May 25, 2016 12:02 AM
DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson

The oilfields may not be pumping profits much these days, but Acadiana can expect billions in transportation dollars to flow into its economy over the next 15-20 years.

That was the word from DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, a panelist at SMILE Community Action Agency’s Poverty Summit on May 19 at the Clifton Chenier Center. Wilson estimates $8 billion-$10 billion will be spent in the region in less than two decades — leading to job opportunities and a road out of poverty.

Seeking solutions to poverty was the purpose of the summit, which brought forth discussion on transportation, education, health, quality of life and housing.

SMILE, a byproduct of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, has been providing support services as a non-profit for nearly 50 years in St. Martin, Iberia and Lafayette parishes.

“Our goal was to celebrate National Community Action Month in May by confronting issues that are confronting our communities,” SMILE Interim CEO Brenda Foulcard said. “To solve the issues, you have to address the issues.”

Among issues were proposed cuts, and their impact on education. Experts in the field agreed that education was the key to getting out of poverty.

St. Martin Parish Superintendent Lottie Beebe wanted officials to understand that in addition to poverty, challenges facing children today are compounded by hunger and family dysfunction. “I thank God because I was able to overcome the challenges,” Beebe said.

Also on the education panel was Dr. Willie Smith, vice chancellor for economics and workforce development at the South Louisiana Community College, who explained the economic windfall of obtaining a degree. Smith said individuals can earn up to four times more with a degree than without one.

Moderator Margaret Trahan of United Way with housing panelists Charles Miniex of USDA Rural Development, Rusty Cloutier of MidSouth Bank and Pearson Cross of UL Lafayette
Photos courtesy Frank Stewart/SMILE

“Why would we cut education?” Smith asked.

Dr. Dwayne Bowie, vice president for enrollment management at UL Lafayette, agreed, noting budgets cuts are making the dream of earning an education “not attainable for our children. ... We have to be creative and do more with less.”

And in the housing panel, UL political science Professor Pearson Cross showed that the American dream of owning a home was impossible for low-income families when affordable housing is not even being constructed.

Health experts showed that health not only plays an important role in a person’s future, but it also serves as an integrated system instead of separate entities such as nutrition, mental wellness and fitness.

The summit, moderated by United Way of Acadiana President and CEO Margaret Trahan, was part of SMILE’s four-week poverty awareness event titled “A Series on Poverty.” It also included a presentation on United Way’s ALICE Report, as well as a poverty simulator.

SMILE will conclude festivities May 26 with “A Look at SMILE,” an open house reception featuring attorney Glenn Armentor as the keynote speaker, and KLFY-TV 10 anchor Darla Montgomery as the mistress of ceremonies. The public is invited to the event, which kicks off at 6:30 p.m.

Ruth Foote is director of grants and communications at SMILE.

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