Thursday, March 03, 2011

Town hall meetings

We've been going to these "town hall" meetings at Steve's church. It was an idea he had from the Missional Leadership Initiative. He lined up four speakers from the community to come and share about things they saw happening, then he invited anyone who wanted to - including all the area churches - to come listen and interact.

The first week was a local sheriff's deputy, the second was someone from a local youth shelter/farm, this week was a guidance counselor from the high school, and the last one is a person who runs a family counseling service.

The school guidance counselor was really good the other night. He has been doing this for like 13 years or something. He said the biggest change he has seen effecting kids has been in the family system. Bigger than the change in technology even. He broke it down into three categories:
  • Family Income - Where most people used to be employed in factories, now Walmart and Lowe's employ more people than the factories (in school district); and wages are much lower. He said (nationally) 1st graders from low-income families have a 2900-word vocabulary; whereas higher-income 1st graders have a 5800-word vocabulary. Also, at his school, in 1998 13% of kids were on free or reduced lunches; now it is at 32%.
  • Family Structures - Divorced, blended, and single-parent families are the norm now. 40% of children are raised without a father nowadays. At this particular school, the top 1/4 of the class academically are 93% from a traditional family. The bottom 1/4 are 40% from a traditional family.
  • Family Mobility - People move more today than before, due to poverty issues or family structure. He said (at his school) it used to be that 20-30 kids would either enter or leave the school in a given year - and it was usually at the beginning or end of the year. This year they have had 160 kids come and go, and it's at any and all times. Whether it's parents needing to move, or kids being shipped between parents, or whatever.
He suggested a couple of things that he thought people could easily do to help. One is to get involved with a Big Sister/Big Brothers program to come and read or eat lunch with kids. Another is that they need good quality substitute teachers.

There were several things he shared at the end that really stuck out to me too. For one, he talked about how our working-class culture is being replaced by a generational-poverty culture. Many people have just never seen someone with a work ethic that used to be the norm, and they don't understand what it is.

Perhaps the thing that stood out to me the most was when he talked about the danger of assuming that everyone wants to be like "you" though. For instance, I am a middle-class person. I do not aspire to be wealthy - I am content to be middle-class. By the same token, there are people who are lower-class who don't aspire to be middle-class. Just because they're poor doesn't mean they want to be like me. We have equated poverty solely in financial terms. I think this is a mistake a lot of people make in working with low-income people. They think everyone wants to have more money and more stuff - and that's just not true.

One of the last things he said was, "There is no greater poverty than hopelessness." Very well put. That is one thing the church should have to offer: hope.

At any rate, I have enjoyed the meetings. I don't know that I have anything figured out yet, but it is making me think. Which is a good place to start.

Peace out, my friends; and in.

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