Bridging Community Project kicks off

4 mins read
Dr. Donna Beegle address the issues of poverty in Franklin County with members of the community.

FARMINGTON – An event last week brought representatives from a wide variety of community sectors together in one room to address concerns of extreme poverty within the region.

The G.H. Bass Room at Franklin Memorial Hospital was packed with health care providers, lawyers, educators, social service providers and religious affiliates, all hoping to gain some perspective on the rising concern for those living in poverty. The event was hosted by Healthy Community Coalition and served as a kick off for the newly implemented Bridging Community Project.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Donna Beegle, addressed residents of Franklin County with her compelling story of growing up in the “war-zone” of poverty. Dr. Beegle spoke last spring to members of the community, inspiring a collaborative effort to bring her poverty awareness model to Franklin County.

The result of those efforts- the Bridging Community Project– is due largely to the work of RSU 9 Superintendent Dr. Tom Ward, HCC Program Coordinator Andrea Richards and Dr. Michele McCormick of FMH. The program is made possible by a grant from the Maine Health Access Foundation.

Dr. Beegle shared details of her childhood alongside shocking statistics to a captivated audience. She spoke about learning to “speak middle class,” declaring herself fluent in two languages. She told the audience about sharing prescription drugs and even prescribed glasses with each other, because access to health care was limited if available at all.

“If someone has rotten teeth, what do people immediately think of?” Beegle questioned the audience. “First of all, people think of drug addictions. And secondly, they think they just don’t take care of them. Why do we go to blame and judgment? Why aren’t we asking ‘I wonder if they ever had a dentist?'”

Dr. Beegle dropped out of school at the age of 15 to get married. It wasn’t until 11 years later that she got her GED, enrolled in community college, eventually acquiring her second language of middle class and her doctorate. She is now in her 27th year of fighting the stereo types of poverty, has written two books, founded her own organization and has opened the eyes of professionals in every single state.

The Bridging Community Project aims to connect “navigators” with “neighbors.” A face-to-face approach for helping those who are struggling in the war zone of poverty. Through intense training, navigators will be able to help neighbors find and access resources within the region.

“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?” Dr. Beegle said.

Dr. Beegle went on to question the audience, what would our community look like if children were our top priority? Answers rang out- access to food, ability to play safely, exposure to the arts.

“What do you call homework when you don’t have a home?” she asked. “We need to be separating the people from the poverty.”

Details on the Bridging Community Project will be released in the near future. Volunteers will be needed for all aspects of the program, with training to be held in May. Navigators will commit to spending 8 to 12 hours a month with a family or person living in poverty.

For more information on the program contact Andrea Richards at Healthy Community Coalition at 779-2435 or amrichards@fchn.org.

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