By Madison Dealing, Hendrix College
As our 15-hour trip from Arlington, VA to Helena, AR came to an end, each of us grabbed a handful of our things and dragged it across the lawn to the front door. The big white house on Beech street contained more lessons than we were prepared to learn, but we unknowingly turned the key to the front door and jumped into our summer internship.
“The only way to lessen the divide is to take the time to educate both generations,” writes Dealing, who interned at the Family Center in Helena, Arkansas.
The challenges that awaited us seemed endless from the moment we walked into that house. However, I cannot say that my views about poverty were changed through living on $14 dollars a day, sharing a room with two other people, sleeping in the heat, being the minority race, or even interacting with the impoverished community members. These events did not change my view, not because they are not important, but because I have personally experienced these things in my own life. Spending a summer in poverty is routine. Instead of personally experiencing poverty for the first time, I had the opportunity to understand why poverty continues to be a cycle.
Over the course of the summer, I had finally understood that poverty was an extremely complex issue. There is no one answer to the problem and this was my first glimpse of the struggle from both sides of the fence. The internship taught me that there are at least two major issues in the fight against poverty. There is a lack communication and a lack of education. For example, those that are mainly in charge of Helena tend to be wealthy white males. However, this is not the typical profile of the average community member. The experiences and the needs of the leaders do not often match those in the community, which can lead to a lack of understanding and communication. How can someone help others when he has never been able to experience a similar problem? The answer that most people find is to just do what they can. Handling the basics of poverty has led America to create beneficial programs and ideologies; such as welfare programs and the push for a better educational system for children.
The belief that children are the future has been around for as long as I can remember. It has led to a wide range of educational programs for children in poverty. In Helena, KIPP Delta Public School remains a thriving education center for those children that have the potential to break the cycle of poverty and work towards a college degree. The schools have longer hours, shorter breaks, and extremely passionate teachers. KIPP strives to educate kids by expanding their horizons. Although the importance of education for impoverished communities has its benefits, it also comes with its own problems. When we educate one generation, we create a divide between the educated kids and their less well educated parents. To some, this may not seem incredibly important, however, this divide in generations only creates different issues. Now we have parents that can help their children survive in poverty, but are unable to provide the necessary support that children need through college applications, social networking, and higher class living. How can we educate one generation without creating a divide between the educated kids and their parents?
In Austin, Texas, there is a high school program called College Forward. The goal of the program is to aide high school students through the application processes as well as the college lifestyle. All volunteers are recent college graduates, which helps them relate to the high school population. College Forward hosts a yearly program that invites high school student and their family to a local college for a day of classes. The students are sent to classes about SATs, FAFSA, and the college lifestyle. The parents are separated from the students for their own set of classes. These range from explaining the student’s application process to demonstrations on how to fill out the parent FAFSA. I took part in this program as a high school student. At the time, my attitude about the program was nonchalant, but my parents had a completely different perception. To this day, my mom continues to remind me of the benefits of the College Forward program. If it were not for her classes, I don’t believe she would have had the ability to help get me this far. College Forward has helped many families adjust to a different future than they believed their children could achieve. Programs that are set out to educate both the students and their caretakers are much needed in order to truly influence the success of students and cyclical nature of poverty.
Similar to College Forward, The Family Center created a Resource Center for the Helena community. The goal was to create a Resource Center in Helena that will include education. Eventually, there will be computers for the community members to work on computer skills and resumes. The Center will allow people to pick up clothing and have a warm meal. The vision of the Resource Center revolves around providing basic physical necessities as well as the basic educational necessities. Our society revolves around cell phones, internet, and instant answers. In order to continue growing our technology, we need to broaden our education to those that did not grow up with this level of technology. Although the Resource Center and College Forward are working in different areas, they focus on the same issue. The Helena community strives to make a difference in the lives of young individuals, but the Family Center has seen the negative side effects of solely educating one group of people. Nothing will be more exciting than seeing how the Resource Center will affect the lives of multiple generations throughout the Helena Community.
Every question has an answer, but every answer leads to a new question. The cycle of poverty will never end from handouts, nor will it end from a specific educational program. We might be able to reduce poverty by including the impoverished people in the conversation. We may even be able to reduce the cyclical nature of poverty by educating multiple generations at a time. However, poverty will unlikely end with a program that is ‘one size fits all’. Individually we have different experiences and therefore different needs. The Shepherd internship allowed me to see the frustration on both ends. Those in poverty feel as though they are not being helped in the ways that they need, but those that are helping are stuck in a system that wants minimal programs that will fit the majority. My views on the cycle of poverty have shifted from the idea that there was a lack of help to the belief that our society needs to change the way we view poverty in order to help those in need.
As my experience came to an end, my house filled with sentimental conversations. We discussed our initial thoughts of each other and the town. We compared our old views to the new ones. We considered who we would have been if the summer had never happened the way it did. Even if we tried to resist, none of us could deny that we had changed. Our beliefs, our mannerisms, and our hearts will forever be altered by each other and our experiences in the small yet profound town of Helena, AR.