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During the past week couple of weeks, the media noted and had much to say about the 50th Anniversary of the ‘War on Poverty’.

Here’s an article from the LA Times:

LA Times

New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/09/opinion/kristof-progress-in-the-war-on-poverty.html

And the Atlantic:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/what-america-won-in-the-war-on-poverty/283006/

Many of the opinions expressed and statistics quoted are at odds with each other. For me personally, I give thanks to President Lyndon Johnson. Take a look at this You Tube video from PBS:

President Johnson took the spark that President Kennedy ignited and created a flame that still burns today. Many regard his actions as a major factor in the healing our nation desperately needed after the loss of President Kennedy.

President_Lyndon_B._Johnson_signs_Medicare_Bill_at_the_Harry_S._Truman_Library,_1965

Finally poverty was at the political forefront and would stay there for many years to come. A family’s basic needs were topics of discussion, and policy changes benefiting the poor became a reality. Amendments to the Social Security Act, educational programs like Head Start and organizations like the Food Bank were the result of awareness and a desire to help.

Now, 50 years later we find ourselves with many of the same problems and a widening gap in how we view poverty, social welfare programs, and those who benefit from assistance.

In today’s world I enjoy a certain amount of privilege and creature comforts. I am fortunate and grateful for the nutritious food I can prepare in my own kitchen. I have a decent paying job a roof over my head. At this moment, I sit on a cushy bed, typing this blog post on my laptop (8 years old…) while I listen to the TV in the background (not cable – antenna TV). I live a modest but comfortable lifestyle. Sort of in my own little protected bubble.

My life wasn’t always this content. My personal history has included poverty, and I totally get the plight of those that have less than, and those that have nothing. A few weeks ago I was reminded of how desperate and hopeless poverty can be, something I had temporarily forgotten.

I was invited to and attended the World Court of Women in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The World Court provides opportunities to those who are living in, and those who have been impacted by poverty to tell it like it is. I listened closely to story, after story of people struggling, rising above, sinking in, and fighting back against the common thread that paralyzes.

More than one testimonial brought me to tears, but my heart ached and the depths of my soul were incensed when I heard a beautiful young man, barely 18, describe despair, isolation, and circumstances that brought him to attempt suicide more than half a dozen times.

Why? Why had this young man found himself in the midst of self loathing, totally contradictory to the potential that resides within?

I felt honored and inspired by his courage. To stand before me and many others he didn’t know, and tell his story, had to of been very difficult. The fear, dismay and overwhelming sadness life has poured over him is a travesty. The violence received from the hands of those that represent the system and the resulting feelings of uselessness and hopelessness convinced him his life was worth nothing. Poverty takes no hostages. This young man who has so much to offer, has not yet learned he is here for a reason, and is indeed a productive and useful member of the human race. The world is a better place since he told his story. The actions his words inspire will change lives for the better.

I question, as do so many others – why isn’t there worthwhile and meaningful work available for those who are seeking a way to contribute and take care of themselves?

If you have ever been poor or felt the weight of poverty, I’ll bet you haven’t forgotten the experience. Anger, frustration, bewilderment, and anguish are part of the daily regime as you try to navigate through obstacles that seem to be at every turn. You forge ahead, when you would prefer to curl up in a ball and not move. Without opportunities, there is no change. Without confidence, no motivation. Without empathy, no support.

I was lucky and received help and rose above that invisible but spiritually palpable poverty line. It wasn’t easy. As a result of my personal success, I made a promise years ago to help others in need and pay it forward. The World Court of Women, and especially one young man, has rekindled my resolve to help others.

I found organizations locally that address poverty and will welcome a helping hand, food donations, clothing or other basic items to help those in need:

Capital City Rescue Mission

Food Pantries

https://www.facebook.com/AlbanyCatholicWorkerEmmausHouse

If you are short on funds or provisions to donate this organization will help match your in-kind gifts and skills to an opportunity:

www.volunteermatch.org

On a larger scale, in 2015, there will be a US Social Forum, another opportunity to unite:

US Social Forum

Overall, I believe we are in the midst of a crisis of compassion, and an epidemic of inaction by those we have elected to provide for our country in lieu of legislation. One way to offset their lack of action is for each one of us to take a positive step. Whether our contribution is a small donation to a food pantry, listening to a desperate person at the other end of the phone, or helping a neighborhood child with homework, giving time to another person returns a reward that is immeasurable. Validating another’s existence and potential can be the best possible work, is needed desperately right now, and for me, one of the reasons I am here.