My parents were both people who led by example. This is something I am forever grateful for and will always appreciate. Unfortunately, I feel true role models are becoming rare in our fast-paced, technological, modern society. An essential component that, I believe, is vital in producing compassionate children who want to be a part of a community who understands and helps others, especially those less fortunate. An approach which I fear is fading more and more in our present society. I experience, continually, people talking about what needs to be done to change things. People who seem unaware how imperative it is to be directly and personally involved in the change in their communities; hence, actually making a difference through direct, person-to-person support.
My mother volunteered throughout my entire childhood, and was always very active in our church; eventually, housing and being a sponser for new Hmong and Laotian refugees in our community. She helped them to acquire residences, food, furniture, clothing; all while providing on-call support for them as needed. She and my father even were godparents to a few of the children whose families she helped during this time. She also worked with high-risk, low income families in a pilot Encompass Program called, New Beginnings. She supported single mothers who needed guidance on parenting and life skills. The position entailed many more qualifications than she had, and eventually she left the program due to the traumatic stress she was enduring. Yet, she showed me through her dedication and desire to help, how important it is to have compassion and understanding for those less fortunate than us.
She was always present in my school and volunteered for field trips, helped in the library, taught CCD for our church, and welcomed friends of her children’s into our home when they needed somewhere to stay for a few hours, or as a temporary residence, from time to time. One example of this was my sister’s teenage friend, who was pregnant. She was having personal issues with her mother and home life was unstable, so my parents welcomed her into our home for as long as she needed the solicitude. My father supported his wife in all of her community endeavors and he too, was directly involved in the community and gave of his time and finances to help others in so many ways.
I now know why I, too, have such a desire to be involved and help others. I watched my parents do it my entire childhood. There has always been a part of me that is very empathetic to others and wants to understand and connect personally. Currently, I volunteer once a week in my daughter’s classroom, helping children read and write. I have been doing this since she was in Kindergarten and I love how it not only gives me a chance to observe her school from the inside, but it connects me to the students and teachers.
When I decided to go back to college, for the third time, I finally realized the main thing I wanted to pursue as a career: Helping Others. Many people told me, “You don’t need a degree to do that,” but the completion of my Bachelors Degree was only possible with a declared major and minor. This desire to help people gave me a focus that I could relate to and felt passionate about. The interest and revelation was also sparked by my first political science course, Introduction to Global Politics. In this class I was introduced to the ever present reality of poverty and the profound consequences of colonization: the deeper divide between Haves and Have Nots, and the pervasive effects from imperialism, as my professor and textbooks described it. This sealed the deal for me; the world and its citizens need help and I want to help them.
After graduating I joined Americorps, but the organization I served did some underhanded, illegal things and my partner and I decided, out of our own intuition and rumination, we had to discontinue our service. This was devastating for me; someone who takes pride in fulfilling my commitments.
Within six months, I was hired on with a local non-profit as a part-time Home Visitor in the Early Head Start Program. The experiences I had during my time with this program gave me a whole new perspective on the low-income, high risk part of our society. An awareness I will always cherish and uphold. This position allowed me the opportunity to get a first hand view of an actuality that few of us directly observe. This has allowed me to say, from a first hand perspective, there are a lot of stereotypes about this population that are inaccurate and misunderstood.
Here are some examples of the many endeavors I undertook weekly while working and supporting poor families: providing parenting advice and health information for pregnant mothers; providing early childhood development education; rides to doctor appointments, other programs, the grocery store, or weekly playgroups; assistance with paperwork for jobs, school, insurance, and housing;helping them find housing with little money and poor tenant history; referring them to therapists; scheduling appointments for them; and being someone they could trust and talk to since many of the parents in the program had a lack of healthy support. There was not one family without at least one parent who had a history of abuse/mental health issues. Yet, many of these mothers and fathers, while dealing with the struggles of being poor and suffering from a multitude of hardships, had goals to be educated; working; productive parents for themselves and their children.
Most families did not have cars and if they did could rarely afford gas money or to get it fixed when it broke down, as many often did. There were parents with depression, PTSD, severe social anxiety, and drug addiction problems. At least half of the mothers I worked with had been sexually abused or raped at least once in their lifetime. One mother had been raped at the age of five or six by a mentally handicapped older brother of her friends and when she came home and told her parents, her father gave her a bath, and her mother told her, “You should have known better than to go by him.” No counseling, no one consoling this faultless little girl. No psychiatric treatment to teach her coping skills as an attempt to help her heal from this traumatic event. This is only one of the thousands of stories that contributes to the psyche of a disenfranchised group in our society that we deem too often as, “Lazy, unproductive citizens that have children so they can leach off the system to get handouts.”
There are so many stories and so many reasons for why people feel helpless and overwhelmed by the world around them. Yet, almost never, did I encounter someone who was just getting assistance to take advantage of the system. The system is difficult to navigate, complex, and pays very little, when considering expenses, to people in poverty. Families are transient a lot of the time and are constantly loosing aid and having to go to pantries for food, or live, at least temporarily, at homeless shelters. Unfortunately, shelters have restrictions and so do programs like Medicaid, SNAP, WIC, and SSI. The process for signing up and completing review periods throughout the year is difficult, especially when there is trauma and inconsistency in these parent’s lives. Then add the hurdles of a phone being turned off, no residence, sick children, expensive childcare, and mental health issues, which there is little available counseling for. When I would call to try and set up appointments for a mother who needed psychiatric help I found two main complications: there is a lack of therapists in our community and very few available therapists at clinics that accept patients on government insurance. Overall, the resources for mental health issues are scarce. A discouraging system for people who are hurting and need help.
I worked with one mother who took a year off from work after having a baby so she could successfully breastfeed during that first year of her baby’s life. She did not feel she could do this exclusively and effectively without staying home with her. This is true dedication and sacrifice. She was poor, living alone with two children, and did not even have furniture in her living room when we started our visits, but she stayed home and breastfed/nurtured her baby for the first year. Yes, she lived on assistance for housing, food, and insurance. After that year was up; she immediately applied for technical school, started doing CNA work at a nursing home, which she loved, and had her children enrolled in daycare and school.
Another single mother I visited with had gone to college for Elementary Education, then got pregnant right before she completed. She took little time off after the baby was born because she was in a transitional living program that required her to work a certain number of hours each week, as well as complete certain training programs. She nursed her baby while providing him with shelter and food on top of working part-time and attempting to finish her student teaching. The most frustrating part of this all is the obstacles she incurred while trying to fulfill her full-time student teaching requirement. She couldn’t get daycare assistance unless she was working full-time, but working full-time is difficult when you have to student teach full-time. Daycare assistance did not recognize student teaching as a job, hindering her from completing her college degree. These are just a few of the realities of “living off the system.”
My intended message in all of this is to express how important it is to have a personal, compassionate perspective of others in our everyday lives. My parents led by example, but they also gave of themselves to assist others; as a result, gaining a first-hand understanding about people in their community. It is crucial for the health of society, especially in today’s world, that people begin to judge less with words and do more to experience the realities of the communities they live in. I truly believe, the more that people get involved to help those around them (friends, neighbors, strangers), the less time they will have to talk about what should be done, and the more positive changes we will all start to see!
Thank you again to all of my followers and readers! I am so grateful for your ears, kind words, and support!