By Janet Goetze
For the Hollywood Star News
People in poverty often believe no one cares about them, that other people are smarter and that they don’t belong anywhere, according to a Portlander trying to break what she calls the “Iron Cage” trapping people in a day-to-day or paycheck-to-paycheck existence.
Donna Beegle, who broke out of the cage herself by earning her GED at 26 and a doctorate in educational leadership at 36, spoke recently to more than 95 people from 11 Northeast Portland churches who met for five hours at Westminster Presbyterian Church. The churches all have programs to aid the poor but members came with questions about what they could do for lasting effects.
Beegle, the president of a consulting firm called Communication Across Barriers, urged the group to discard their stereotypes of people living in poverty.
Instead, she said, listen to people and empower them by noting their strengths and skills. She also urged the church members to build relationships with people and become mentors for those who need a guide toward middle-class expectations. .
“No one says a program got me out of poverty,” Beegle said. “They’ll say it’s a person who cared about me.”
She recommended four key areas for reducing poverty, which she noted is a complex set of factors: build hope, remove shame and paralyzing judgment, reduce the isolation of those in poverty, and create a “poverty informed” community that gains facts about what contributes to conditions that leave people without basic needs or hope of change.
In the United States, she said, “Our entire system is set up to say, ‘It’s their fault. They don’t want help.’ “
Representatives of the 11 congregations will meet at noon November 12 at Westminster, 1624 N.E. Hancock St. They will explore their next steps in dealing with poverty in the community, said Carol Turner, a coordinator of the forum.
“I think the energy is there to work in a collaborative fashion,” Turner said, “but I don’t yet know what form that will take.”