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Ott, students spend week in poverty

March 30, 2012

Spring break for students is simply just that, a break. But ten daring students decided to scrap their own chances of taking a break in order to help others. This endeavor was all part of the Alternative Spring Break program which was planned by Billy Bernard and the Rev. Teri Ott. Four students traveled with Ott to Kentucky for a poverty immersion program while six crossed the Illinois border over to Des Moines, Iowa for Habitat for Humanity.

The four students traveled to the Portland neighborhood of Louisville, Ky., an area rich in history that is currently below the poverty line and suffering from a high crime rate as well. In this town of approximately 12,000, four students made it their mission to learn from the experience of helping at senior centers, a food pantry, a community garden and a daycare center.

“Poverty is no fun,” sophomore Corbin Beastrom said from experiencing the poverty firsthand. “This rounded out my perspective.”

The group was able to have many conversations with the residents. To Beastrom, one man who stood out in particular. This man’s wife developed cancer, but her insurance was cut. Because of this, the man’s medical bills became too expensive, and eventually, he fell into poverty.

“He was employed at the community garden,” said Beastrom. “It was great to see him helping himself while helping the community.”

During the trip, which lasted from Saturday, March 10 to Thursday, March 15, the group was given a box of food from the food pantry, like peanut butter and canned goods, to eat from during their stay that was similar to the food the locals would eat on a daily basis. The food was high in salt and was never anything fresh.

The group also participated in a family simulation in which each person assumed the role of a parent or child and experience the working conditions of the area.

“There were nights we had to sleep on the floor, because we couldn’t afford a bed that day. I worked, but I wasn’t paid since I was a kid,” Beastrom said. “My family got a reality check. We even had to take care of one of the computer babies… and pay for daycare.”

According to Ott, the experience was filled with scripture and conversations about life, society and ways to help people.

“It’s a stereotype that poor people are lazy, and gosh, we were exhausted at the end of the day working the jobs they do every day,” Ott said.

The group spent the day on their feet, picking up trash and mopping.

“And we didn’t have a lot of food, or get to sleep in a lovely, comfy bed,” said Ott comparing her experiences in Kentucky to her the advantages she has here. “We don’t realize [the differences] until we’re there, and we only get a tiny taste of it, and then we get to come home.”

From his experience which, “compiled the Global Perspectives and Citizenships initiatives,” Beastrom came to his own conclusions about what should be done in order to help those in need.

“It is illogical to think everyone will have a small fortune or the economic means to make our culture one of shared prosperity,” he said. “We always hear, ‘we need more funding,’ but that is not the case. We need resources in education. As the old expression goes, we can’t give fish out, we need to teach the people how to fish.”

Other students who participated in the poverty immersion program over spring break included Jacob McClean, Kathleen Forrest and Nick Mariano.

Billy Bernard, Director of Greek Life, took six students to Des Moines, Iowa for Habitat for Humanity.

From March 11-17, Jacob Hutton, Shannon Sullivan, Claire McGuire, John Bowles, Sylvain Darville and Katie Murphy helped scrape paint, repaint buildings, lay down hard-wood floors and install shelves in homes for Habitat for Humanity.

“[Habitat for Humanity] helps people have home ownership and will sell homes to individuals at reduced costs,” Bernard said.

For the first two days of the trip, Bernard and the students visited a Home Depot-like setting where people donated used items from floor tiles to kitchen sinks to be sold at low prices for service projects like Habitat for Humanity.

“It was a really great experience for the students,” said Bernard who also expressed the enjoyment he felt for spending a week helping those in need.

Stevie Croisant
Copy and Layout Editor

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