As a college student serving meals at Salt Lake soup kitchens, Bill Crim was surprised to recognize a part of himself in the eyes of the homeless.
Crim had forgotten that years earlier while growing up in Orem, his own family had experienced severe poverty for a season."I thought I was the only person who experienced that because everything around me, my neighborhood, projected the image of middle-class suburbia."
So the mechanical engineering major redirected his studies to political science, completed a fellowship with the Coalition on Human Needs in Washington, D.C., and decided to become an advocate for Utah's low-income sector.
As the new director of Utah Issues, the general premise of Crim's mission remains unchanged.
"My core beliefs are that all people have inherent dignity," he said, "that the economic rewards of work are not evenly distributed in our society, and that in a society as rich as ours, the suffering associated with poverty really is inexcusable."
While working at the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center at the University of Utah about 10 years ago, Crim met Gina Cornia, now in charge of welfare reform issues at Utah Issues.
"He is now and was then very community minded, very committed to economic justice for low-income people," Cornia said. "He always wanted to involve them in the process of making the policies that impact their lives."
Crim is replacing Patrick Poulin, director of Utah Issues of four years, who is now pursuing a career in clinical social work.
Crim said as the director of Utah Issues, he wants to maintain the programs that keep people from ending up in homelessness. But more than that, he wants Utahns to understand that poverty is a matter of economics, and it's of concern to everyone in the community, Crim said.
"Poverty shouldn't ever be understood as a personal failure or personal problem. . . . It isn't just laziness or lack of education."
Most families in poverty have at least one employed member with one or more jobs, he said. "Our economy just doesn't support full-time work for many people."
Crim spent Tuesday, his first day as director, talking with community agencies that have an interest in Utah's low-income sector.
He's been doing the same thing for several weeks -- meeting with people throughout Utah trying to get a clear picture of the community's perspective on Utah Issues.
Crim was previously the legislative lead for Utah Issues and his keen political understanding will be of great benefit as director, Poulin said.
During his career at Utah Issues, Crim has also worked as a researcher, community organizer and policy advocate on issues such as school fees, welfare reform and health-care reform.
Networking is one of Crim's strong points, said Kerry Steadman, president of the Utah Issues board, which selected Crim as the new director.
That's a skill Crim will find invaluable as he moves to the head of the advocacy organization working to alleviate poverty in Utah.
"Any more, there isn't one organization that can do it all, and he has the ability to partner," Steadman said.
Utah Issues has a 25-year history of working to improve the quality of life statewide. The organization focuses on the need for affordable housing, a stronger social safety net for Utah's poor, access to quality health care and, most recently, local initiatives to build community-based projects.
Crim is married to Diane Crim, Utah Teacher of the Year, who teaches math at Clayton Middle School.
Crim said he hopes to change the attitudes of many Utahns toward poverty.
"Poverty is not just about not being able to buy a new car or having to ride the bus. Poverty is a form of violence that forces people just like everybody else -- it forces them to make decisions other people don't have to make."