I never come to the IACAA conference without going home changed. This year will be no exception. Yesterday, I spent most of the day with a remarkable lady named Donna Beegle. She truly has a wonderful story of getting out of generational poverty, this is probably the hardest type of poverty to ever escape from and I have to admit, when I look at our clients, they are the ones I normally think are least likely to make it out of the system. There are several different kinds of poverty, the two most common are situational and generational. Situational is where something dramatic has happened to change the dynamic of the family and or person. These are the homeless people you see who say, "I had it all and now it's just gone". These people, eventhough it's a struggle, still have a lot of the right connections to pull themselves back out of their situation.
Generational poverty is one people normally write off. They are the ones that seem to be the target of the most judgement and the least understanding. These are the people who people just think will "never change" or dont even want to. That's not quite the case, however, their outlooks can be very different that what yours are. Most of the time, we have goals and dreams of what we want to be doing in a year, in five years, or even at retirement. People in generational poverty just try to make it through the day. One of the biggest things I have changed about my thinking this week is the judgement perspective. Of course, I had an article about this woman with me last Saturday and had Robert read it. He saw the EXACT same thing glaring at him.
We have all known people who are living in poverty and when you do something to help them, you realize, while going to take them someplace, or bring them something, that they are sitting in their living room watching a bigger tv than you have, or that their kids come to school with brand new Nikes on and you think, "What are they doing?" They should have paid bills with that. The thing is, look around, what does it take to be accepted in America? Don't kid yourself---it's there. Robert claimed for a long time not to worry about what clothes he had--of course, his has always had the right names on them. Saturday, he admitted. This hits the nail on the head, it is down to if you don't have the right cell phone, people wonder what is wrong with you. Robert sometimes goes through this himself because his trucks aren't as fancy as everyone else's. Yes, we could have bought him a nicer truck, but hmmm..... he has not one but TWO trucks and they are paid for. Most of his friends have car payments, he doesn't and he is going to be a mechanic so he knows what needs done when they need worked on--most of the time it is a no-brainer, but there are days he still gets ribbed over his old trucks.
Remember, people in generational poverty don't normally look past tomorrow and today, they have the money to go to Rent-to-Own and get a tv and so this is the day they might be happy and accepted.
It also is not as simple as getting a job. A minumum wage job is not going to get anyone out of poverty--and quite frankly, neither is a welfare check, or drawing disablity. Donna said yesterday, there are only two ways to get out of poverty. 1) Get an education, 2) get a skill. Until you start on one of those journeys, you are going to be stuck.
She also pointed out something that I had thought for years.We have all been told all our lives: If you work hard, you will get ahead. Fact is, if you work hard and you have no education, you will NOT get ahead, you will just keep being expected to work hard. Most unskilled laborors get less than a $2.00 raise over the first ten years they work--that's total, and you think about it, that would be a twenty cent raise a year--with little hope of moving up into a better position, because those positions go to the educated.
Once again, I am coming home with some new ideas and some new perspectives. I have one little quick note to all my friends out there who deal with children. Take pictures. Those in generational poverty believe things like school pictures, are something they can live without (basically because it is something that the other kids might easily overlook when the teachers are handing out the pictures). There are several school districts now that are working on programs to make sure every kid has a basic package of school pictures. Why? Donna says she doesn't have a clue what she looked liked as a child, part of that tells her she really doesn't have a history. It IS something that doesn't sound important but down the road--it is. So, when you have an opportunity to snap a few pictures of your kids, your AWANA clubbers, your Sunday School kids, do it, and give them a copy, but save one for them for years down the road too.
Yes, it's a small thing, but it is something you can do.