Reflections sparked by the Bridges out of Poverty Training
Three years ago in February, I met a 65 year-old woman, Berta, whose husband’s health was failing. She had recently lost her job of fifteen years and was told it was a result of the recession. She felt like it had more to do with her age. Before that month she had never asked anyone for help, but when I met her she was in line at a food bank. She shared that the food bank was a true lifeline that allowed her to keep enough food in the house and without it, she and her husband would have gone hungry. However, the food bank was packed with standing room only, and on days like that, everyone is tense. All Berta could think about was the fact that the last time she left her husband alone for a few hours, he had fallen broke his wrist and now Berta could see no way of paying off the piles of bills.
I started at WithinReach, fresh out of university, as an AmeriCorps service member. In college I had spent a great deal of my time dedicated to studying the social and political systems of the outside world in courses like Political Science, Spanish and Religion. I also worked at the Diversity Center where we created programming aimed at exposing students and community members to the beauty of diversity and to the prominent influence of privilege and oppression in our world. Pacific Lutheran did a great job of opening my eyes to the complexities of our world…but after my first few months as an AmeriCorps at WithinReach, I was ready to preach about how a person has to be “in it”–living and working with people like Berta–before you get even close to being able to understand the reality of our beautiful yet broken world. I have lived in that mindset ever since the beginning of my service, but after attending a fabulous training in March, my hard-line stance has started to become tempered.
This past March, I went to a training called Bridges out of Poverty. This two day seminar, facilitated by Jodi Pfarr, was specifically directed at service providers and it presented a wealth of tools for understanding and combating poverty. I had so many “aha!” moments, that I came to realize that after three years of working in the field, I had become complacent. I got lost in the grind of reality and forgot to pursue the knowledge and theory that would keep me learning about the systems and the roadblocks of oppression and poverty. I had forgotten that a person needs to balance both living “in it” and getting “above it”, in order to be able to reflect on solutions to our society’s problems.
Berta’s story is one of many that have stuck with me through the years. I feel good about the fact that she and I worked through the application process for Basic Food (food stamps) together, and that she was able to supplement the food she got at the food bank with more fresh fruits and vegetables from the grocery store We also talked about creating a payment plan in order pay off the bills she owed.
I wonder how things turned out with Berta and her husband and I obviously still think about them from time to time. Reflecting back, perhaps her story is so powerful to me because it is so similar to many other stories that I have heard and been part of since. The cycles and patterns of poverty are definitely what impact me most. However, working at a place like WithinReach–a place that provides opportunities to grow with trainings and experiences like Bridges out of Poverty–I am confident that I will continue to work as part of the solution.