October provided a unique opportunity for Leadership Central Penn (LCP) participants. They were joined by five pediatric and pediatric resident physicians from Geisinger, as well as 38 Geisinger Health Plan employees for a day of collaboration and learning. The morning started with a brief introduction and explanation of the day from Adrienne Mael, CEO of United Way of Columbia and Montour County. Adrienne explained that the large group would be split into community project groups. The LCP class was joined by the Geisinger residents and went to assist with one of three projects: strategic planning brainstorming at the Bloomsburg Area YMCA, multipurpose room cleaning and organizing, or butterfly garden winterization at the Bloomsburg Children’s Museum.
When the projects were completed, it was off to the Caldwell Consistory for a poverty panel discussion. The panel included Tom Dougher of the Gate House, Becky Stender of Central Susquehanna Opportunities-Community Action and Eileen Chapman from AGAPE. The group learned about rural homelessness and how organizations like the Gate House in Danville are trying to help. They heard about many community needs from food assistance to flood assistance and the many efforts of AGAPE and CSO. In the end, everyone learned that while they may be aware of poverty in our area, they don’t fully understand the depth and breadth. The only way to fully understand it is to experience it.
After a great lunch from Lucy’s Kitchen & Catering, everyone got to learn first-hand what it is like to walk in the shoes of poverty for one month. The participants started by randomly selecting a card that then assigned them a real-life role in a family living in poverty. Some were a parent, a child, a grandparent, but each had unique issues to deal with due to their family’s situation. There were many struggles that plagued the families as the weeks went by. What bills could you afford to pay, what bills were the most important to pay, how do you get to work, how do you care for children, what do you do when school is closed, how do you find help, where do you look for help? The biggest challenge faced was figuring out where to start. The reality is poverty isn’t something people plan for and it also isn’t something that can be fixed by one nonprofit, charity or government agency.
When the day was done everyone shared how well they did, or didn’t do, and what they took away from the day. Some participants actually turned to crime and became Robin Hoods during the end of the month. Others lost their homes and children, and were defeated. Some managed, but barely. Only one group shared that they thought they did well with the hand they were dealt. All of the groups realized in the end that this is not a game, and that there is much work to be done to combat the issues of poverty in our area. We all can and need to be part of the solution.