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January 16, 2013

Opening eyes to poverty

Students push for poverty awareness

NEWBURYPORT — The city’s property values are higher than the state average and a majority of people who live here make more than $100,000 a year, yet not everyone in Newburyport is living the good life.

But thanks to some students at River Valley Charter School, who successfully petitioned the city to officially mark Jan. 15 as Poverty Awareness Day locally, there’s greater hope that residents struggling to make ends meet will get the help they need.

Nearly 100 RVCS students turned out to see their civic-minded initiative pay off yesterday during a ceremony at City Hall.

They came bearing gifts in the form of 94 brightly colored scarves and 18 blankets — all hand-stitched by the youngest students all the way up to middle school, and even RVCS Executive Director Jeanne Schultz.

“At River Valley, the children all do service learning in our community — that’s just a part of our curriculum,” Schultz said.

The poverty awareness initiative started with the making of the blankets and scarves. But somewhere along the way, as the reams of fabric gifted to them by Polartec began taking shape, two children in Laurie Ingersoll’s Lower School classroom queried their teacher about the possibility of repeating efforts like theirs annually.

From that seed — planted in a letter to Mayor Donna Holaday and packaged with three pages of petitions signed by the students and hand-drawn pictures to support their request — Newburyport’s first Poverty Awareness Day was born.

Yesterday, Holaday said when she received the letter and petition from the children, she was moved to help make things happen for them. She forwarded their request to the City Council, which approved it.

“There are some facets of my job that I just truly love,” she said.

According to the most recent data, of the city’s 17,500 residents, 1,000 are living in extreme poverty, struggling to feed their families and provide the basics. Some are living under with a friend or family member or in temporary housing offered through a municipal aid agency. Some of those have lost their jobs; others are coming from homes destroyed by domestic violence or dealing with a health problem that’s affecting the household’s bottom line.

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