Once an industrial powerhouse, Middletown, Ohio epitomizes a rust belt city on the road to recovery. ARMCO Steel (now AK Steel Holding Corporation) opened in Middletown in the early 20th century and quickly became a leader in the rolled steel industry and the city’s largest employer. Yet, by the 1960s, the steel industry began its steep decline, taking Middletown jobs, per-capita income, and population size with it.

Today, Middletown’s greatest assets are the community members dedicated to returning the city to its roots as a healthy, vibrant place for people to work, raise a family, and pursue their idea of the American Dream. Local government agencies, community organization, educational institutions, and businesses are united in their commitment to replace poverty with self-sufficiency, opportunity, and upward mobility.

In support of these on-going economic and social development efforts, Middlelayers is partnering with the Community Building Institute (CBI) of Middletown to host a community development forum focusing on the Psychology of Poverty. Founded in 2009 after Forbes Magazine labeled Middletown as one of the United States’ 10 fastest dying cities, CBI is an asset based community development organization changing Middletown “one family, one student, one neighborhood at a time.”

Special Screening on April 23, 2018 at 12:30pm

The event will begin with the screening of a documentary film, Replicating a J.D. Vance Anomaly. Produced by Middlelayers, the film is an exploration of the socio-economic factors that prevent impoverished children from becoming upwardly mobile. According to Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips, “these socio-economic factors; including food deserts, a lack of access to quality education, and environmental concerns; are instrumental in determining good optimal physical and psychological health.” As the film discusses, the psychological impacts of poverty can be subtle, yet profound. The circumstances surrounding poverty often contribute to a sense of hopelessness that permeates the psyche of the community and leaves, as Vance writes in Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, “so many people in my community to believe that the modern American meritocracy was not built for them.”

Following the film, local leaders will participate in a panel discussion about the psychological impacts of poverty and the challenges they create in promoting upward mobility in Middletown. City Manger Doug Adkins, who will be sitting on the panel, believes that successful efforts to address poverty and penetrate a mentality of hopelessness must be collaborative, holistic, and understanding of the circumstances in which people live. Adkins adds that, “poverty has its own culture and lifting families out of poverty takes faith, community resources, education, reliable child care, transportation and job opportunities. Only when all of those needs are simultaneously and continually met will families see ongoing success.” Joining Adkins on the panel will be Jackie Phillips (Middletown Health Commissioner), Suzanne Prescott (Early Childhood Program Director, Butler County Educational Service Center), and Jeffrey Diver (Executive Director, Supports to Encourage Low-Income Families [SELF]).

The forum will serve as an opportunity for local leader from various city sectors to gather and collectively strategize about how to best leverage Middletown’s resources to confront the psychological barriers to poverty alleviation. According to Verlena Stewart, the Director of CBI’s Parent Resource Center and the Robert “Sunny” Hill Community Center, “We [Middletown] have an abundance of resources in many areas. But, until we look at the mental and psychological impact that poverty has made over generations and really deal with it, we won’t see the deep impact we all desire. I believe that having conversations like this will put us in a better position to create real change.”