Mercyhurst's Civic Institute part of $112,500 grant

Erie Together, a civic engagement movement dedicated to reducing poverty, received an $112,500 grant from the Erie Community Foundation on Tuesday, Oct. 28.

Launched collectively by United Way of Erie County, the Mercyhurst Civic Institute, and the Greater Erie Community Action Committee (GECAC) in 2008, Erie Together received the grant as part of the Erie Community Foundation’s Shaping Tomorrow initiative, which gives grants to causes that address critical community needs.

“What [the grant] will help us to do is continue the work that we’ve already begun,” said Laura Lewis, Ph.D., the professor of sociology and social work who leads the Civic Institute’s involvement in Erie Together. “It will give us the capacity to move forward, to bring different sectors together and to work on very concrete actions plans.”

According to Lewis, the grant will be used to help four countywide action teams whose job is to align resources in the community. Each team focuses on a different area: early childhood readiness and success, pre-K through third grade; aligning education to careers, fourth grade through college; individual and family stability; and balancing economic and workforce development.

The education teams will be focusing on making sure children in poverty have the education they need from an early age, making eighth graders aware of different career and post-secondary education options, and increasing graduation rates.

The other teams will be working with the sector of people who have employment barriers, such as citizens who have spent time in the prison system.

“They have some obstacles in getting out and getting gain from employment,” said Lewis, of former prisoners. “The goal there is to put in place the supports they need so they really can become productive members of society like they want to.”

The awarding of the grant was determined by Erie Vital Signs, a collaborative group that measures Erie county’s well-being in eight areas: cultural vitality, community and civic engagement, brain gain, environment, heath, economy, regional cooperation, and education. Erie Together met the requirements in community and civic engagement, economy and education.

Lewis emphasized the importance of Erie Together’s main goal, which is “working together to make the Erie region a community of opportunity where everyone can learn, work and thrive.”

“What we’re really trying to do is help people. We’re not just about creating new programs, although new programs will come out of Erie Together. We are about trying to work smarter with the resources we already have,” Lewis said.