Credit: George Danby

Despite recent progress, Maine continues to struggle with too many children who are growing up in poverty, unsure where their next meal will come from.

But an innovative collaboration between the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Maine Community Foundation, the Maine Community Action Association and Maine Equal Justice Partners has come together to make a change.

Called Invest in Tomorrow, the initiative sets real and aspirational goals to tackling the epidemic of childhood poverty in Maine.

In 2019, Invest in Tomorrow looks to lift 2,000 children out of poverty, increase work among low-income families by 160,000 hours and increase earnings for those families by $5 million. Overall, the initiative is setting the goal of cutting childhood poverty in half in 10 years.

The goals may sound daunting, but we absolutely know what policies work and how we can work together to reduce childhood poverty.

I speak from personal experience. My family has found those opportunities with the help of smart policy and good state programs.

I grew up in poverty, my family was off and on state assistance throughout my childhood. We moved so much that I stopped trying to keep count. I went to 10 different elementary schools. There was very little stability on our lives.

As an adult, I knew that I wanted a better, more stable life for my children, and I tried to give them that life. I married their father and he joined the Army, hoping to provide us all with a better life. Unfortunately, in early 2010 our marriage ended. I packed up my kids and what we could fit into a minivan and I came home to Maine because this is my home. Unfortunately, my parents couldn’t help us, and within a couple of months, my kids and I found ourselves homeless and moving into a shelter.

Through a twist of fate, we ended up in the same shelter that my mother and younger siblings had lived in a few years prior. The shelter workers knew me and my family. It seemed that I hadn’t been able to escape the life I’d grown up in after all.

I knew that I had to do something very different in order to create the stable life that I’d envisioned for my children. I decided to go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree so that I could have a career and earn enough money to provide us with stability.

I couldn’t afford to go to college and pay for child care for my young children on my own, so I looked to state programs for help. I didn’t like needing state assistance, but I knew that if I could get a degree then I could earn enough money so that we would never need assistance again.

I was able to get into a TANF program called Parents as Scholars that covered things like child care and transportation as well as books and living expenses while I worked toward my degree. I also received food assistance and MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Knowing that our basic needs were covered gave me peace of mind and allowed me to turn my focus to doing well in school — and I succeeded.

In 2016, I graduated from the University of Maine, and I’m just months away now from earning my master’s degree in social work from the university while working at Maine Equal Justice Partners helping others.

At its heart, Invest in Tomorrow is about advancing key strategies to create greater economic opportunity for families with children in Maine. Access to higher education is one of those strategies, and that was a great pathway out of poverty for myself and my family.

Invest in Tomorrow, more than anything, is a set of opportunities for Maine. We can be a state that helps families and their children discover the path to success that works for them, and that will strengthen us all.

Working with a broad group of stakeholders and diverse political opinion, we will build support for programs – like Parents as Scholars – that work, and we will help to lift thousands of kids out of poverty.

Moriah Geer of Old Town will soon graduate from the University of Maine with a master’s degree in social work. She works for Maine Equal Justice Partners.