As I plunge the depths of art and yoga, as I travel more, and find new next steps, it’s great to have a team member that can finish my sentences, and pick up my work where I leave it.

Volunteer for Poverty Simulation

We welcome anyone interested in participating in this meaningful and impactful exercise. Please contact Linda Hulleman at the WDM Chamber at 515-222-3679 if you would like to take part.

Keep Fighting Poverty

As I reenter the US after two weeks in India, one of the first things to strike me is the comfort, the plenty. The homogeneity of the people I see. Well dressed and fed. Driving cars and trucks, often alone. In contrast, a man transporting four goats on a scooter the last day I was in India.

I’ve returned to the wealthiest economy in the history of the world. But Charles M. Blow’s article in the New York Times brought me up short, reminding me that poverty continues to challenge significant numbers of Americans. Though poverty in the US is easy enough to ignore, the numbers of families facing poverty continues to rise.

In the 35 years I’ve worked in Des Moines, the poverty level of kids and families has risen fearfully. I came to Des Moines in 1980 to supervise a nutrition education program for kids from families living with low incomes. We worked in schools where 25% or more of the kids qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. Of about 40 elementary buildings, less than 20 qualified for the program.

Now, 72% of all Des Moines Public School students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. In 2013-2014 all but two elementary schools in the Des Moines district meet the 25% free/reduced lunch qualification.

Living in poverty affects children in ways that are often irreparable. In early childhood, living conditions such as poor nutrition and a shortage of learning opportunities impact brain development. Damaging effects include poor cognitive outcomes and school performance, as well as higher risk for antisocial behaviors and mental disorders.

Whether we choose to fight family poverty for humanitarian reasons, we need to address it for economic ones. A report by the Educational Testing Service estimates the cost in economic and educational outcomes at half a trillion dollars a year.

It behooves us to stop the spread of poverty into the American middle class and help the United States move out of  second-highest place for child poverty rate among the world’s richest nations. You can get involved by scheduling a Next Step Poverty Simulation for your community or organization.

Fight Poverty

The Community Action Poverty Simulation Kit from Missouri Association for Community Action provides a glimpse into the challenges individuals and families in poverty face every day. I purchased a kit in 2011, and am facilitating a simulation in West Des Moines in November. I helped out with poverty simulations in their early years at Iowa State University, and recognized some of their power for changing the way we view those who face each month without sufficient resources to make it through.

This morning I had a flash of realization as I wrote the marketing brochure for the program. This new program does have the capacity for system change. Perhaps we can stop blaming the victims, and take steps to “provide a decent standard of living for all mankind,” in Norman Borlaug‘s words.

I’ve spent a little time in Zambia, where I stayed with a family much poorer than any I know here. Their generosity touched my heart deeply, but they are not my neighbors. There is a limit to how much I can help them.

Here in Iowa, within a few miles of my home, there are thousands of people barely getting by day to day in the richest country in history. Yet, we show little generosity to them. In fact, we often hold them in contempt.

John F. Kennedy said, “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty, and all forms of human life.” Even more than 50 years after his death, we have made little progress toward abolishing poverty. Indeed, we have gone backward.

I offer this post as a resource for connecting with knowledge and research, opportunities to help, and opportunities to advocate. Please help me build it, with links and ideas I may have missed.