A new program that's designed to help children of families living in poverty is getting rave reviews from participants.
It can be said that giving poverty-stricken families a welfare check every month is like putting a bucket under a leaky roof.
Sure, it helps for a while, but a permanent solution will be needed eventually.
Officials at the Kansas University's School of Social Welfare think they may have the answer. The School has developed Family Asset Building, a program designed to help poor people help themselves.
School of Social Welfare faculty members and students are heavily involved in the program, working closely with participants and conducting their own research on the effects.
"We're trying to help people living in poverty to save for a better economic future," said Deborah Page-Adams, assistant professor.
Run by the Heart of America Family Services Family Focus Center, the program focuses on providing a way for the poor to accumulate savings.
The program is part of a national trial run designed to assess the effects of children living in poverty when their family has assets.
While the program is still in its infancy, the early results show nothing but positives: kids are more likely to stay in school and teen-age girls are less likely to get pregnant. The effects on children are especially important to the program's success since there are 123 kids currently involved.
"It's too early to tell for sure, but it gives them a kind of hope for building for the future," Page-Adams said. "It could make life better for the kids at home, and increase civic participation."
She pointed to increased stress levels as one possible downfall of the program, but at least one participant has no such complaints.
"It's exciting," said Malacara Guadalupe. "Before I never really put money away to save, but I am very used to it now and it's exciting."
In order to join, participants just have to meet an income requirement of 150 percent or less poverty, agree to save at least $10 per month, and attend a monthly educational class.
So far, the classes have ranged from learning about taxes and money markets to understanding insurance.
"They're very informative," Guadalupe said. "Sometimes we learn from the class, and sometimes we learn because the other people ask questions."
Participants set aside the money to save for a house, college education, or to start a small business. They can save from $10 to $30 each month, and through private funding from the Kaufman Foundation, a 200 percent match rate is guaranteed.
"It's an investment," said Martin Guerra, 32, who joined the program shortly after it started last November. "You'd be silly to pass it up."
Page-Adams said there were thoughts of having a higher savings maximum, but having an ensured match rate was needed.
"That's one of the best parts," said Malacara Guadalupe, another member of the program. "I have that money for sure, I know it's there."
Once the money is deposited, participants cannot touch it unless they withdraw from the program or experience a financial hardship.
For example, if a person has decided to save for a college education, the money they saved is sent directly to the school.
If a person were to save at the maximum rate -- the average monthly deposit through six months was $27.89 -- they would have $1,080 after a year and $4,320 at the completion of the four-year program.
"They can really accumulate some savings pretty quickly," Page-Adams said. "Then they can start using the money for what they want."
For Guerra, that means starting a coin-operated laundry in Kansas City. He used to work repairing washers and dryers, so he figures he could save some money on maintenance.
"Service would be no problem," he said. "I have some other people that want to go in with me, but I want to try it on my own first."
Guerra hopes to start before he finishes the four-year program, then use the saved money to improve the business and send his two daughters -- Christina, 10, and Jacqueline, 9 -- to college.
"That's the plan," he said. "I've been planning this for several years, but before this (program) I couldn't come up with more money to invest into it."
Saving money was also a problem for Guadalupe before she got into the program.
"I'd save some money -- one month, yes, two months, no," she said. "But not on a regular basis, like every month, every month, every month."
She knows exactly where that money is going.
"My big goal is to send my children to college," she said.
Denisse, 18, wants to study communications, while Jesus, 16, is aspiring to be an architect, possibly at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"They think it's a very good way to make money to go to college," Guadalupe said. "I believe for them it's also a good example of if you want, you can.
"If you want to do something, you can do it."
-- Sam Mellinger's phone message number is 832-7189. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.