I grew up in suburban Milwaukee during the ‘60’s. I knew where the “bad part of town” was, even if I didn’t understand what made it bad. My father was second generation immigrant who valued education, moderation, planning and savings. Much in my life was focused on the future. What will I be when I grow up? I needed to go to College just in case my husband (no question that I would marry) was injured or killed and I had to provide for my family. My first-grade class was introduced to saving portions of our allowances through opening real live savings accounts. Each birthday, I received a savings bond. Money was to be collected for future need. Education was a means of security. My world was stable, suburban, middle class, and white.
From Suburban Middle Class to a Rural Community with Poverty
Fifty years later, I serve a rural congregation in Cambridge, NY. And for the first time I am regularly confronted by people who are very different than I am. While Cambridge has negligible racial diversity, there is extensive poverty. Rural poverty. Outhouse poverty, inadequate heat, deer hunted to feed the family kind of poverty. I sit in the Bog – our village tavern and listen to the men at the bar, raucous, and ribald. At a session meeting, I suggest not trying to fix the vacuum cleaner – just buy a new one – and it is as though I am speaking in tongues. I don’t understand basket raffles. Get merchants to donate goods, get people to buy tickets to buy the donated goods for as little as possible, then use the money for your group’s project. Yet it is how money is raised in rural America.
I don’t fit. All the experiences of childhood and for that matter adulthood, including 25 years serving in a suburban church, have taught me how things work. Here, in Cambridge, they don’t work that way. I am slowly learning how different I am and how much I have to learn. When I hang out at the food pantry, my new friends try to help me. They aren’t much interested in taking classes in how to cook healthfully; they just want to feel full. No one has signed up for a class in budgeting. A budget is a luxury. As soon as money comes in, there are overdue bills to pay. And there is always the unexpected car repair, the frozen pipes, the medical emergency that laughs at attempts to budget.
Bridges out of Poverty Workshop
One of the most valuable experiences I have had over the last 7 years in Cambridge was attending a Bridges out of Poverty Workshop. In one of the presentations by a town justice from Maine (who later, we found out was raised in generational poverty) I was confronted by my own assumptions about poverty, about why people were poor, and how to stop poverty. I came to realize I was approaching poverty from my stable, middle class, white, entitled, pedestal. I assumed that eliminating poverty meant helping poor people be more like me.
Much of our social services are based on the idea that digging out of poverty is done by using the strengths of middle class life (future orientation, achievements rewarded, education valued.) And I think that much of our church care for the needy is motivated by the same kind of values. But maybe, and this is the genius of Bridges Out of Poverty – the strengths of resilience, relationships, people who have one another’s back, creative problem solving during crisis after crisis are more effective.
Encourage those who are involved in ministries to and advocacy for the poor to participate in the Presbytery training “Bridges out of Poverty.”
I commend Bridges out of Poverty for anyone who serves or advocates for the poor. It provides comprehensive approach to understanding poverty. It uses the lens of economic class and provides concrete tools and strategies for a community to alleviate poverty.
What Will Be Presented at Bridges out of Poverty?
This training will provide strategies to help make church programs more effective, such as:
- a food pantry
- homeless or Code Blue shelter
- back-to-school backpack drives
- Thanksgiving baskets
If you have advocacy teams working to influence government policies or agencies, this training will identify perceptions that mire real change.
The Washington County Economic Opportunity Commission will provide this workshop at no cost to the Presbytery. Several trainers are coming so that there can be large and small group interaction with the material. Materials will be provided.