DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Poverty is a human issue with its own language. It teaches those in it they are stupid. It isolates people from success. It dehumanizes. Poverty happens to people. It is a war zone.
That was part of the message delivered by keynote speaker Donna M. Beegle, Ed.D., of Portland, Ore., as she established the framework for a future community discussion by the more than 250 people who attended the Maine Highlands Poverty Workshop Thursday in Dover-Foxcroft.
“No one makes it out of poverty on their own,” which is where the community comes in, said Beegle, who was born into multigenerational poverty but was lifted out through a pilot welfare-to-work program. Beegle encouraged those working with people who are living in poverty to try to understand their clients’ actions and decisions in the context and language of poverty, not the context and language of the middle class.
The ultimate key to helping people out of poverty is to match them with community members who can help them capitalize on their specific skills and work toward a positive future, she said. Beegle’s company Communication Across Barriers facilitates such sessions, called Opportunity Community.
Educators, doctors, legislators including state Senate President Justin Alfond, people from numerous local and state social service and assistance agencies throughout Piscataquis and Penobscot counties, in addition to a couple of coastal and western Maine agencies, and 18 community members who live in poverty, attended the workshop.
Session moderator was Karen Heck, senior program director at The Bingham Program.
“We are committed to continuing this [community] conversation about poverty,” said Sue Mackey Andrews of Helping Hands with Heart, one of the organizers along with Maine Highland Senior Center. She said she hoped to invite Beegle back after the community has had a chance to organize its efforts.
Beegle is scheduled to address the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development on Friday where she will talk about how educators can make a difference in lifting people out of poverty. The free public program takes place at 8 a.m. in Minsky Recital Hall on the University of Maine campus in Orono.