Opening eyes to poverty

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February 22, 2010 - 12:00 AM

About 20 Iolans came together Saturday morning to learn how they can help address the issue of poverty in Allen County.
The workshop, and one to be offered Tuesday evening, was based on Beth Lindsay Templeton’s book, “Loving Our Neighbor: A Thoughtful Approach to Helping People in Poverty.” A companion DVD, “Servant or Sucker,” was shown at the workshop.
Jim Rausch, pastor of First Presbyterian Church Iola, organized the sessions after hearing Templeton speak a few weeks back at a Christian educators conference.
She offered answers, he said, to his longest-running ministerial concern: appropriately helping those who live in poverty.
“I feel my response has been inadequate,” Rausch said. “I’ve tried different approaches over the years and I thought, why aren’t there classes in this? This book is the first thing I’ve found that addressed that.”
Too often, Rausch said, the problem of caring for the poor falls on the backs of churches or a pastoral organization.
Iola’s prime example is the Iola Area Ministerial Association. Those in need rely on it for food, emergency funds, assistance with securing social services and more.
Yet addressing poverty in Allen County, said Nancy Maier, “is bigger than something each church or each pastor can do.” Instead, she said, it takes a total community approach.
Rausch believes in sharing “funds of knowledge.” His goal, and that of Templeton, is to “help without enabling” the cycle of poverty to be prolonged, he said.
The first step, according to Templeton, is to change the way we think.
Retired social worker Verna Devine noted “the myths that a lot of people have about those we consider poor remain the same as ever.”
The DVD supported that notion. In the video, interviewees noted how they felt when approached by panhandlers. What preconceived notions are held about such individuals? What makes them want — or need —to beg?
Examining these inherent beliefs is at the heart of Templeton’s book. It is only by confronting our own notions on the culture of poverty that we can honestly help, Templeton asserts.

TOO OFTEN, the middle class believe that the poor choose their lifestyle, Templeton notes in her book. There is a belief that anyone can work their way up by finishing school and getting a job. Yet the skills needed to move along that track are missing to many poor, she said.
Children that grow up in chaotic households do not learn the linear thought progression that work leads to reward, the book says. Instead, such people learn to live in the moment, accepting good or bad as fleeting. Such basic survival techniques do not translate into the workaday world.
“What family we’re born into does make a difference,” Templeton noted.
Devine said that her years of working with the poor support that observation.
Devine noted she worked in agencies where those assisting the poor “felt those in need didn’t ‘deserve’ help. The word deserve has been in my mind for years,” she said.
“It’s so middle class to be focused on work and achievement,” noted Maier. Even if working numerous jobs to get by, she said, poor families focus on maintaining bonds with each other. “When you work with the working poor, you realize, they’ve got this right, I’ve got it wrong.”
“It’s one mindset versus another,” Rausch agreed.
Rausch said those who wish to help must have awareness if four ‘i’s’ : intention, ignorance, inheritance and inaction.
Intention addresses our prejudices, he noted. Inheritance is the economic situation we were born into that shapes our cultural thinking. Ignorance is lack of awareness of other ways of thinking, and inaction must be addressed by taking steps to enhance personal awareness and to  help others.
 Maier noted she works with the elderly, who generally tell her that when they were younger, “everyone was poor.”
At that time, there was a greater social support network, she said. Now, the chasm between the classes has widened. The poor are often hidden among us, working full time jobs, driving nice cares, but living day to day, paycheck to paycheck.
In Allen County, she said, “we have a lot of working poor, people just living hand to mouth.”
Templeton’s premise is to move impoverished individuals into self sufficiency by prioritizing needs such as medical care, shelter, employment, child care and transportation, among others.
Organizers hope workshop attendees will help do just that.
Tuesday’s workshop runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the basement conference room of Community National Bank. Enter through the east door closest to the library; an elevator is available. There is no cost to attend. Copies of Templeton’s book will be available for $10 each.

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