This is part of a weekly series of posts by Roy Ulrickson III, our Master of Social Work Intern. Opinions expressed may not reflect those of MCA, but we want to encourage an open dialogue with our readers.
Last week, some of the staff of the Maine Children’s Alliance attended The Impact of Poverty conference hosted by the Community Caring Collaborative. Their keynote speaker, Donna Beegle, EdD, shared her personal story about growing up in generational poverty. A recurring theme in her stories were the barriers she faced and how she kept getting tangled in the safety net that was supposed to be there to help. And how many well-meaning people couldn’t effectively support her because they simple didn’t and couldn’t understand her struggles. The cycle of poverty was broken for Donna when at age 25 she gained access to an innovative program that supported her human potential. By completing her GED and eventually going on to earn a doctorate in Educational Leadership, Donna understands the barriers facing people living the crisis of poverty.
A lack of basic resources like housing, nutritious foods, transportation,and healthcare can have a devastating effect on the social, emotional and physical well being of those living in poverty. Yet, professionals like teachers, therapists, human service providers and government officials who interact with people living in poverty every day do not have a true understanding of these effects. Many individuals working in state agencies and helping professions are not “poverty informed.” These highly educated professionals are uninformed about what it is like to live in poverty. How can we successfully win the war on poverty if we don’t understand the enemy? The first lesson must be that the enemy is not people – it is the condition of poverty. We must fight the poverty, not the people living in it.
The solution is simple. Every student – not just those seeking careers in the human service professions- who attends a 2 or 4 year college program must be required to take Poverty 101. All students need to be “poverty proficient” when they graduate. This is the only way that policy makers, government officials, non-profit organizations and businesses can develop the tools to mend the wounds of poverty. When we can unlock the potential of all of our citizens, we can provide everybody the American Dream. Then, and only then, can we win this war.