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Jan Demers, Bridging gaps, building futures: Have you ever asked yourself if you can relate to poverty?

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Posted on June 19, 2017 |
By Jan Demers



Can you relate to poverty?

We had moved to another state so that my husband could work on his Master’s Degree. He was making $35 a week. Housing came with a job he had taken while at Boston University and we were paying our bills. How, I don’t know. What I do know is how to make a chicken last a week for a family of four. First you roast it. The next day you make a casserole from what is left. After that, the bones are boiled for a good long time and you make soup. 

Mark Rank is the Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare, Brown School at Washington University. His work and research focuses on poverty, social welfare and economic inequality. Rank’s research shows that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the federal poverty level in their lives. Fifty-four percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty. If you add in welfare use and unemployment, four out of five Americans will experience poverty in their lives. 

I lived below the federal poverty level for a little over two years. I know about counting all my change when going to the grocery store and adding up the cost of everything (very little) that went into the shopping cart, of getting and being very grateful for a Thanksgiving basket and for not being able to buy anything for the children for Christmas. 

I remember wondering how we were going to pay taxes and going without health insurance hoping our children wouldn’t get sick. Worry and fear were woven into the days and nights of that time. We knew that we would not always be poor. Education and a career path brought us out. I won’t forget those days and am ever grateful for being able to pay our bills.

Mauricio Lim Miller is the Founder and CEO of the Family Independence Initiative. He said that “It’s true that not everyone knows what to do in order to get ahead, whether they’re rich or poor. That explains why many of my colleagues in the philanthropic and social services sector assume that solutions must come from them, rather than the low-income families they serve. Yet solutions are best when they’re home grown and “bottom up” because paths forged by low-income families are the solutions that their peers tend to follow.”

Walking down the corridors of the CVOEO offices in St. Albans, Burlington and Middlebury you can see new plans being made. Listening to the solutions found in our Weatherization Office in Colchester and hearing the success of parents in our Head Start programs brings with it the realization that it isn’t one program or one advocate or one family that has the answer. The answer to poverty has many faces, is multifaceted and requires many willing partners, as 4 out of 5 already know. Giving, sharing, leading and taking risks all are part of the answer. 

Can you relate?

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