Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Blog Action Day 2008!
It's Blog Action Day, folks, and the theme this year is poverty. Poverty occurs in all parts of the world, with all types of people, and in my opinion, it is truly a shame. There are certain things (food, clothing, shelter, health care,) that I feel are basic human rights, and it just stinks that there are so many people that don't have accecss to these basic needs.
Soooo . . . what do I do about it? I work for an organization that tries to address poverty in my immediate community. I teach young children at a local nonprofit that serves low-income single mothers and their children. It is a residential program, so the families live on site. The children attend the early learning center, where I teach the 2- and 3-year-old class, while the moms work, finish college, and attend "life skills" classes. A full-scale attempt to break the cycle of poverty.
Recently, I read the bood A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne. Payne proposes that poverty is less a lack of money, than a lack of many resources -- financial, as well as emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationships/role models, and knowledge of hidden rules. How does my organization help families develop resources in all of these areas??
FINANCIAL: We help families gain access to city/county resources from which they can benefit, (i.e., child care assistance, scholarships, WIC, etc.) and also require moms to attend a college, university, or training program that will prepare them for a good job with benefits. Moms enter our program earning on average $8 per hour, and graduate earning on average $16 per hour.
EMOTIONAL: All moms in our program must complete 32 hours of "Personal Empowerment" training, originally designed by Twin Cities RISE. All staff in the program complete empowerment as well, so we have a common "language" and understanding about how we interact and communicate.
MENTAL: Many of our moms wrestle with mental health issues. Our program helps them gain access to counseling/therapy and medications if necessary.
SPIRITUAL: Our moms are encouraged to pursue their spiritual interests, although our program does not have one spiritual focus. We are a non-denominational, secular program, although our "visionary founder" was a priest at the Basilica of Saint Mary, which is just a block away from our campus.
PHYSICAL: Again, we try to help our moms gain access to services (such as county/state health care programs) for themselves and their children that will help them maintain good physical health. Recently, an exercise program was started on campus, although it seems to have fizzled out for the time being.
SUPPORT SYSTEMS: Moms have lots of support while they are enrolled in the program, and we attempt to set them up for continued support once they graduate. Moms make deep friendships with one another while in the program, and many of these friendships become lasting. They are also able and encouraged to use the child development center once they graduate, so their children have consistency and they maintain a connection to the program.
RELATIONSHIPS/ROLE MODELS: Many of our moms are encouraged to participate in mentorship programs, and also find role models in staff of our program, as well as in each other.
KNOWLEDGE OF HIDDEN RULES: Payne spends a lot of time defining many of the hidden rules of poverty, of middle class, and of wealth. While she places no value on any one set of rules over the other, she recognizes that school and work (in the US, at least,) operate using the hidden rules of the middle class. She also notes that, as educators, it is our responsibility to teach the children with which we work the hidden rules of the middle class. Placing no value on any set of rules, I say "at school, we . . . " quite a bit. "At school, we use our words." "At school, we use our inside voices." "At school, we listen when the teacher is reading a story, and wait until she is done reading the page before saying anything." Etc. This is tricky and complicated, but possibly one of the most important things I do on a daily basis -- the kids I teach need to know the hidden rules of the middle class, so they can go out and be successful in school and work in their futures.
I strongly encourage anyone out there working to change families in poverty read A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Whether you are an educator, social worker, volunteer, etc., you (and your clients) can benefit from this information. What seems like common sense to us actually has to be taught to some, because it was not information, rules, or expectations that they had growing up. This Blog Action Day, let's gain a better understanding of poverty, so we can one day guarantee that every person in our wealthy world has enough to eat, clothing and shelter to protect them from the elements, and basic care to keep them healthy for a long life.