I wrote this in 2006 when I worked with people below or near the poverty line. My job was to teach them how to manage their money under the auspices of a government-funded organization. The disparity has continued to grow. Perhaps if we had done something sooner…
What a week~~working the front lines of poverty…2006…Disparity
Dec. 2006: This has been a crazy week, I entered and left so many worlds I have not had time to process any of it. It started last Saturday at a reception held for my sister and her new husband to celebrate their wedding with their upstate NY kin. In the middle of the reception, I gazed up to see a tapestry composed of the five quilts my Mother made for each of her five children out of my Father’s ties, he had over 100 when he passed last year. I dissected this with my husband because it was my sister and her new husband’s party. He agreed it was different but by the fifth round of dissection, very gently said, “You know, maybe it’s just your Mom’s way of bringing Sam along.”
From there we went to the honeymoon pictures in Egypt at the beautiful, advertisement picture perfect resort. My sister looked really happy, both she and her new husband in their 40s, their first marriage, she declared her wedding was the happiest day of her life.
I proceed into my week, five workshops in four days, I’m dreading it. Its money management I teach and this is the season to be spending it, say the advertisements, the music, and the morning shows. I am spending time with people at or below the poverty line. I believe in looking for the positive, but I am also a realist.
I hear the heartache of the season. One person tells me it is not doing more with less it is learning to live with less, about $120 per week with tips. This person is happy to attend the class, glad to get here even though it cost $75 to get the new battery for the car, Friday’s paycheck spent.
In another class, midway through, a class member pipes up, this is all well and good but these are organizational tools for money, I have no money, my co-pays cost me $5000 last year out of my SSD money. This person is enrolled in a home-ownership program. At another class and another county site, a participant pipes up and says if I do all this, really do it, how long will it take for everything on my credit report to be fine? I hear the thin line between desperation and hope. All I can think of to say is each time you pay something on time, is a deposit into your future? Like an AA program, a day without a drink , a deposit for your cell health?
I email my sister, what are the price limits for the gift we buy each other in the sibling swap, between $50 and $75 she replies, but don’t get too hung up on that, it all works out in the end? For some of us, it occurs to me.
And then I ruminate on my own life, why am I so darned lucky? I am grateful this week for venison roast from a colleague, a flat-screen monitor, and my husband blaring Mannheim Steamroller. I am grateful for my colleagues telling me I do not have to apologize for my happiness and that of course, these are sad times, people want to give, and they have no money to even go to the dollar store.
I pick up the paper this morning, I read, with a heavy heart about one of my favorite money management class participants. He told me how much he liked the class and was visibly hurt one day when I forgot his name. His court date passed, his crime publicized, I hope and pray that the good I saw in him can surmount whatever it is that brought him to this point. I wonder who his teachers were.
Before our office party on Friday, I returned the call from a friend, while I prepared my holiday salad. The company lost their disability paper work, but we can pay the electric bill with my husband’s Christmas bonus, she says. Oh and by the way, I found yesterday that after months of telling me my oral surgery was reversible and I could chew again, dive into the steak and baked potato I love, I found out it is not reversible after all, the radiation sensitizes the tissue, not a good idea to go back in said the surgeon.
Off to the Christmas party at a local museum. I wonder why I did not have time to dress up and why everyone else looks so good. I think I get it now. I have to say I loved the party. It made me laugh louder than I have laughed in a while and I needed it. When I got back into the car to go back to work, I felt a sense of being alive that was great. I loved the tour too; all the old stuff in a museum keeps things in perspective in a sad but kind of peaceful way. I wish with all my heart that I could bang the garage door shut on all the pain I see but I can never get the handle down. A job dusting off fossils may be in my future.
I left this job 8 months later because I was not solving the problem.