Editor’s note: This is the fourth story of the Bulldog’s Living in Poverty series which serves to highlight the issue in Franklin County.
In Meghan’s story, as well as in Dawn’s, there is a common factor in their battle against the grips of poverty. It isn’t necessarily about a flexible class schedule or a scholarship to summer camp. It isn’t even about a free gallon of milk picked up from the food pantry.
For both families, the driving factor behind those resources is the opportunity for human connection.
“The isolation of poverty perpetuates it. How do we create a more inclusive community?” Dr. Donna Beegle asked at the Bridging Communities Project kick off event in March.
The Bridging Communities Project is a new program aimed at bringing more understanding to our region’s poverty, by increasing the opportunity for a supportive human connection.
By connecting “neighbors” (those who are in need of extra help) to “navigators” (volunteers who can offer that help) The Bridging Communities Project is slowly creating a web of commonality between otherwise two starkly different worlds.
“In poverty, the dominant message you hear is that nobody cares. But in all of my years of work, I’ve never once heard someone say they don’t care. We care. So where does that message get lost,” Beegle asked.
Beegle was raised deep in the trenches of generational poverty. After getting her GED at age 26, she is now in her 27th year of fighting the stereo types associated with people living in poverty. One way she is doing this is by helping communities like Franklin County to adopt this face to face model of helping.
“We need to start separating the people from the poverty. Part of what this model does is help people to achieve a grounded understanding of poverty, and of how it impacts our fellow human beings,” Beegle said.
Many people all over the county are already doing this in their own way. Whether it’s by seeing a need and responding to it, lending a capable hand or opening doors to things people need. All of these efforts, along with initiatives like the Bridging Communities Project, are slowly breaking down those isolating walls.
For those that don’t know where to begin, or feel overwhelmed by the daunting subject, just reading Meaghan’s story is a start. Approaching that place of understanding is the first step toward shifting the paradigm.
“It’s going to be hard. If you don’t see or hear these things on a regular basis it can be difficult to process,” Healthy Community Coalition Program Coordinator Andrea Richards said.
Richards has played an active role in implementing the Bridging Communities Project, and is continuing to see it through as the program takes off. Recruiting volunteers to be navigators is just one of her many tough jobs. The commitment of time, as well as the emotional wear, can be a struggle for people.
“It just takes time. It’s a hard thing to know when to draw the line, but I deeply believe in the program,” Volunteer Navigator Kim Allen said.
Allen has been paired up with a mother of five. One of the first things they accomplished together was writing a letter of intent for a job. Most recently Allen has helped her apply for help with her electricity bill through a Central Maine Power program.
“This program is so needed in our community, and in society. It’s important to help other people. Even if it’s just being a friend to your actual neighbor. Positive energy in someone’s life can go a long way,” Allen said.
Richards agreed. Even if the commitment to the program is not doable for someone, that doesn’t mean nothing can be done.
“It might just be a matter of knowing someone who knows someone who knows someone,” Richards said.
For more information on the Bridging Communities Project contact Andrea Richards at Healthy Community Coalition by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.