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Panhandle Spirit: "Less Than" documentary examines poverty in Amarillo

A new documentary, "Less Than", examines poverty in Amarillo and ways to prevent it(David Bradley KVII)

Depending upon your perspective, poverty might not appear to be a big problem in Amarillo, but a new documentary on the topic, called “Less Than”, hopes to change your mind. The United Way of Amarillo and Canyon and others behind the project hope to drive home the message that poverty is here, but it’s also preventable.

“This idea of creating a documentary that allows us to not only talk about poverty, not only locally, but also nationally allows us to start these conversations, and then we’re able to do some effective work from there on,” said Raul Rodarte-Suto, United Way Community Initiatives Manager.

Rodarte-Suto spends his workday finding ways to help the thousands of people in our city who struggle daily at the poverty level, which he says is around 20 percent in Potter County alone.

And they might not fit the image you have. Doctor Russell Lowery-Hart, President of Amarillo College, says many of them are on campus.

“51% of all Amarillo College students have some level of food insecurity. 59% have levels of housing insecurity, meaning, during the course of a month, they have days where they don’t know where they’ll spend the night,” Dr. Hart said.

Doctor Hart says Amarillo is well-positioned to help offset those challenges.

“We have a tremendous amount of non-profit support for citizens, but we’re not very good at connecting our neighbors to those resources.”

He says our city’s economic future hinges on making that happen—that studies show education attainment is the primary predictor of whether a community will thrive or fail. Right now, 70 percent of the population has no post-secondary credential, putting us potentially on a path toward failure.

“In order for our students to get a college degree, successfully completed, we’re going to have to deal with these life barriers that are keeping them from success in the classroom,” said Dr. Hart.

Rodarte-Soto says he’s confident that once people in our area understand the scope of the problem, as well as the tools we have to defeat it, that they’ll be motivated to achieve it, in the Panhandle spirit.

“It’s a documentary that has some heavy things because of the subject matter, but there’s a lot of hope in it. And it’s that hope that keeps us going, that hope that keeps us burning to help each other, to be a community, to live united, in a sense.”

The film premieres Friday night at 7 at the Performing Arts Center. Tickets are free, but you’re encouraged to reserve your seat at lessthan.film.

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