Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Getting 'real' about poverty

First Lady Cylvia Hayes brings Prosperity Initiative campaign to Lake Oswego

Cylvia Hayes is best known as the first lady of Oregon and the longtime girlfriend of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. by: LYNN HENNAGIN - Cylvia Hayes speaks to the Willamette Women Democrats in Lake Oswego about the Oregon Prosperity Initiative.

But to her resume as a business innovator with 3E Strategies and a leader in sustainability, she has added the role of “poverty fighter.” Hayes is the founder and leader of the Oregon Prosperity Initiative, and she brought her campaign to Lake Oswego on Nov. 13 with her presentation at the meeting of the Willamette Women Democrats.

Hayes is not acerbic, like so many persons in public discourse, but she is intense, determined and “a handful,” as she cheerfully admits, in her work since the Oregon Prosperity Initiative started two years ago.

“The purpose of the Oregon Prosperity Initiative is to stamp out hunger and poverty,” Hayes told the Lake Oswego gathering. “Robert Kennedy called poverty ‘another kind of violence’ — slow death by hunger and no heat.

“Statistics show that 17 percent of Oregonians live in poverty, but that grossly underestimates the number of people who are struggling. I know something about poverty.”

Hayes gives off an aura of political glamour in her many public appearances around the state, but she is candid about her “colorful family experience.” When she arrived in the Northwest, Hayes said, “I was a rough, little redneck Okie.” Her family heritage was violence, drunkenness and instability. The only reason she came to Oregon in the first place was that her mother had taken up with her father’s brother.

As Hayes put it, “Mom had to get out of Dodge.”

The only expectation for Hayes was to settle into the Northwest version of redneck country. Instead, she became educated, successful and now has influence on the highest level of Oregon government thanks to the man she casually refers to as “John,” and poverty is her top priority.

“Poverty is a tragedy and a waste of talent,” Hayes said. “Poverty’s drain on our economy is one-half trillion dollars a year in the USA. Kids below the poverty level have half the high school graduation rate of other kids and they have worse health. The cost of hunger in Oregon is $2 billion a year.”

Hayes said that there has been a slight recovery in the economy, but even recovery is the wrong goal, and that is why she spearheaded the Oregon Prosperity Initiative.

“Even before the recession things were not working for low-income people and the shrinking middle class,” Hayes said. “We don’t need recovery, we need reinvention. We did not have a comprehensive approach to ending poverty.”

That has now started, Hayes said, thanks to Kitzhaber’s introduction of the 10-year budget plan. That action has combined with new programs that have the input of the Prosperity Team — a diverse group of businesses, service organizations, educational groups, churches and racial groups.

“We’re getting real about poverty,” Hayes said. “We need an effective way to address the systematic causes of poverty.”

The kickoff on Oregon’s economic reinvention starts this week when Hayes’ Prosperity Team, along with the Oregon Business Council, holds its first Prosperity Summit in Malheur County. Other counties hard hit by poverty will follow.

“This is an unprecedented alliance,” Hayes said. “This is the ground level of economic reinvention. People need to know that the economy is not a force of nature or act of God. We invented the economy and we can reinvent it. It’s in America’s DNA, figuring out what works in industry, oil, space and the Internet.”

For Hayes, economic hope is literally blowing in the wind. She used Sherman County as an example, a place sinking under the weight of a high poverty rate. Then opportunity arrived in the form of wind farms, which blew $17 million into Sherman County’s economy. Its government then used the windfall to create a rainy day fund and build a new school and fire station. Hayes said this is only one of the creative ways that Oregon’s economy can be revitalized.

Hayes believes there are a lot of Oregonians like the rough, little redneck of 25 years ago. Even though the federal government is now in a trough that some see of futility and ineffectiveness, Hayes says the nature of this state makes it much more open to transformation and reform.

“We have a sense of community here that has been lost on a national level,” Hayes said. “The state of Oregon is very well positioned to not just treat poverty but prevent it. It is so exciting to hear the governor using the ‘P’ word.

“We are different here in Oregon.”

For more about the Oregon Prosperity Initiative go to the websites oregon/gov/firstlady/Pages/prosperity.aspx or oregonprospers.org.

Cliff Newell can be reached at cnewell@lakeoswegoreview.com and 503-636-1281, ext. 105.

Add a comment

Local Weather



Lake Oswego


Humidity: 93%

Wind: 5 mph

  • 27 Jan 2015

    Showers Late 52°F 47°F

  • 28 Jan 2015

    Mostly Cloudy 58°F 41°F