I spent some time at home last weekend with my family in Topeka, Kansas. I got into a spirited yet respectful discussion with my mother about a person’s ability to support themselves making $15.00/hr. Mom and I often agree but in this case, we were on opposite sides of the debate. She was confident that earning only $15.00/hr was a roadblock to self-sufficiency. “There is just no way,” she stated, “that someone could support themself at this rate.” Although challenging, I know it is possible because I have witnessed mothers supporting their children earning $8.00 – $11.00/hr. In fact, the target population of TLC’s Lindsey House program is working poor families headed by women.
The working poor are those people who work full time jobs and yet remain in poverty. They barely make enough money to cover the essentials, let alone the curve balls that life throws their way. In many cases, they earn too much to receive any type of assistance such as food stamps, subsidized housing, or other services. Yet their jobs do not offer health insurance coverage nor can they afford it. The working poor are in a very difficult position; however, they are committed to supporting their families through employment. They understand that work is a critical link to escaping poverty.
“Escaping poverty!” Does that seem like a rather dramatic picture to you? The word escape brings several movies to mind including Escape from Alcatraz and one of my favorites, Papillon. Papillon is the true story of French convict Henri Charrière’s repeated attempts to escape the notorious French penal system after being wrongly convicted of murder. He must overcome obstacle after obstacle, and time after time little victories are replaced with big disappointments. After years of imprisonment, Henri is finally freed. He is broken, has lost years of his life, and does not trust that he will have a future.
Henri’s experiences are similar to those of the working poor. Obstacle after obstacle challenges the mere sanity of those striving daily to break the chains of poverty. It seems every time they get ahead, something happens that causes them to fall further behind. Their boss reduces their hours from 40 hours to 30 hours a week. The fuel pump in their car goes out. The babysitter decides to charge $50 more each week to watch the children. In the words of Mom, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another!”
Escaping poverty is not an easy task. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, support, and an occasional break instead of bad luck. It can be done. Fortunately, TLC exists to provide mothers caring for children just the break they are looking for. We teach them the skills they need to slowly even the odds. We also provide the emotional support needed to stand strong against life’s curve balls. Like Henri, the women of Lindsey House must be able to see things differently. They must be able to envision life without poverty.