Poverty highlighted at leadership summit

October 26, 2015

A welfare mother for 18 years who later became a judicial officer helped area nonprofit agency leaders understand poverty at a summit Thursday, Oct. 22.

Prudence Pease, of Tunbridge, Vt., is a certified Bridges Out of Poverty facilitator for aha! Process Inc. She has trained more than 5,000 people in Bridges work, including human service providers, human resource professionals and employers, according to her online biography.

Pease gave a presentation on understanding poverty Thursday at the 7th annual Nonprofit Leadership Summit, sponsored by the Harvest Foundation in partnership with the Martinsville Area Community Foundation and the United Way of Henry County & Martinsville. About 150 nonprofit agency leaders attended the summit at New College Institute.

The summit also included opening remarks from Harvest Board Chairman Chris Beeler, and concurrent sessions by Dara Goldberg, president of Metier Consulting Inc., and Dr. John P. Thomas, director of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.

Poverty, Pease said during her keynote address, is “the extent to which an individual does without resources.” Those resources are financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relations/role models and knowledge of hidden rules.

Poverty can be generational, such as hers, which Pease said is second-generation poverty. It also can be situational, such as that caused by death, divorce, an environmental disaster or other circumstance.

She cited instances of children who have moved more than 10 times by the age of 10. In Pease’s case, she married a motorcycle road captain at the age of 18 and he “put her off his bike” 10 days before her first baby was due. She had no prenatal care and weighed 103 pounds when she gave birth to her son.

“You can find me in any community,” she said.

Pease and her baby spent 24 hours in the hospital and then moved to a condemned mobile home. They later moved to a one-bedroom apartment that they shared with five other people. Pease called it “generational stacking.”

She said she worked with every possible public agency, ranging from child welfare services and heating assistance, in the following years.

Summit participants were asked to list things people in poverty think about and are concerned with each day. They listed things such as food, work, transportation, health care, children, shelter, crime/safety, family and friends, agency time and entertainment.

Pease arranged those items in a circle, forming a spider web that falls apart when one section is pulled. That, she said, is because people in poverty live in survival mode, concerned with how they are going to eat that day, how they are going to get to work, if they will be safe and other immediate concerns. If one factor in the circle fails, it creates a domino effect.

For example, she said if a person in poverty cannot get to work because his car breaks down, he could lose his job, which could lead to losing his house and so on. The circle collapses, she said.

In another example, a homeless child is cranky at school because he slept in a car the night before. The child’s mother is called at work, but she can only leave her job twice before she would be let go, and the child is disruptive often. If the mother does not respond, a social services agency is called.

“Everything in the circle is attached,” Pease said.

Relationships are at the center of life for people in generational poverty, she said.

For instance, she said her three oldest children became homeless three times. They came home from school to find everything was gone, and they could control only their relationships. “You can lose everything else in a moment,” Pease said.

For people in the middle class, the “trump card” is achievement, Pease said. “They have the ability to plan for the future,” she said, citing people who buy roadside assistant plans for their car before a problem arises or those who go to a dentist for preventive health care or make healthy food choices to protect their well-being.

For those people, something like a broken-down car likely would not cause their circle of concerns to collapse. Because they have planned for the future with roadside help, they can get to work and not lose their job, home or more, Pease said.

During Pease’s concurrent session, she outlined “hidden rules” that every person has from birth and how they differ for people in poverty, the middle class and with wealth. For instance:

  • Food. A person in poverty worries about having enough to eat. For the middle class, the concern is the quality of food; for the wealthy, the issue is if food is presented well. People in poverty eat what they can afford, Pease said, and they are always thinking about when they will be hungry again.
  • Money. A person in poverty sees money as something to use and spend. A middle class person sees it as something to manage. A wealthy person sees it as something to conserve and invest. Pease told how her son remembered saving his money as a child only to have her take it when there was a family need. “In poverty, money belongs to the group,” she added.
  • Power. This is linked to personal respect for the person in poverty, which is why a teacher is respected. A middle class person separates power and respect and responds to a position, possibly respecting the title of teacher but not the person. A wealthy person sees power in expertise, connections and stability.

“People in poverty can be successful,” Pease said, but they have to tweak themselves to accommodate the “hidden rules” all day, every day.

However, moving out of poverty comes at a cost. There is a “sting” or negative repercussion to moving from poverty to middle class, instability to stability or middle class to wealthy, Pease said. It comes when a person must give up relationships, at least for a time, to achieve the move, she added.

For example, it is good if a middle schooler stays after school for extra help in math. But the sting comes when the student gets home and finds his or her mother had chores waiting, Pease said.

“If you’re working with a family or a person and not having success, look for the sting,” she advised.

To move out of poverty, Pease said people need support systems, which she called the bonding capital or glue, to move forward. These are family, friends and backup resources available in times of need.

They also need role models and relationships with people she called bridgers, who are nurturing and do not engage in destructive behavior. In her case, Pease said she has “people who see me as more than I see myself.”

According to her biography, 15 years ago Pease began serving as a community leadership facilitator and later as a community coordinator. She went on to work as a peer navigator with the Federal of Families for Children’s Mental Health.

Along the way, she was elected the senior assistant judge of Orange County, Vt., managing the county’s judicial system and presiding over small claims, family and traffic court. She retired as the senior judge, and now runs a farm with her husband in addition to her work with aha! Process, which operates in 50 states and 14 countries.

Goldberg’s concurrent session outlined the process of preparing a funding proposal. She said a successful nonprofit “never loses sight of the overarching goal, stays current on the needs it aims to address, and sets clear, measurable outcomes.”

“If you don’t have the outcomes, don’t be shy or too proud,” Goldberg said to attendees. “Have pride in saying I don’t know. Don’t worry about your ego or being vulnerable. You’re human.”

Thomas described the many types of capital nonprofits have in his session, including human, intellectual, material, cultural and financial capital. He said values are determined at a very early age, and it’s important to find a way to “build bonding capital” and “develop trust and confidence in people whose values are different.”

Thursday’s event is part of the mission at Harvest Foundation to provide area nonprofit organizations with quality professional development opportunities. To find out more, visit www.theharvestfoundation.org.


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