Author brings message of hope to people in poverty

11/07/08 5:50PM By Lynne McCrea
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(Host) A Dartmouth College administrator and author was in Burlington this week to lead a discussion with low income Vermonters on breaking the cycle of poverty.

As VPR's Lynne McCrea reports, one of the underlying messages was about the importance of literacy, and lifelong learning.

(Sound of author signing books)

(McCrea) Mary Childers spoke to a group of about 50 people - nearly all of them women, and many, young mothers.

She shared her own story of growing up poor-a story that she documents in her book "Welfare Brat." That's what Childers says people often called her when she was a young girl. She wrote the book for others who've grown up on welfare.

(Childers) "When I was writing it I was thinking, ‘I'm going to write at a literacy level that's very different from the level that I normally write for.' I deliberately tried to return to something closer to my voice as a child, so that people could identify. And that's what we're hearing happening.''

(Discussion ambience)

(McCrea) People are here today through a Vermont Humanities Council literacy program that works with other groups serving lower income families. The goal is to help people build skills, improve literacy and change their lives.

(Linnie Miller)"It affected me a lot..."

(McCrea) That's Linnie Miller. She's read Childer's book, and can identify with it. Miller says her mother grew up on welfare, she was a child of welfare, and as an adult she's had to turn to welfare for help.

(Miller) "I really feel that being on welfare lowers your self esteem tremendously. Yeah, and it's very easy to fall into that cycle. You get on it and you say, ‘I'm just gonna get on it a little while, just to get on my feet.' And it takes a long time to get on your feet."

(McCrea) One of the roadblocks to breaking the cycle of poverty is what Mary Childers calls ``defensive ambivalence about education.'' She says some low income parents - like her own mother - actually fear their children's education.

(Childers) "And I show my mother actually being concerned that if I became educated, I would look down on the family. I was beaten up for talking differently. Um, what we see today is people think, ‘Well, you don't belong in the neighborhood, you don't care about us, you're not going to succeed anyway.'... So, there's a problem with the school system, and there's a problem with how some people see education.''

(McCrea) Judging by the discussion today, many here are keenly aware of the opportunities that education can lead to. Some talk about personal goals - including going back to school.

And with the book "Welfare Brat," they have a new source of inspiration: Mary Childers - a child of poverty - went on to get a PhD, and now serves as ombudsman at Dartmouth College.

For VPR News, I'm Lynne McCrea.

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