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To fight poverty in Philly, work with both parents and kids, activist says

South Philly nonprofit's executive director stresses holistic approach to beating poverty.
Otis Bullock, executive director of Diversified Community Services in Point Breeze, strongly supports a 'two-generation' approach. (Provided)

The executive director of a community-based nonprofit in Point Breeze that works with 5,000 children and adults in the South Philly area says his organization is exploring new ways to fight poverty, and that it begins with providing services to an entire family unit at the same time.

"Philly is the only big city in the nation where we're as poor as we were 10 years ago," said Otis Bullock, executive director of Diversified Community Services. "It has been said for people to change their economic circumstances, it takes five generations for the the advantages or disadvantages to disappear. I submit, with Philadelphia having a 26 percent poverty rate, that we can't wait five generations."

Bullock, husband of Pa. state rep. Donna Bullock, previously cut his teeth fighting inequality as executive director of Mayor Michael Nutter's Office of Community Service, managing a $7 million budget. A Temple law graduate and Strawberry Mansion resident, he previously was a legislative aide to Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.

Now he is forcefully advocating for a holistic approach in blending services for citizens struggling with poverty to approach the entire family, both parents and children—the "two-generation" approach.

"Our goal and mission has always been to address and alleviate poverty by eventually taking a two-generation strategy across the country," he said.

Bullock believes that anti-poverty programs that only address one generation within a household will never succeed.

"When we fund these anti-poverty programs, it's always specific: workforce development, housing, childcare," Bullock said. "In actuality, you have to do all those things together—but the funding doesn't allow you to do that."

Some of Bullock's strategies are based on perspective obtained from personal experience, growing up in North Central Philadelphia and Mantua with 14 siblings. He said learning to play chess at Vaux Middle School and falling in love with "the subtle, critical, and strategic ideas" of the game helped him plan ahead to succeed in life.

Now, he said, he hopes to help hand that passion to other Philadelphians struggling in poverty and is doing that at Diversified Community Services.

Funding from the William Penn Foundation in 2014 helped them explore this method by specifically adding workforce development services for adults who had signed up for the foreclosure mediation program.

While "braided funding" programs are not common, Bullock believes they are essential to successful efforts to end poverty.

"Most programs address just children or adults," Bullock said. "Welfare to work is great for adults, but if you're not also connecting children, you're not really making a dent in the poverty rate. It's all of the above, not either/or. We're talking about families."