are the two biggest barriers that we face in Lexington.”
  • Advice to the everyday citizen: “Mission Lexington relies heavily on volunteers. A lot of what we do involves going out into the community to get people in our doors and see that our clients are just like us.

Donna Waites, Vice President of Programs, Sisters of Charity Foundation

  • Work to address poverty: “We are a grant-making entity so our foundation’s mission is to lift individual families out of poverty through action, advocacy and leadership. We try to address root causes. Our grantees range from food banks and shelters to multi-comprehensive organizations that are working with several generations in a community to make an impact.”
  • Realities & myths: “You choose to live in poverty. Often times, it’s not because of a moral or shortcoming, it’s about where you grew up and the families you were born into. Secondly, people who are not living in poverty believe that jobs are the way to end poverty.”
  • Sisters of Charity Foundation’s approach: “We try not to be the experts at the foundation. We are the grant makers, but the grantees know what the needs are. We want to give organizations and communities the opportunity to come together and build networks among each other.”
  • Barriers hindering our region: “Many are stuck in low wage jobs. They’re working, but only making $8 an hour. If they have a crisis, they have to dig their way back out completely.”
  • Advice to the everyday citizen: “I would challenge the everyday person to come together with other people who are like-minded to increase their knowledge base of the realities that are facing those in poverty. Open your heart and help to change the minds of others.”

Jennifer Moore, Senior Director, United Way of the Midlands

  • Work to address poverty: “I oversee our economic mobility programs which are fairly broad in scope. They range from basic issues like homeless programming to long term issues surrounding affordable housing and economic support. Our newest initiative is called Resilient Richland. It aims to create a trauma-informed community to improve childhood well-being by preventing and treating toxic stress that children experience.”
  • Realities & myths: “A lot of people assume that government programs automatically support any kind of need that someone has or the private sector can pursue that path. However, our agencies do not have enough resources to meet the incredible needs that they are presented with. The fabric of our public resources is not sufficient.”
  • United Way’s Approach: “We are a grant-making entity but we do have upstream programs as well. We operate dental and eye clinics to provide services to Lexington and Richland, as well as other in-house initiatives like reading and tutoring programs.”
  • Barriers hindering our region: “Affordable housing. One thing that hinders us as a region is that we do not have a shared vison for solutions to this problem. To have safe, decent housing that people can support is critical. Having the courage to make those decisions is so important.”
  • Advice to the everyday citizen: “Challenge our elected officials to make courageous decisions. In the case of affordable housing, it’s having the courage to make those decisions for the best of everyone.

For more information on the Table Talk Series or to register for our next discussion, community members can visit

Find out more about the organizations mentioned above: