Opinion: CVOEO takes stock in ‘American Dream’

“In Somalia, I lost my mother and my father at age seven. I ran for weeks, actually for years: was hungry, frightened and alone.” “In Nepal, I was a math teacher. In Vermont, I work in a factory.” “My family owned a farm and land until it was taken away through class wars.” “I worked for the U.S. in a Middle Eastern country, now I work as an interpreter and drive a taxi. I taught myself English and will be graduating from the a U.S. college.” “I am so grateful for the education I received in Vermont. I lived in a small village in Vietnam and couldn’t go to school there until I was 10. I am an interpreter now.” “I finally learned that I had to stop whining. Things are what they are. In the Congo, I was a professional with a master’s degree. Here I am completing my associate’s degree and working as a receptionist.”
On May 16, CVOEO held its all-agency meeting. We had an hour of cultural competency training presented by Jacob Bogre, executive director of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont. This was followed by a panel of articulate new Americans. Six people told the powerful stories of their lives. Some were refugees fleeing for their lives. Some were immigrants making difficult choices to move to another nation without any guarantee of support or assurance of realizing the “American Dream.” They spoke with gratitude laced with frustration. We need to hear their words and to understand their lives if we are to be good neighbors.
May is designated as National Community Action Month. Each year, Community Action agencies help 20 million Americans achieve and maintain financial stability. “Services offered by CVOEO and Community Action agencies across the country are so critical, especially when you’ve got millions of people facing an uncertain economic future,” said Don Mathis, president and CEO of the Community Action Partnership. “These are people who worked hard and played by the rules, but now the pressures of long-term unemployment, foreclosures, and dwindling savings are putting a tremendous strain on them.”
CVOEO’s programs include Head Start; Weatherization; Financial Futures; Voices Against Violence; Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf; Addison, Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle community action offices; the Mobile Home Project; Vermont Tenants; and the Fair Housing Project. With such an array of programs, we are able to walk with those experiencing poverty through the crisis, toward stabilization and ultimately out of poverty.
Robert Sargent “Sarge” Shriver Jr. was a statesman, activist and an architect of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. It was through his efforts that the Peace Corps, Job Corps, Head Start and Community Action were created. Fifty years later we listen carefully to his words as he cautions us, “Break your mirrors! Yes, indeed, shatter the glass. In our society, which is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other. Learn more about the face of your neighbor and less about your own.” 

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