I don’t like “visioning.” My experiences with it up to now have been disappointing at best. I much prefer brainstorming, and it needs to be with people who are open to ideas.
The process I went through in the last two days with Children First/Communities in Schools was very much a brainstorming session with a ton of positive energy and people from a variety of backgrounds.
I’ve been involved too many times with groups of people who want to help “those poor people,” whose intentions are good but who have no experience living in poverty. I encountered a lot of them when my kids were little and I was poor. I had to subscribe to their ideas or I was a problem mom.
It’s easy to tell someone her son needs therapy, but it loses something when you tell a low-wage working mother she has to take two hours off every Wednesday afternoon — without pay — to get him there. It’s easy for people who’ve never been poor to think they know what it’s like, but it’s better to listen to people who are poor describe their everyday struggles and work toward solutions with them, respecting them as equals.
The solutions we come up with have to work for the people we’re trying to help. Most poor people do have jobs, and those jobs don’t pay them while they’re in a parenting workshop or at a clinic. We need real solutions and we need them to be where and when people can use them.
You can’t say you’re giving children a safe place for recreation when the park and their neighborhood are separated by a four-lane highway.
That’s why I was glad to hear so many of the solutions today involve going into the neighborhoods with services at community centers that are run by people in the community. There was a suggestion of child-care cooperatives that would offer training in early childhood brain development and appropriate activities to the people who will care for children.
A lot of small nonprofits are duplicating services instead of collaborating, and one group today decided to build a coalition of service providers — nonprofits and the Department of Social Services — that communicates so all our services reach the right people, and we can build partnerships to offer stronger solutions.
We had lots of ideas for mentoring — one-on-one services that I believe in. One of my favorite ideas was for every new parent to get a visit from a nurse, doula or grandmother-type who could answer questions and guide the new parents to any services they might need. This is especially important for first-time parents, who might have little or no experience caring for infants. Nothing helps like a little self-confidence, especially when it’s paired with a telephone number they can call if the baby won’t stop crying and they need a break.
Women who became mothers as teenagers make good mentors for teen moms. They make even better mentors for teenagers who are at risk of getting pregnant before they finish school. You’re more likely to trust somebody who’s been where you’re thinking of going than a middle-aged white woman with a degree in social work or psychology. That person can be the one behind the young woman with the real-life experience. I call it a positive chain reaction.
We also talked about getting funding from city and county governments for small programs and working with state lawmakers to change outdated or unreasonable rules and regulations. We aim to engage people in the community in these efforts.
Too many government programs have taken away the ability of people to advocate for themselves; we want to give that back to people who receive services.
No one of the ideas we came up with during the last two days will eliminate child poverty in Buncombe County, but it is a step in the right direction. I believe we can reduce poverty by helping people improve their communities and giving the skills and the self-confidence to become civic leaders and bring about real change.