Making poverty ‘MIA’: UM students prepare for conference to fight poverty

The Miami Poverty Conference, a new initiative at the University of Miami, is a one-day conference that is run through the Butler Center for Volunteer Services & Leadership Development.  

The conference aims to educate students from universities and colleges in the Miami area about the growing problem of poverty in Miami. According to a 2007 census, the poverty rate in Miami is at 26.9 percent, ranking it in the bottom five of cities with more than 250,000 people. Additionally, Miami’s median household income of $27,088, as compared to the national average of $48,451, also ranked in the bottom four.   

“When people look at Miami, they tend to see the glitz and glamour,” said Kartik Telukuntla, a sophomore and co-chair of the conference. “People tend to overlook the longstanding issue of poverty in Miami. We hope that this conference will not only raise awareness about these issues, but will also inspire students to actively engage in the community and do their part to alleviate poverty, thus making poverty MIA in Miami.”  

The one-day conference will take place at the University of Miami this Saturday at 8 a.m. in the University Center Lower Lounge, where check-in will take place and breakfast will be served. This will be followed by the opening ceremonies, which will feature Judge Steven Leifman, an expert on poverty and mental illness, as the keynote speaker. The conference will also feature two university professors, Brad McGuinn and Josh Diem, who will speak about two aspects of poverty: politics and education, respectively.   

For the majority of the conference, students will be divided into smaller groups and will attend interactive workshops focusing on various aspects of poverty. There will be a total of 12 different workshops that attendees will be allowed to pick from throughout the day.    

“Poverty itself is very abstract, and there are a wide variety of issues and points of discussion, when it comes to poverty,” said sophomore Claire Heckerman, one of the co-chairs of the conference. “By having a number of different workshops, it allows attendees to further learn about areas of poverty that they are most interested in. This will allow each attendee to take home the most possible from this day long conference, because if they are interested in the workshop topic, they are more likely to listen, learn and participate.” 

The conference will also include a “hunger banquet,” which will look to have attendees participate in a realistic experience of how things really are for people plagued by poverty, and a “poverty panel,” which will allow attendees to experience the reality of poverty, through the real-life accounts of people who have spent their lives combating this injustice.   

“The last segment of the conference will focus on what we, as a community, can do to alleviate poverty in Miami,” Telukuntla said. “While we will spend a large portion of the day educating students on poverty in the Miami area, we want our participants to leave with the resources and connections to make a concrete difference. Our vision is to allow for students to meet with experienced community leaders in order to openly brainstorm on how to make a true difference in people’s lives in Miami.” 

Those who are interested in registering for the conference or learning more about the Butler Center can visit for more information. 

If You Go… 
What: Miami Poverty Conference 

When: Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009 at 8:00 a.m.

Where: Whitten University Center

Cost: Free