Recently, as frequently happens, people have shared with me stories of their hardships or the hardships of neighbors, friends, family, or acquaintances of theirs. These are always hard to hear, as you can probably imagine.
For example, a friend told me the story of a young man who was homeless when they met. He’d been sleeping in his car (can you imagine in Minnesota!?) but going to work steadily. He’d planned to continue sleeping in his car until he had saved up enough money for the deposits on an apartment. This was going to be over $800. He ended up losing his job over a conflict with another employee who was saying harassing things to him. My friend lost contact with this young man who appeared to be doing his best to “get out of the hole” of poverty.
I’ve heard the story of a young mother who got custody of three children ages 5 and under when her husband left her. She had a part-time job and is trying to figure out how to handle the finances, get the kids to school, medical care and all the other things that go with having toddlers.
I know of a young couple who found themselves between jobs without health insurance. They couldn’t afford the COBRA or private insurance and the offers of employment they had were just below the threshold of providing insurance. This doesn’t stop sickness from happening – but do you choose medication or food?
As the leader of a caring organization who works to bring solutions to problems like these to our community it can be very frustrating, galvanizing, and motivational but mostly humbling to hear these stories. I think most of us cannot imagine what it would take to survive these situations alone — as most of the people that need our help in this community are — let alone thrive and overcome. United Way provides programming that helps the people in the scenarios above.
I experienced a small hardship this week that really illustrated what the difference looks like between middle-class Steele Countians and those having serious and persistent hardship. My car was broken into while I was in Minneapolis attending a play. Literally broken into, a window was smashed and my briefcase was taken. I discovered this at 10:30pm, it is winter in Minnesota, and had an hour drive home.
I’ll admit I had an emotional reaction to this bit of adversity. I’m a little ashamed at the pity I felt for myself but I am working on forgiving myself for this human reaction. And I had some pretty remarkable revelations about what I am calling “middle-class” problems.
• I can afford excellent auto insurance including roadside assistance so I could have gotten help with a quick call on my mobile phone. Not everyone has these things — car, insurance, or mobile phone.
• I was able to problem-solve to devise a workaround to get myself and my vehicle home. I had a blanket in my car and used it to block the wind. This ability might seem universal but people who have been experiencing long-term hardship often suffer from anxiety or PTSD and lose the ability to do this critical thinking in the face of a violation of safety. We take for granted that the mental state we enjoy because of our stable lives is experienced by everyone. It’s not so.
• My insurance covered the replacement of the window but I had to make arrangements during work hours and be away from my desk. I have a workplace that can be flexible with me; I’ve had enough tenure to be able to ask for time off. This is actually a big one. Many caring, wonderful workplaces do not allow their employees flexibility in their workday. Certainly this is an issue during the first 90 days of probationary work. Someone would have to choose between working and taking a car to the shop. If the car wasn’t repaired quickly in our climate how much more damage would be suffered in the next snowfall. All due to something outside of personal control.
This incidence was an inconvenience to me but it could have been devastating for someone on the cusp between poverty and thriving. United Way of Steele County fights every day to see community members in need, to understand what can help and to fund or build programs that make a difference.
We need your help to help those in need. Our giving goal for 2019 is $800,000. Those of us with the ability to help must pull together so that we can ease the pain and worry of our neighbors in need.
Thank you for your loyal support of your United Way of Steele County.
Kim Schaufenbuel is the President of United Way of Steele County. Contact United Way at 507-455-1180 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our website is www.unitedwaysteelecounty.org