in collaboration with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity
Teach and model self determination
From: Mary Lou Z., Milwaukee, WI
My parents grew up poor, and they raised their children in poverty. We had no money, but we were not poor in spirit. Our parents had limited education, but they were very smart. They knew that limiting one's wants was the only way to build a financial ladder for climbing out of poverty. We lived a sustainable lifestyle before it was in fashion. Moreover, they observed that the members of our community who lived in relative comfort had educations, and they told us we needed to succeed in school if we were to succeed in life. They taught us to grow food, preserve it, and rely on it for our meals; the only things purchased at the grocer were staples we could use to create our own bread and other standard fare.
I don't expect that we can return to the past. But, I believe we need to teach our children and families how to use their limited resources better, stretch that dollar so there's a spare one left to save. We need classes, workshops, and mentors in the neighborhood communities who can provide this hands-on assistance. We need to teach poor folks how to save, avoid being ripped off, use a credit union, and take charge of their financial lives. Food pantries fill short-term needs, but cookeries, where a person can gain both domestic and work skills, are far more effective in helping individuals to grow in day-to-day decision making.
So many of our current mechanisms for fighting poverty create a cycle of dependency. Instead, we need to help individuals get connected with groups that promote self-actualization and community-building, and receive mentoring in becoming the leaders. We have great examples already in place: Habitat for Humanity and community housing groups, community gardens and other sustainable efforts.
And, in all of this, we must keep our children in the forefront. They make up the majority of America's poor, and they are going to need education, support and guidance to make the climb out of that hole!