Sometimes-violent protest groups like “Black Lives Matter” and unappreciative multi-millionaire athletes like Colin Kaepernick don’t impress me much.
Their efforts grab headlines, but more-deserving of the publicity are so organizations helping the underpriviledged every day.
One is United Way.
At its Spirit of Snohomish County breakfast at Tulalip last week, United Way showed what it is doing to level the playing field for people living in poverty, including: People of color, People with disabilities, Hispanics and Latinos, Children, and Women with Children who are heads of households.
United Way’s Making Ends Meet report shows just how much poverty there is in our area.
•In Arlington, 27 percent of single women with kids live in poverty. Almost 20 percent of people of color and 18 percent of people with disabilities do too. Most of the people work: 77 percent of the women, 73 percent of hispanics and 61 percent of people of color. About 44 percent of the women receive food stamps and 47 percent receive public health benefits.
•In Marysville, 26 percent of women with children are living in poverty, along with 19 percent of people with disabilities. About 82 percent of the women work, 77 percent of the hispanics and 71 percent of people of color. Yet 47 percent of the women are on food stamps and receive public health benefits.
•At Tulalip, 31 percent of women with children are in poverty, along with 22 percent of people of color and people with disabilities. Almost 80 percent of the women work, 24 percent receive food stamps and 47 percent get public health benefits.
I bet some of those numbers themselves break some of your stereotypes about people living in poverty.
United Way is also working to reduce barriers to people getting help, including:
•Non-citizens are not eligible for many public programs; there are also language and cultural barriers even if a household is eligible.
•Legal issues, lack of transportation and lack of technology skills can hinder some eligible families.
•Some people make a little too much money to get benefits, or they still qualify but the amount is reduced. Some get benefits but still fall below the poverty level.
•Other problems are with the agencies themselves. There are staffing shortages, causing wait lists because they are limited in the number of people they can serve. Or, services are not coordinated in the sharing of information, making it hard to get more than one type of assistance.
At the breakfast itself, emcee Sarah Duncan talked about “inspiring action to break poverty.”
“No one is immune to hardship,” she said, adding United Way works to provide basic needs and education to end the poverty cycle.
Some awards were given out, such as to Boeing and its employees for working with United Way for 70 years and donating $50 million since 2000.
But it was keynote speaker Dena Simmons of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence who stole the show.
Simmons said she is one of the fortunate ones, having grown up in Harlem, N.Y. “I am not supposed to be here,” she said. “I am a product of poverty.”
Her neighborhood of the Bronx was where people went to buy drugs. As a result, there was often violence. “We were robbed of other life options in a system of injustice,” she said.
Because her mom was worried about their safety, she worked to obtain scholarships for her children to a boarding school in Connecticut.
But Simmons wondered, “Why did I have to leave my neighborhood?” to get on an equal footing.
After graduating from college, she went back to the Bronx to teach middle school. “Despite being poor, I wanted to empower them,” she said. She took students on field trips out of Harlem so they could see the possibilities. As a mentor she has helped others improve their lives.
In telling her story, Simmons wanted to make sure the 400 people in the audience didn’t “fall into a trap.” Some might think that since she was able to do it, others should be able to also. The only reason people don’t make it is they are “lazy.”
“We blame the victim instead of the system,” Simmons said.
Her goal is to make her success story the norm, rather than an anomaly. She said discussions have to include those living in poverty. “They are the experts,” she said. “We have to be open to learning from the poor. They are broke, but not broken.”
Simmons said all children deserve quality education. It’s not a lack of desire that keeps kids from being educated. “Why did I have to leave home?” she asked. “Why can’t all neighborhoods provide a chance for a better life?”
Steve Powell is the managing editor of The Marysville Globe-The Arlington Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.