Since 1901, the pinnacle of Empower Missouri’s work each year has been its Annual Conference. In fact, for the first decade, that was the bulk of Empower Missouri’s (then called the Missouri State Conference on Charities & Corrections) work. Once a year, advocates gathered together to discuss the state of affairs in Missouri and make plans for a brighter future. And while much has changed in our state over the last 120 years, that core work of our conference remains the same.
For that reason, we were thrilled to add coalition meetings to conference programming this year, setting aside time for each coalition to brainstorm, discuss, and move towards a final policy agenda for 2022. It was so exciting to see these collaborative spaces in action, hearing from both veteran voices and new faces. We were able to end the conference with a report on how our legislative agenda is shaping up for the year ahead. We’ll have a final version to share next month, but here are a few of the items from each coalition:
Affordable Housing Coalition
- Statewide housing needs assessment
- Pass Source of Income protection for MO renters
- Increase funding mechanism for AHTF
- Put MO in compliance with Fair Housing Act
Criminal Justice Coalition
- Reform peremptory jury challenges
- Raise the Age expansion
- Automated expungement
- Expanded funding for drug treatment & mental health programs
Food Security Coalition
- Tax credits for opening grocery stores in food deserts
- Senior Simplified Application for SNAP
- Remove ban on SNAP access for more previously incarcerated individuals
Alongside coalition spaces, participants had their pick of 15 different breakout sessions covering topics from the criminal justice ramifications of marijuana legislation to the intersection of poverty and developmental disabilities. Our team was so thrilled to learn alongside our guests, and our inboxes are brimming with partnership possibilities thanks to your participation and innovation. We know that it can be hard to prioritize the time for your own learning and development, and we’re so grateful that advocates across the state made the time and space to come and learn from and interact with our incredible speakers.
And finally, the icing on the cake of the conference was our wonderful keynote speakers. Our friend and contract lobbyist Jeremy LaFaver led an eye-opening kick-off keynote with a panel of legislators speaking about poverty in their home districts. While their districts were very demographically diverse, themes of hardship, troublesome bureaucracy, and the kindness of neighbors flowed freely across lines of difference. We are committed to working with each of these legislators and their colleagues to find solutions for the poverty plaguing their communities.
On Thursday evening, Dr. Jessi Gold broke down the psychological hardships of caring professions, helping us build the tools to recognize and combat burnout in our daily lives. And on Friday morning, Stephenie Smith brought it home by helping us identify the legacy of systemic racism in the cycle of poverty. She pushed us to identify our own mindsets about people living in poverty and trace them back to their roots. This practice will be vital as we continue to dissect the policies that are keeping families entrenched in a cycle of poverty and create new policies that can set us on a different path.
Thanks to our speakers, our sponsors, and our guests for a wonderful two days together. And, save the dates of November 15-16, 2022 for next year’s Summit! As COVID numbers began to rebound over the summer, we made a difficult decision to keep the conference online for the second consecutive year. While there are some advantages to a virtual meeting space, we missed the opportunity to reconnect in person with colleagues from across the state. Next year, we’re looking forward to greeting old friends with hugs and telling old war stories over communal meals & evening cocktails. Mark your calendars now — we can’t wait!