POWER (Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights)
POWER's Mission Statement: POWER is an organization of low-income parents and allies advocating for a strong social safety net while working toward a world where children and care giving are truly valued, and the devastation of poverty has been eradicated.
POWER, Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights, is a non-profit organization with a focus on advocating for low-income people. It is a community funded and community based organization.
POWER started as a continuation of a previous Seattle based organization WROC. WROC wanted to help people in poverty but the top down system of the organization was what ultimately led to the organization breaking apart. Monica Peabody who had been the WROC Olympia connection headed the beginning of Olympia based POWER. This time around things would be different.
POWER is a matrifocal community as described in pattern card #9 “Matrifocal Orientation”. As a non-profit grass roots organization one of the main focuses POWER has is on single mothers who are some of the most vulnerable because of our patrifocal society. POWER offers no judgment on its members or their situations. Also POWER is run on a consensus basis of decision-making, representing Pattern card #10 “Collective Decision Making”. It does not matter if you are entering POWER as a first time volunteer or you have been a long time member for years, all opinions and suggestions are taken and considered equally.
POWER is a mainly volunteer based organization. There is a board, of which any of their members can apply to join. Anyone can be member; all they have to do is sign up the e-mails list and read POWER News, which comes out weekly. The board must consist of as least 50% of those that are or have previously been low-income. This ensures that those that have experienced poverty are the greater majority because only those that have been there can fully understand the dynamics. POWER has an Americorps volunteer year round and has a number of work-study students; also many interns from the different colleges around town are involved with the work of POWER.
Pattern card #130 “Whistle Blowing” is similar to one of the activities POWER does. The Department of Social and Health Services, is where welfare recipients go to apply for benefits. The thing is, more often then not, the employees are so over whelmed with clients that they fail to give the proper information and attention that is needed. Instead of providing better services by hiring more people to do this job or something along those lines, the blame is placed on the clients. POWER started as filler for the role that DSHS was failing at. Low-income people generally have limited access to resources so POWER aims to be a reliable resource. Open five days a week, from 9am to 5pm, the POWER office people are available for walk ins and phone calls. They have two lines, a regular one and a toll free line that anyone can call. This is the real work of POWER. People call POWER, wanting to understand better the options available to them through the welfare system. POWER strives to give the most efficient information so the callers can advocate for themselves and make the most out of what welfare offers to help get them out of poverty. POWER does research on laws and regulations because often times the caseworkers tell their clients things that simply are not true. POWER offers their personal services such as being a witness during a meeting with a caseworker to make sure abuse is not happening.
Another way POWER “whistle blows” is through our statistics. When a person calls about their rights, POWER uses a special form to take down notes. Two of the questions asked is, “where is your welfare office located?” and “who is your case worker?” this is followed by how their caseworker treats them. At the end of the month, stats are taken and POWER can see if there are any reoccurrences of abuse or neglect. This also works the other way, if say; a caseworker was continually great with their clients. Unfortunately the latter rarely is the case.
“Power of Story” pattern card #114 is something that POWER continually does. They have recordings of personal stories surrounding poverty in hopes to enlighten those with negative stereotypes. There is a radio show POWER has as well where these stores are broadcasted and issues surrounding poverty are discussed. POWER often testifies, using their member’s personal stories, for different laws that are being passed. This also goes into “Voices of the Unheard” pattern card #83. Along with using personal stories to bring attention to the people of the issues surrounding poverty, POWER works very hard to have their voice heard. They have been protesting against the recent budget cuts with a special focus on the cuts to TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). Since POWER is based on those from low-income backgrounds, they advocate that they should be involved in the decisions that directly affect them.
POWER is a growing organization. Since the beginning of this year 2011, The main POWER office has moved out of a church donated room to an actual office space downtown Olympia allowing for more people to get involved as well as allowing the organization to do more for and in the community. Also just this year POWER has started to other branches; Seattle and Vancouver Washington. By growing so much in such a short amount of time the dynamics of POWER has changed. As an organization they are trying to figure their growth structure out and this has proved very difficult. What types of actions should they be more focused on? What other organizations should they make better connections with? POWER is facing these questions and many more and having a difficult time figuring it out.
Obviously POWER has potential to be an affective organization for change, the fast growth in the past months has shown that. However, something is not working. POWER has a very high turn over rate, which makes long-term projects an unorganized arduous task to say the least. Why does this seemingly great organization keep losing people?
One of the many activities POWER does is hold public events. They do these events in hopes to bring in people to raise awareness and promote dialogue about poverty. The problem is, these events are rarely planned out with a direction. Sure they want to raise awareness but how is holding a said event going to do that? What is the final outcome or what would be the ideal outcome of said event? These types of question are not a priority within the organization. This leads to disconnect with the people. POWER helps many different people on a daily basis to find information that can potentially help get them out of poverty. POWER has thousands of members. However when it comes down to it very few people show up to these events and it’s usually the interns and work-study students who are contracted with the organization at the time.
POWER has the capability to lead a people’s movement but they need to address the issues that always seem to get pushed under the rug. With real goals in mind when planning different actions and events and making sure the word is out, POWER could make real social change.