FARMINGTON — Donna Beegle told those at a Prosperity Summit on Wednesday how the norms of middle class often make no sense nor have anything do with people fighting poverty.

“Everyone starts the same, but not everyone gets the same chance,” Beegle told over 100 people from around greater Franklin County gathered at Franklin Memorial Hospital.

Growing up as the only girl of six children, Beegle said her family worked the crops by day for food to eat that night. Nights were often spent in a vehicle or a camper.

After dropping out of school at age 15, she married and had children. She earned her General Educational Development certificate at age 26 and went to a community college. But, she could not read the textbooks. She did not understand the language.

College was her first exposure to middle-class norms and practices, she said. Finally, a professor at the University of Portland (Oregon) taught her the language of middle class, she said.  

Beegle went on to earn a doctoral degree in educational leadership and to write two books. For 27 years, she has traveled all 50 states proposing a change in the approach to poverty.

As guest speaker at the summit, she offered insight on a different approach to poverty: the Opportunity Community Model.

Hosted by the Healthy Community Coalition, the summit was the kickoff for a three-year Bridging Community Project that proposes engaging community members from various sectors of society based on Beegle’s model.

The model aims to help people understand the effects of poverty and how to help someone navigate their way out of poverty permanently, said Beegle, a national speaker and author from Oregon who shares her experiences as a child of poor, migrant farm workers.

“There are many things people can do that do not cost a dime,” she said. “If the community understands, they can set people up for success.”

Under the model, navigators can offer support, skill-building tactics, advice to neighbors and connections to resources.

They can also help people navigate a system that they often cannot understand, said Andrea Richards, program coordinator at the coalition. The navigator develops a relationship and becomes someone they can call.

Training for 50 navigators is to begin in May. Navigators spend 8 to 12 hours a month helping a person in poverty.  Two training sessions in May will provide the basics, including dealing with mental health and trauma. Ongoing training is provided, she said. 

“The community does care,” Richards said. “People are starting to understand how poverty is really affecting our community.”

For the coalition, addressing the underlying issue of poverty also provides a way to improve the overall quality of health, she said. Instead of treating symptoms, the root issue is addressed.

The coalition received a grant from the Maine Health Access Foundation for the project. The nonprofit foundation promotes access to quality health care, according to its website.

The purpose of the grant is to assist the community in identifying and addressing the barriers to obtaining a better quality of health, said Charles Dwyer of the foundation.

Beegle spent two days in Farmington last March and spoke at Mt. Abram, Spruce Mountain and Mt. Blue schools, said Tom Ward, Regional School Unit 9 superintendent.

Ward was instrumental in bringing her back, Richards said.

“We wanted to get at the root of why at-risk students and people are the way they are,” Ward said.

Poverty has been identified as a root issue by the Safe School Committee.

Seven local people attended Beegle’s Poverty Institute last summer, Richards said. They since have met biweekly to discuss the information obtained.

To become a navigator, contact Richards at 779-2435.

[email protected]

Author Donna Beegle talks about engaging people from different sectors of society in the war on poverty Wednesday during a Prosperity Summit held at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington.

Author Donna Beegle talks about engaging people from different sectors of society in the war on poverty Wednesday during a Prosperity Summit held at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington.

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