S1, E7 – Panel Discussion on Poverty in Rural America: How Do We Address the Stereotypes?

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.

This fifth and final post explores solutions and offers closing remarks. Listen online here or through our Forgottonia Project podcast (search “Forgottonia Project” on iTunes or wherever you find podcasts.

Part 2 – Exploring Solutions
What are some commonly held stereotypes about poverty and persons living in poverty and what can be done to change the perceptions about those stereotypes?

Monroe Bailey (First Baptist Church) 

  1. That they’re lazy and don’t want to work.  And that´s not true. I believe the Bible talks about having a mind to work. That thinking begins to change when they’re introduced to the idea that they can do these things. We have people working on different projects, but you have to invite them to be part of it. They have to have a mind to work and you have to insist that they do this. Our system teaches people in poverty to do more so someone can put something into their hand, rather than teach them how much better they feel when they can help and give to somebody else.  Teaching them to have a mind to work is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome.

Brooke Denniston (YWCA) –

  1. I met a young woman Monday who obtained a job at the new Dunkin Donuts starting in April. She had previously been unemployed since December. She had $0.40 in her checking account, no cell phone, and needed $12 to get her food handler certificate in order to start her job. She needs a couple of white polo shirts and pants, and career handler doesn´t have that kind of funding so they sent her to us. What´s important for us to realize is that people in poverty aren’t necessarily looking to avoid work. But there are so many pieces to obtaining a job and then starting your job.

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

  1. I think a stereotype as well is that people work the system. When you need medication or food or someone to listen to you, that´s not working the system. In our case, we have a very homey office. We sit down and get to know them and when the trust issues aren’t an issue anymore, they get down to telling us why they’re really there. You have to talk to them like they’re your mother, your sister, your brother, your friend. Not a patient. Not a client. Don’t talk down to them. Those stereotypes are so bad. They are humans like the rest of us. I don’t think most work the system, they just don’t understand


What opportunities or resources might we have to coordinate services that individuals and families receive, that is through case management, to maximize the distribution of available services?

Rolf Sivertsen (Superintendent CUSD #66) –

  1. Community partnerships to create more efficient mentor programs: I see an opportunity where we can partner with churches to seek manpower to provide mentors for young children. Showing young people the benefits of education and how their success came from hard work. A lot of times children that are living in poverty are in single parent homes where parents work long hours. A lot of their responsibilities might be taking care of siblings and the parents don’t have a lot of time to spend with their children. If we can partner with churches and the community to provide mentors, it would make a difference.

Rhonda Morgan (Salvation Army) –

  1. Community partnerships to create more efficient mentor programs: Mentoring is key, whether it’s mentoring parents or children. It´s like Monroe said, if the household is not healthy, you’re not going to have a healthy child, you’re not going to have a healthy community. It´s those partnerships and those relationships. Having the ability to treat someone not like they’re different from you or unintelligent. They are very intelligent. They have a heart. They have been hurt. It takes time to build that rapport and trust where they can be vulnerable. You can’t just walk in with all the answers. None of us are comfortable with that. We need mentors not just for children, but for families to provide better examples of how to live. Many people have not had that healthy relationship modeled to them.

Teri Williams (Spoon River Pregnancy Center)

  1. Jobs for Life Program: There’s 4 reasons people leave poverty:
    1. It´s too painful to stay.
    2. They develop a vision or a goal.
    3. There´s a key relationship that spurs them on
    4. There´s a development of a special talent or skill

The program Jobs for Life is absolute gold in our community (contact the Canton Council at 309.357.5233 for more information).  They accomplish 3 of the 4 reasons here and they invest in people over a period of time. They believe in them. They get a champion.

Monroe Bailey (First Baptist Church) 

  1. Collaborating: I think it’s important that we network with all the different agencies and know who has what. Several years ago as part of the Fisherman’s Club we went to the Superintendent to help with a program but it never got off the ground so we plan on talking to the new Superintendent

Brooke Denniston (YWCA) –

  1. Arranging monthly collaborations: I agree with connection. We have greater likelihood to move the needle forward with more collaboration. One thing I heard prior to tonight was that yes we would discuss things, but we want to also do things. Maintaining regular contact is key. When I worked in Tazewell County the service agencies and faith communities would get together monthly for lunch. I think we need to do that. We often get tunnel vision and focused on what we’re doing all the time and forget that we share the people and challenges with one another.

Rhonda Morgan (Salvation Army) –


  • Yellow Pages: (In response to audience question about where information about services is located). The Health Department has a wonderful sheet that we lovingly call the yellow pages because it’s printed on a yellow sheet of paper. Most of us are listed within that flyer that details all the services that are available. The Social Services do meet on a monthly basis over lunch at the Health Department 1 Wednesday a month to try to network and share as much as possible. But it´s still overwhelming and with so many agencies that are dependent upon state funding, it´s very challenging for everyone.



Closing remarks – Moderator Kevin Kessler

  1. Sharing conversation has been helpful, encouraging, and challenging us to persevere for the good of our neighbors next door, down the street and at every corner of the county beyond. We thank the panelists for their participation tonight and their ongoing efforts to do something about poverty. Thanks to all of you for your valuable input, passionate engagement and your continued work in this community to make it the best community we possibly can.

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