Understanding the Dynamics of Poverty Workshop Shows How Generational Poverty Impacts our Community

February 08, 2023

By: Bob Johannessen, First United Methodist Church, Baton Rouge
"Growing up in middle class New Orleans, I learned from my family and others that people were poor because they didn’t work hard, didn’t go to school and made bad choices,” recalled one participant after a recent workshop held by First United Methodist Church group, Methodist for Social Justice. “This belief changed as I started my career. Your workshop was important in showing why poverty exists and the barriers that keep people in this condition.”

On a Saturday morning in late January, 30 people gathered at First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge to join the workshop led by HOPE Ministries’ CEO Janet Simmons and COO David Tidwell.

HOPE is a local nonprofit organization with a mission to prevent homelessness and promote self-sufficiency and dignity. First Methdoist and other United Methodist congregations in Louisiana have been long-time supporters of this ministry.

The workshop addressed the causes of poverty, misconceptions about people in poverty, quality of life indicators, effects of language on poverty, challenges of budgeting, and learned behaviors.  

Participants were given exercises that challenged them to pay bills experienced by people of different incomes, including those living at the poverty level, at the medium income level in Louisiana, and middle-class members who experienced a sudden and unexpected expense.

In another discussion about vocabulary, the presenters shared data that showed adults at the lowest income level had an everyday vocabulary of only 600 words. This is compared to 1,500 words for a working-class family and nearly 2,200 words for a professional family.

Why is this important? In a second exercise, attendees were asked to write an email to apply for a new job. Using a list with a very limited number of words, those representing people in poverty could only write a simple, elementary letter.

When compared to the letters written by those in higher income brackets, it was apparent how language barriers result in economic barriers.

Also, in the three-hour workshop, quality of life indicators that are directly impacted by poverty was discussed.

These include physical well-being (health, wellness, mobility), material well-being (money management, regular income), social well-being (support systems, spiritual health), emotional well-being (stress, drive and ambition, safety), and developmental well-being (read, write, use technology).

For churches, community groups, and businesses, HOPE Ministries offers these workshops, as well as:

Going Beyond Employees Achieving More - Teaches participants how to understand the relationship between personal resources and behaviors and how to overcome barriers to becoming self-sufficient.

Understanding your Workforce – A customized professional development training for companies’ executive, mid-level and line supervisors that helps employers increase retention and productivity.

For more information on HOPE Ministries, visit their web site
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