Panel Discussion on Poverty in Rural America – Why Should We Be Concerned About Rural Poverty? Summary Report Part 2 of 5

The following is a summary of a panel discussion about poverty in Fulton County that took place March 23, 2017.  The forum took place at the Canton Church of the Brethren and was moderated by Pastor Kevin Kessler. Panelists included Missy Kolowski of the Health and Wellness Clinic of Fulton County,  Rolf Siversten Superintendent CUSD #66, Paster Monroe Bailey of the First Baptist Church, Brooke Denniston Executive Director of the YWCA, Paula Grigsby Executive Director of the YMCA, Rhonda Morgan from the Salvation Army and Teri Williams director of Spoon River Pregnancy Center.

Defining the Problem

Question 2-  How does poverty affect families, individuals, and in larger context, the welfare of communities, and even the county? Why should we be concerned about poverty?

Missy Kolowski (Health & Wellness Clinic of Fulton County) –

  1. Lack of Health Care: Poverty affects us all. I have a different point of view because I see them sick. One man works full time, has had 3 heart attacks and 10 rotten teeth in his mouth. Twice we paid thousands of dollars to get his teeth pulled, but he had heart attacks right before the operation. He can’t afford insurance. He and his girlfriend pulled 3 teeth out with plyers. When you can’t take care of yourself, you feel helpless. I had 3 strokes, but I had healthcare. It´s a problem for all of us because these are our friends, our families, our coworkers.

Rolf Siversten (Superintendent CUSD #66) –

  1. Schooling & Cost of interventions: We have children who attend school that are at risk academically. As an educational institution, we have a moral responsibility to remediate those children. Oftentimes they need interventions or services that are expensive. Those costs are not free and have to be passed on to the taxpayer. Oftentimes children come to school and the only hot meal they get is at school. Children from poverty are 7 times more likely to quit school and 1.3 times more likely to have learning disabilities. That´s a cost that all of us bear as taxpayers and so to eliminate poverty is in everybody’s best interest in society today.

Monroe Bailey (First Baptist Church) 

  1. No access to food: One way we help children is with the buddy bag program which provides meals to children on the weekends so that when they do come to school on Monday they are alert and ready to learn. We don´t think of those things, we can’t imagine children in our own country not having food on the weekend. You have to think outside of the box to be able to help.
  2. Transportation: One of the things that the church has done is a car program. We buy used cars for people trying to find work and go to school who need transportation. We buy the car, fix it up for them and they drive it for 6 months so they can get a job, make payments and become the owner of that car. So you have to say it´s not only how do you see the situation, but how do you address it. How do you meet that situation? We have to think outside the box because the things we’ve tried before for the last 35 years don´t work.

Brooke Denniston (YWCA) –

  1. Basic Needs going unmet: Keeping water, lights and heat turned on is a challenge. Food scarcity is a problem. Going to the ER because your infant has a fever and you don’t have money for tylenol to break the fever. This in turn taxes health systems. Emergency medical staff are overburden with medical needs and the price tag of a medical visit doesn´t match the $6-8 walgreens purchase. We become aware of these burdens in our daily work with families. We may be the only resource for the single mothers we work with.
  2. Stress & Home LifeIf the car breaks down, you lose your job, and now you can’t pay rent. If you have no time to assist your children with homework. If you’re stressed all the time what is home life like for you and the children?
  3. No money for extras: The haves and have nots starts early. Parents take off work to come see their children and bring an expensive lunch from McDonald’s. Those types of policies are things that we advocate against. Sometimes it makes us a little less popular, but we think it’s important that we pay attention to how children are impacted very early on.

Paula Grigsby (YMCA) –

  1. Hopelessness & Despair: I see hopelessness and despair in people. Wanting to do better and not being able to.
  2. Impact on children: So many times you think children aren’t aware but you’ll have a child say I can’t come next week. You can tell in an afterschool program when a child needs more food and asks to bring food home. People see this and what to help, but as a child it´s a big impact for them to have to deal with these stresses that are so ongoing.

Rhonda Morgan (Salvation Army) –

  1. Purchasing basic Hygiene items: These items are not covered under any assistance programs. Some families get ample food stamps, some do not. Some don´t have the skill set to cook on what they purchase so they live on instant stuff. If they don’t have laundry detergent, it´s a wonder the clothes aren’t clean. When they don’t have toothpaste or shampoo or bodywash how do they prepare to go to a job interview? How do they fit in at school without being ostracized by the rest of society?
  2. Shrinking Middle Class: Our shrinking middle class, shrinking wealth communities and our increasingly growing lower middle class, borderline poverty line with less and less resources of support. There’s a greater need for all of those things.
  3. Hopelessness: The lack of desire to change. What’s the point? I´m never going to get ahead. I´ve watched my family and I don’t see anything else but this. From my perspective, while there are many agencies desiring to help, it´s oftentimes that hand out that is the easier one and the feel good response as opposed to the investment into the relationship building that has to be done to partner with them, to walk with them, to accept them as a child of God and equal human being. Just by the grace of God, I am where I am at. I could´ve very easily been in poverty.

Teri Williams (Spoon River Pregnancy Center)

  1. Empathy: I had a meeting with a  young man in his late teens and his girlfriend who were taking parenting classes because she was pregnant and they needed that type of skill. We were talking about him getting a job and he made the most honest statement anybody has ever made to me. He just looked at me and said, ¨If I had been raised like you, I´d be like you. But I kind of wonder if you had been raised like me, would you be like me?¨ There is a ton of truth in that.
  2. The 0 to 3 window: One of my passions as an educator is the lack of education, the lack of stimulation, poor performance in school, it breeds on itself. I´ve learned from infant development videos, you have a 3 year window to develop an infant’s ability to learn and to establish good brain connections for learning later on in life. From 0 to 3 you get 80-90% of those connections made and if they don’t happen, that child is going to struggle

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