I was given the book "Bridges out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities" to read before my internship began. Reading that book, as well as getting to know people who are working on getting out of poverty, has forever changed the way I understand the definition of poverty. Before this internship, poverty was simply a word. It wasn’t something that was real, that was connected to actual people. It was more of a general term that described people who didn’t have enough to live on, who were in sad situations and weren’t doing enough to get themselves out of those situations. Now I know that this isn’t true.
There are actually two types of poverty: generational and situational. Generational is defined as living in poverty for two generations or longer. Situational is shorter and is often caused by a certain circumstance. According to the United States Census Bureau, the poverty rate was 15% in 2012, which means that 46.5 million people in the United States were living in poverty. If you are working full time at minimum wage, you will be living in poverty. You need to make $10.10 an hour full time in order to not be living in poverty. I originally thought that as long as a person could get a better job, it would be easy for them to get out of poverty. However, that is not the case. It is actually very difficult to get out of poverty.
Did you know that there are hidden class rules? The wealthy, middle class, and people living in poverty have these rules. They’re hardly ever mentioned and not often thought about. But they exist. And they make it very hard for a person living in one to transition to another. For example, a person living in middle class generally manages their money, makes decisions based on the future, are possessive over things, and speak in the formal register. For someone living in poverty, they generally spend money as soon as they get it, make decisions based on the present in order to survive, are possessive over the people in their lives, and speak in the casual register. If a person wants to get out of poverty, they have to be able to learn the rules of the middle class. This is nearly impossible to do on their own. They need someone to help them. That is one of the beautiful things about Circles.
The Circles program allows a family living in poverty to become a Circle Leader who then has Allies, people living in middle class, who “circle” them and support them to help them learn the hidden class rules and transition out of poverty. Circles is a long term program; families commit to 18 months of helping each other. During the few months that I have gotten to be part of this Circle group, I have seen families grow so much. For example, I’ve seen a woman who was adamant about being a stay at home mom who would break down in tears every time I saw her, grow to be a strong woman who shares her story with others to help them avoid making the same mistakes she has made and who is now following her dream of becoming a realtor. I have been accepted into this beautiful community that has been created between these different groups of Circle Leaders and Allies. I honestly feel that I have benefited more from this internship than they have from me.
Lebanon Valley College is actually connected to Palmyra Circles in many ways: I internedwith them, Metz provides food for dinner every other week, three students regularly come and teach the kids, MISA has been supporting them the past two years, another group on campus donated a prize they won to them, there is a capstone group selling cupcakes to raise money for them, they participated in Relay For Life this year, and families were encouraged to utilize the VITA program. I personally help set up and participate in the weekly Circle meeting on Mondays, take notes and contribute to the Core Team Meetings every other Wednesday, have done grant research, am in the process of finding someone to run a poverty simulation on campus next semester, have done a few promotional pieces, and help with anything that is needed. If you would like to learn more about Palmyra Circles, I invite you to check out their website at http://www.palmyracircles.org.
Betty Ross is a recent Music Business and Digital Communications graduate from Pequannock, NJ.
Original article here.