To truly help someone you must walk in their shoes.
The most common way to support charitable organizations, particularly those with poverty agendas, is through donating money and volunteer hours.
But too many times the simplistic approach, though noble and helpful, isn”t the most effective long-term method to improve poverty levels.
Area residents were awakened to the effects of classism and its direct effect on poverty during the Starkville Bridges Out of Poverty workshop Tuesday at the Starkville Sportsplex.
More than 140 people attended the workshop, led by veteran consultant Jodi Pfarr, who helps towns and businesses properly channel their energy and resources to fight poverty.
The focus Tuesday was to get middle-class people to see poverty through a different scope.
A common assumption is that people who are poor are lazy and lack ambition. While it may be true in some instances, many hurdles are created by institutions run or created by middle-class people, Pfarr said.
“The middle class thinks there”s a lot of avenues out for folks in poverty, but there aren”t a lot,” Pfarr said. “If in your community you don”t have middle-wage jobs, how am I gonna get out of poverty?”
Pfarr”s workshop was detailed and filled with visual aids, including TV; people in poverty, she said, use entertainment to escape the chaos of an over-populated home.
Oktibbeha County resident and former human-services department worker Barbara Tucker recalled a related experience working for Habitat for Humanity.
“When we went out to make home visits to determine which families would be new homeowners, you go in and there”s a huge-screen TV,” Tucker explained. “The first thing you”re looking at is how they spend and if they”re going to be able to make payments on the house. We learned quickly that it”s their means for having a social life. Not everyone gets to plan vacations.”
Even topics of food and partying were put into perspective. For people in poverty, eating is about having enough; for the middle class, food is about taste and satisfaction; and for the wealthy, food is about presentation.
When people in poverty go to parties, they”re asked who they know, while middle-class people are asked what they do. The wealthy, on the other hand, are introduced, Pfarr said.
“Your viewpoint about other classes depends on how you were raised,” Pfarr said. “Often times, our institutions are created with middle-class perspective, further widening the gap.”
Tuesday”s workshop had seven objectives, which included examinations of the impact of poverty on family resources and defining poverty in terms of the resources needed for a stable life.
Wanda Stallings, pastor at New Birth Christian Church in Starkville, said the workshop was enlightening for people looking to help educate the poor about the opportunities they have.
“There are people who need knowledge about themselves and things that are attainable if they”re shown how to reach that,” Stallings said. “The attitude on both sides has to change.”
Lynn Phillips-Gaines, a financial planner who organized Starkville Bridges Out of Poverty, said the greatest advantage the workshop provides is the empowerment of people in poverty while also educating middle class and wealthy people to change their perspective.
Phillips-Gaines, who has worked with the NAACP as a financial task force coordinator, said that no matter how you tailor a program to help people in poverty, if it”s done with a middle-class mindset it won”t be successful.
“Everything we said to the people in poverty over the years would fly over their heads,” she said, “Then, I discovered this: It makes you get below what political party you represent or what faith community you”re from. This program really helped me understand how much survival has to happen before the people in poverty can begin their day.”
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