In 2014, community members in Newark, including local leaders active with St. Vincent de Paul, gathered together to discuss what is keeping members of the community stuck in poverty. They knew that one more food pantry or one more clothing drive would not change the circumstances of people struggling to pay their bills each month.
The residents decided to form an organization that would respond to poverty in the community not through charity, but through community organizing. Together, we could work to make structural and policy changes that could impact the whole community, not just help people one at a time. The Newark Think Tank on Poverty was formed.
Since then, a 501c3 was formed called the Vincentian Ohio Action Network (VOAN) specifically focused on supporting this systemic change work. The Think Tanks on Poverty have also expanded from Newark to local Think Tanks on Poverty now in Perry County, Zanesville, Lancaster. The Think Tanks on Poverty have been featured in dozens of local and national news stories. We've led the charge to help pass various local and statewide policies. We've worked with community leaders, government leaders, and faith-based communities, holding numerous community meetings and events. We also speak out about various federal and state-level issues through statements and communications with policymakers.
ARCH (Accompanying Returning Citizens with Hope) is also a subsidiary program of VOAN. ARCH was founded in 2016 as a program of St. Vincent de Paul, the Diocesan Office for Social Concerns, VOAN, and the Catholic Foundation. ARCH organizes educational events, manages accompaniment services to link people coming home from incarceration to services, builds a network with business leaders to link workers to employers, and works on systemic advocacy to promote restorative practices and reforms in the justice system. ARCH has grown in 2020 with the generous support of the Franklin County Commissioners Office of Justice, Policy, and Programs.
The Think Tank Mission
VOAN and the Think Tanks on Poverty work on community education, leadership development, coalition building, storytelling, strategy, and developing the power needed in the community to make the changes we seek -- one step at a time. We have obtained seats at the table and worked on a range of issues across Central Ohio, including addiction and recovery, housing and homelessness, criminal justice and reentry, broadband internet, and youth prevention.
The Think Tanks on Poverty seek to give voice to working and poor people to challenge the systemic issues that keep them in poverty. Systemic change is of two kinds -- We may change a policy or law, but the most important and long-lasting systemic change is when we change how decisions are made so they include working and poor people. While doing this primary work, we also attempt to address hunger, employment, transportation, housing, injustice, and other basic needs of our organizing members so that they may continue building the community.
Vincentian Ohio Action Network
This Vincentian Ohio Action Network (VOAN) is a 501c3 focused on the mission of ending poverty through systemic change. VOAN does this by establishing, launching, funding and supporting various community programs and initiatives, including the Think Tanks on Poverty and Accompanying Returning Citizens with Hope. The board of VOAN is comprised of representatives from ARCH and the Think Tanks, as well as various at large members who are active in our work.
VOAN and the Think Tanks on Poverty have also been supported in various ways by dozens of other local partners who believe in our work. A special thanks to our funders who have helped make this work possible:
Adams Family Foundation
Catholic Campaign for Human Development
Catholic Diocese of Columbus
Community Foundation for the Alleghenies
City of Zanesville, Community Development Department
Foundation for Appalachian Ohio
Franklin County Commissioners* (ARCH)
Governor's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives
Licking County Community Foundation
Muskingum County Community Foundation
National Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Notre Dame Summer Service Learning Program
Ohio Arts Council
Ohio CDC Association
Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS)
Sis Bros Foundation
Society of St. Vincent De Paul, Diocesan Council of Columbus
United Way of Licking County
And the kindness of various individual and anonymous donors