A recent study conducted by United Way shows Santa Rosa County residents currently have a 41% poverty rate.  According to Kyle Holley, development director for United Way, the number comes from accumulation of data listing a number of household incomes within 200% range of the Federal poverty level. 

"What that means is 41% of the population of Santa Rosa County lives within these means of 200% of the poverty level," he says.  "One illness, one job loss can wreck a family's finances." 

What is poverty?  Poverty is the extent to which an individual does without resources, says Director of Federal Programs for Santa Rosa County Dr. Karen Barber.  She says half of the citizens of Santa Rosa County are at risk. 

"A lot of the people within this 200% do not realize they're in this category  and how close missing one paycheck can lead to a catastrophic situation.  Poverty effects one's ability to protect oneself.  One might not have the money to relocate, to have water, food.  Along with skyrocketing health care cost, not understanding unemployment, no way to acquire transportation.  It's about feeling hopeless and giving up easily.  Not having people in your balcony," she says.  She also says in the United States, the Federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,550.

Holley emphasizes the statistics as they stand. He says people need to reach out and realize the vulnerability of the majority of the county's residences.  "Local people need to call for outside investments to come here.  This is a great place to live.  We have clean air, clean water and affordable land.  We need industry to stabilize the incomes of our local people," he says.

According to Barber education is key when it comes to building resources. She says Bridges out of Poverty, a nonprofit organization, offering educational resources to those in need.  Bridges, says Barber, brings people from all sectors and economic classes together to improve job retention rates, build resources, improve outcomes and support those who are moving out of poverty.

"Bridges teaches to look at poverty from a different perspective.  It's a different way of thinking, a different way of life," she says, "Bridges offers classes to help those in need get back on their feet."

For more information on Bridges out of Poverty contact Dr. Karen Barber, director of Federal programs at Santa Rosa County School District at 983-5001 or email at barberk@mail.santarosa.k12.fl.us.