Poverty Seminar Helps Drive Home Daily Stresses

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Rapid City Journal (September 17, 2014):

Heading to the grocery store is an everyday exercise, but for the poor, without a car and lacking money, it is much more difficult.

In its Monday and Tuesday poverty symposium in Rapid City, the John T. Vucurevich Foundation aimed to drive home the difficulties many of the city's poor face.

More than 130 people representing area nonprofits, including the Red Cross, police and school system gathered at the Adoba Eco Hotel on Main Street to be tasked with spending two hours traveling around town in groups, pretending to be impoverished.

With many not having access to a car, they had to do what residents under the poverty line often have to do: seek social services, food stamps and, in desperation, pawn personal items.

Between 2008 and 2012, Rapid City had an estimated 16.1 percent poverty rate, much higher than the state's 13.8 percent average rate, according to the U.S. Census.

Native American poverty rates in Rapid City are the highest in any surveyed metro area in the United States, nearly 51 percent.

Cathy Jeffries, an assistant administrator for the Oglala Sioux Tribe's Community Health Representative program's office in Rapid City, said the seminar taught her how to better focus her perception of poverty — even though she grew up poor herself — to better help her organization's clients ask the right questions when seeking services.

Vucurevich Foundation Executive Director Sandy Diegel said the point was to expose participants to the small everyday frustrations and logistical difficulties the poor often face, for example, a mother with young children trying to lug groceries from the food bank down the block to the nearest bus stop.

She said the reality of the local economy, largely tourism-based, meant it was difficult for many people to find decent wages.

"We need good-paying jobs," Diegel said.

Dr. Donna Beegle, a poverty expert who spoke at length during the seminar, grew up in poverty. She said she believed fostering a sense of compassion was crucial.

More than just a "coping" strategy dealing with short-term emergencies is needed, she and Diegel said. Beegle urged a more holistic strategy, especially to tackle generational poverty.

"You have a lot of people," said Beegle, "who are falling through the cracks."

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