A new panel created Tuesday by Mayor Mark Cayer will take the lead in pursuing ways to reduce poverty in the city.

The move is the latest step in a process that began two years ago to address a range of difficult issues associated with poverty in the hope of breaking cycles that have trapped some families for generations.

Cayer assigned a range of tasks to his new Mayoral Ad Hoc Committee on Reducing Poverty and ordered its members to produce a final report detailing its work and recommendations by Nov. 1.

Cayer said the panel’s purpose is to continue the work of the Lewiston Public Schools Subcommittee on Poverty, which completed a report in January calling for a communitywide effort to begin breaking the cycle of poverty by concentrating on “ambitious but achievable targets for change.”

Chart showing childhood poverty rates in Lewiston in recent years. Lewiston Subcommittee on Poverty

About a third of Lewiston children under the age of 5 are impoverished. About a fifth of the city’s residents overall are poor, but many others are on the edge, especially in downtown neighborhoods that are among the poorest in Maine, officials have said.

Based in large part from its exploration of how the Harlem Children’s Zone, a New York City nonprofit initiative, addressed poverty, the school panel urged the community to focus initially on school readiness for those entering kindergarten and ensuring third-graders are reading at or above grade level.

Three months ago, the Lewiston School Committee endorsed its suggestion that officials endeavor to slice the poverty rate of children in Lewiston under the age of 6 by 12% by the end of this year, a step that would require pulling about 90 children out of poverty by Christmas break.

To get there, the new committee should endeavor to “develop and nurture partnerships with other agencies and organizations,” including nonprofits “with knowledge or experience in addressing poverty,” Cayer said.

Lewiston Mayor Mark Cayer Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

It should “enhance the community’s ability to address key issues relating to poverty,” he said, and develop recommendations to the city and schools “designed to maintain a common purpose, alignment of interests and coordination of efforts.”

In addition, the mayor said the panel should “make recommendations to city and school elected officials and staff on policies, practices and procedural changes that will ensure measurable reductions in poverty in Lewiston.”

Cayer said the city and schools spend millions of dollars annually to reduce the symptoms of poverty. Reducing it, he has often said, would help everybody.

“Everyone in this community, whether a CEO making six figures or a family barely getting by, brings value to our community, and we are seeking a collaborative effort to reduce poverty,” he said in a prepared statement. “Building a community that allows every member to thrive is what improves our well-being.”

Lewiston schools Superintendent Jake Langlais said city and school services, “as well as those closest to the challenges, are essential as this collaborative work to reduce the stressors of poverty continues to move forward.”

He hailed Cayer for his leadership on the issue.

Serving on the 14-member panel are Cayer, chairman; Bobbi Avery, chief administrative officer for the Lewiston Public Schools; Denis D’Auteuil, city administrator; Jake Langlais, schools superintendent; a yet-to-be-named doctor from Central Maine Medical Center; Elizabeth Keene, a vice president of St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center; Joleen Bedard, executive director of United Way of Androscoggin County; Tonya Bailey-Curry, a clinical social worker at Bates College’s Counseling and Psychological Services Department; Megan Parks, Lewiston School Committee chairwoman; Fatuma Hussein, executive director of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine; Alicia Rea, city councilor; and state Reps. Kristen Cloutier, a Democrat, and Jon Connor, a Republican.

The new committee will also work with subgroups established for specific purposes, each with a few members already chosen.

One group will focus on reducing poverty. Its members will include Shawn Yardley, Fowsia Musse and Heidi McCarthy.

A group devoted to kindergarten readiness and third grade reading will include Monica Miller, Betsy Norcross-Plourde and Amanda Winslow.

Another, focused on graduation rates, will include William Grant, Julia Sleeper and Joe Philippon.

A final group will explore how to fund the anti-poverty efforts. Its members will include Cayer, Avery and Monique Roy, a former School Committee chairwoman who served on the earlier poverty panel.

The panel’s meetings, not yet scheduled, will be open to the public.

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