By Sean Barron
A typical day for many low-income people trying to improve their lives often includes continually navigating through the tangled vines of a multifaceted social-services network, simply to meet daily needs others take for granted.
Even with two or three jobs, some still face the daunting task of making child-care arrangements each day while trying to balance a tenuous family budget that leaves little or no room for unexpected expenses.
Others who aren’t quite so fortunate have to make numerous calls and visits to banks as well as utility and mortgage companies because an ever-present threat of shutoffs, evictions and possible foreclosure and homelessness looms large.
Welcome to the world of poverty.
“The people are experiencing poverty and walking in the shoes of those who experience it day by day,” said Kera Thompson, referring to volunteers who took part in Saturday’s “Bridges out of Poverty” seminar at Williamson Elementary School, 59 Williamson Ave. on the South Side.
Facilitating the four-hour, interactive workshop was the Ohio Association of Food Banks, which represents the state’s 12 Feeding America banks. Sponsors were the Junior Civic League, the Junior League of Youngstown and the YWCA of Youngstown.
The diverse program was a collaboration between the YWCA as well as the nonprofit Junior and Junior Civic leagues and intended to better educate the community regarding the struggles of most low-income families, noted Susan M. Moorer, the Junior Civic League president.
“People should treat them with empathy and not be judgmental,” Moorer added.
The workshop was divided into 15-minute sessions in which participants, portraying members of poor families, were given a set of needs and went to tables with about 20 volunteers who simulated social-services and agency employees. For example, someone who received a disconnection notice visited the table that represented a fictitious utility company.
Volunteers, including Nicole Miller and Nina Detwiler, portrayed workers of mortgage, employment, community-action and real-estate agencies, child-care facilities, faith-based organizations, schools, grocery stores and banks. A few acted as advocates for homeless people.
Many who struggle financially also face unscrupulous businesses that take advantage of them, so a table representing a predatory-lending company was set up.
“This is a great opportunity to know what low-income people are going through,” Miller, a Youngstown Early College senior, said of the collaborative effort.
Miller, who played a receptionist for a social-services agency, added that she plans to study veterinary medicine at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa.
Portraying a caseworker, Detwiler said that, despite the staged setting, it was difficult to turn people away from services they need but for which they fail to meet certain requirements.
“I feel bad. It’s hard,” the Boardman woman said, noting that people of all ages and races, along with college students, parents and grandparents, can become destitute through no fault of their own.
Also happy to have been part of the Bridges seminar was Leah Brooks, the YWCA’s executive director.
“This ties in with our mission to eliminate racism and empower women,” she explained. “Women and families make up a high percentage of people living in poverty.”