Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette TLRMC Addiction Services Director Jessica Embry discusses the need for addressing poverty in Grayson County.

Matt Lasley | GC News-Gazette

TLRMC Addiction Services Director Jessica Embry discusses the need for addressing poverty in Grayson County.

A new group of community leaders has formed to address poverty in Grayson County.

The Grayson County Poverty Coalition, organized by Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center Addiction Services Director Jessica Embry, Grayson County Alliance Executive Director Debbie Childress, and Community Action Program Director Tracy Dennison, held its first meeting Tuesday afternoon and invited several other community members to attend.

According to statistics gathered by the coalition, Grayson County's povery rate currently sits at 22.5 percent, which is higher than the state percentage of 18.3 percent.

Additionally, the average household income in Grayson County ($35,944) is nearly $11,000 less than the state average of $46,535, and Grayson County's percentage of residents with a high school diploma (79.1 percent) is nearly six percentage points lower than the state's 85.2 percent.

On a city-by-city basis, Leitchfield has a poverty rate of 29.3 percent, Clarkson has a poverty rate of 32 percent, and Caneyville has a poverty rate of 32.1 percent, leading officials to determine that rural areas appear to be more susceptible to poverty.

Embry said she did not realize the severity of the situation in Grayson County until she really looked at the aforementioned numbers.

"My thinking process that led me to reaching out to Debbie and Tracy is that we have to fix our problems internally before we can ever achieve a higher level of economic growth," Embry said in a statement about the establishment of the coalition. "What I hope to come out of this is a more stable workforce within our county and greater economic stability."

During Tuesday's meeting, attendees were asked to share what they considered to be the greatest barriers to eliminating poverty in Grayson County.

Among those barriers listed were generational poverty, a lack of living wage jobs, a need for more rural jobs, soft skills, flexible/affordable childcare, criminal history, transportation, community involvement and empathy, education, and knowledge of resources available to those in need.

The poverty coalition is looking to form subcommittees to attempt to address these different issues on a more individualized basis.

Childress said there has been a shift in the past couple of years towards addressing the issue of poverty in Grayson County, and she and the other organizers of the coalition are hopeful that, by coming together, community members can form plans to make meaningful change.

But to do so, more community participation will be needed.

"This is going to be a team effort, or it's going to dwindle," Childress said.

Individuals wishing to participate in the coalition's efforts are encouraged to attend the Grayson County Poverty Coalition's second meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 17 from 12-1 p.m. at the Leitchfield United Methodist Church Mission Building (located at 208 West Main St.).

"Anyone is welcome, even those who are currently living at the poverty level to give us that first-hand perspective," Embry said.