Poverty from a VISTA perspective
When Erin Callaway first sat down with me and discussed the role of a Goodwill Americorps VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America) at PRFC, I admit, I thought I KNEW about hunger. I lived in Michigan growing up, and my family worked with a program that sheltered the homeless during the winter months.
My husband and I would go to inner city Detroit and hand out food and hygiene kits to the homeless. We worked with organizations to help gain awareness for what it was like to be homeless. I KNEW about hunger.
We moved to Maine 14 years ago before the birth of our first child. We wanted a different way of life than what we experienced as kids. We now have 2 beautiful children being raised in Vacationland. I was able to stay at home with my children while my husband worked outside the home. It was the life we dreamed of. When my children started school, I was able to be a room mom, volunteer in their classrooms, join the Parent/Teacher Organization. Life was pretty ideal. Or so I thought. Do you remember last week's conversation about situational poverty? My family wasn't quite there, but we were close at times.
So we chose to close some income gaps and I became a substitute teacher at my children's school and started my own business from home. BOY, were my eyes opened. I saw kids struggling to stay focused, who lashed out and had behavior issues, who didn't do well with their peers. I didn't understand that they were HUNGRY.
After working at the schools and seeing hungry kids, it made sense to work with Americorps VISTA and PRFC. I am a firm believer in building our communities and giving back. The Americorps program was designed specifically to fight poverty in the U.S.A. My backyard has poverty. Let's help. Everyone wants to help make sure kids, families, and seniors have full bellies right? Like I wrote in my spotlight blog about me--I proudly wear my superhero cape and its a t-shirt with the Americorps VISTA logo! And trust me, it's not about the money because VISTA's are given a "living stipend"...meaning we are paid a poverty wage and most of us utilize the same services the people we are serving use every day.
Flash forward 5 months. 5 months of looking at statistics, working with existing programs and organizations designed to help individuals, creating new programs to reach more individuals, and raising awareness about what is going on in our neighborhood, our community, our county, state, country. I will admit I have been broken by the insensitivity I have heard about people who are dealing with food insecurity and low income. The judgement and insensitivity that I have run into from the very people I thought were there to help rendered me speechless. The stories that have been shared with me by teachers, community members, friends who have seen or been part of the shame and stigma first hand, have suffered because there was no food in their refrigerators, it has broken my heart.
But there has been another side to this story. There have been other stories shared with me; stories of hope and triumph, stories of gratitude for the help being given. I have been here at PRFC to see programs started grow and reach more people. Poverty and hunger are two sides of the same coin. I can't feed every person in Piscataquis County as much as I want to. I cannot change the hearts and the minds of those who choose to judge instead of find compassion. I am on the team of Super Hero's who are learning about the needs in our community and then trying to find solutions to those needs.
This has been one of the most rewarding, most heartbreaking, most joyful, and most frustrating "jobs" I have ever tackled. Check back for more thoughts from your resident VISTA and how YOU can make a difference to those all around you, and change the world one hungry belly at a time.