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School teacher Sarah Keel paints her asterisk.

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Wildfire Paints a Picture of Brighter Future without Poverty

Arizona Community Action Association has been igniting community action to end poverty for more than 50 years. As such, the organization felt it was time for a new name and fresh perspective that better represented its extensive work in the Phoenix community. 

Executive Director Cynthia Zwick speaks to the new title for the organization, now known as Wildfire.

"The name change came about after looking at the work we’re doing and wanting that work and awareness to match the name. Wildfire expresses the future we want to create."

Wildfire leverages its vast experience to stop poverty in our community before it starts. The new name represents something bold—the need to bring power to the crucial discussion about ending poverty. The organization's hope is to fix this problem by collaborating with local businesses to create new systems for those in need.

"We need to fix or create new systems for people to succeed. Success is different for everyone, but we believe that communities can be healthier when they can afford their basic needs with the jobs they currently have. That’s our premise," Cynthia says.

There are many statistics that drive Wildfire, some of which were findings out of a charitable trust study. This stated that if the systems in place today don’t change, 60 percent of kids born into poverty will stay in poverty. The other statistic Wildfire often shares hits closer to home: 46 percent of jobs in Arizona are low-wage jobs, paying less than $15 an hour.

"If that doesn’t change, poverty won't change," Cynthia says. "There is a common misconception with poverty and the illusion of choice. There is much misinformation on what circumstances are and why people end up in poverty. We demystify that illusion with stats."

Wildfire looks for quality jobs for those in need through an initiative called RAISE ARIZONA. This is a partnership with local businesses statewide that offer a living wage.

"We encourage people to join us and buy products/use services of these places of business because they are doing the right thing. We want people to sign our 'living wage pledge,' and we have 900 signatures so far, plus the thousands who also say they support these businesses."

Wildfire also commissions a children’s savings account program, called Headstart, through the state. They believe if kids have investments from a young age, and families can contribute, there is a larger likelihood that these children will go to college and earn higher wages in the future. 

Other forms of active engagement include working with community action agencies in finding local solutions for poverty, plus emergency services like utility, rent and mortgage assistance. Wildfire assists with financial coaching and partners with a robust number of organizations to increase awareness in the greater community of social and racial injustice and poverty.

In keeping with Wildfire's hands-on approach, Cynthia says that art is often a way to bring people together for the greater good. Wildfire decided that enlisting the assistance of artist Hugo Medinez to create a mural for the agency would be a great way to get the community involved.

"The Phoenix Center for the Arts allowed us an area to bring our vision to the surface. Hugo painted the language STOP POVERTY BEFORE IT STARTS, and then we invited members of the community to come over and create an asterisk to show they support and vow to participate in the work going forward."

Wildfire dots the “i” with an asterisk to show a need for change, so everyone created an asterisk to support this endeavor.

"We hope it’s an ongoing reminder of our work and the work that is so important in the community. We want to create a vision where everyone in Arizona can thrive."

Current Statistics

  • 38.9 percent of working families make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level—7.6 percent of Arizonans live in extreme poverty—essentially on $2 a day or $209 a month, $2,516 a year.
  • 29.5 percent of Arizonans are asset poor—percentage without sufficient net worth to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income.
  • 41.8 percent are liquid asset poor—without sufficient liquid assets, money in the bank, stocks, mutual funds—to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income.
  • 20.5 percent of Arizonans have a negative net worth. (Prosperity Now)
  • 14.2 percent of working-age men are poor; 16.9 percent of working-age women, 33.3 percent of Native Americans, 23.5 percent of Latinos; 22.1 percent of African Americans; 14 percent of whites, 13.3 percent of Asian Americans.
  • Income inequality in Arizona: top 1 percent average annual income is $784,469; poorest 25 percent average annual income is $23,640.
  • 46 percent of our jobs pay less than $15 an hour.


  • Brian Spicker of the Valley of The Sun United Way paints his asterisk.