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Poverty Studies has led to Conscious Living and a First Job

By Eleanor Paige Bacon

As an intern at HomeAgain in Richmond, Virginia, a non-profit organization that provides transitional and emergency shelter to the homeless, I wore many different hats, working with the financial and development officers and emergency shelters. I immersed myself into my internship, in which I gained a holistic understanding of how non-profit functions from daily achievements and struggles to the organization’s gains and restrictions from the state and city regulations, and how non-profits like HomeAgain fit into the larger national discussion of homelessness.

Eleanor Paige Bacon, Wooster '14, will work for Middlebury College, Community Engagement beginning fall 2015

Eleanor Paige Bacon, Wooster ’15, will work for Middlebury College, Community Engagement beginning fall 2015

This summer experience solidified my interest not only in working with underserved populations as a partner, listening, and helping individuals and families overcome struggles of poverty, but also understanding and facing the strict parameters of social, economic, and political inequalities. Through planning educational activities and field trips, as well as raising money at the annual fundraiser, my Shepherd internship revealed to me the importance of connecting what I learn in academics with my own values, how I approach life and potential work in the future.

In light of new understandings of myself, my values, and social inequalities and poverty, I sought to find a place at Wooster that enhanced my self-awareness, challenged my academics and also pushed me to seek out inequalities in my own community. The Poverty Outreach House was my answer for my last two years of school. While the poverty house is one of many program and service houses on campus, it stands above the rest as a place of sincere intent, a place where discussions of poverty can be explored in depth, beyond the classroom. The house is centered around preparing, serving and eating breakfast downtown at Trinity UCC every morning, and in reflection focuses on issues of food inequality and privilege. On all levels, the house was a complete fit. Not only did the people in the house become some of my closest friends, but I also learned the most important life lessons and built so many relationships with people I might not of previously. My biggest take away from volunteering at Trinity is that it is okay to be uncomfortable, in conversation or interaction; whether because someone said something you fundamentally do not believe in or you perceive you have nothing in common because of your drastically differing financial situation. However, in fact uncomfortability is the space in which both people in the interaction grow. By working through this tension, barriers are broken down and guarded and reluctant interactions become relationships of trust and care. The people at Trinity showed me how time and long-term service commitment builds a diverse community that can work to end poverty in our own community.

As I began my Senior Independent Study, a graduation requirement and right of passage, the most important aspect of my research became to explore a subject that is both academic and experiential; something that I am passionate about in research, but also in practice. This led me to the broad, complex, and often intimidating subject of healthcare in the United States. This year-long academic thesis, led me to the Viola Startzman Free Clinic in Wooster, Ohio, of which I had started volunteering the summer before. Under the mentorship of their Community Outreach Coordinator, I built relationships with patients in their pursuit to access healthcare through Medicaid and the online Marketplace. The clinic then allowed me to interview staff and patients about their understanding and involvement in the healthcare system. Through this academic and volunteer experience, I have learned great patience, strong advocacy, and confidence to ask as many questions as possible in order to be a resilient advocate and ally to underserved communities. It also reinforced my commitment to seeking a career path that would fit my continued interest in advocacy, the dignity of all people and issues of poverty.

As I move forward beyond college I know, because of these experiences, I am committed to serving the underserved in whatever way that may be. It is my responsibility, to the best of my ability, in all ways to be socially, environmentally, politically, economically and racially conscious. This next year, I will not be working directly with the underserved, but will be helping Middlebury College’s Community Engagement Office enhance and strengthen service opportunities for their students and community organizations. As well as supporting and growing the Privilege and Poverty Program, a unique academic concentration that focuses classes around issues of privilege, poverty and the social interaction of the two. I hope there that I can share my college service experience and foster student interest in building community focused around seeing human value and committing to life-long service.


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