Aqua Porter became interim executive director of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI) in the spring. Its board unanimously made her the permanent leader on Monday.
RMAPI is an umbrella group working with dozens of local groups attempting to eradicate poverty. Porter is the second leader in the initiative’s history, replacing Leonard Brock who stepped down late last year.
When Porter accepted the role, she said she knew about well-documented problems in the area, like one of the highest child poverty rates in the nation. Rochester also ranks high in extreme poverty. Incomes for people in extreme poverty are below half of the federal poverty line.That line for a single person is about $12,700; for a family of four it's around $26,000.
The minimum wage will rise to $12.50 an hour for most of the state in the new year.
But Porter said the pandemic has made things worse by shoving people who already lived on the margins into deeper financial instability.
“The pandemic makes a terrible problem catastrophic in Rochester," said Porter. “There are people who were always sort of hanging right between poverty and self-sufficiency and it doesn’t take much to go either way.”
Porter said it's still too early to make any dramatic changes to the organization’s direction, but she would like to bring more people to the table, including business owners.
She said the community must consider bold actions to fight poverty like raising wages. Porter said that’s not a simple process, but she'd like to start a conversation on it.
“I truly believe that we make a difference here in Rochester, but it's going to take a lot of people and it's going to take a change in mindset,’ said Porter.
Porter brings decades of experience at Xerox to the role most prominently as a vice president of business transformation. She retired from that role in 2018.