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Poverty in Park County

Mission seeks to reduce generational poverty

When Brian Andrews and his wife, Carolyn, moved from California to Cody in 2006, it was so Brian Andrews could take a job as assistant pastor for the Christian Missionary Alliance Church.

Prior to their move, they had been working with a mission in California, with Brian often gone for weeks at a time doing missionary work in Mexico. Their move to Cody meant they and their three children could be together more.

 

 

But within a few months of their arrival in Cody, they found they were called to do another form of God’s work there.

It took some time for the couple to sell their home in California. While waiting for it to sell, they rented a house on 19th Street. Unbeknownst to them, the house’s backyard bordered Juby Trailer Park, now nearly invisible because of the mature trees surrounding it.

After hearing sounds emanating from the trailer park for several days, the Andrewses decided to investigate where the sounds were coming from. They drove around to the park’s entrance and were amazed at what they found: “Dirt, kids running around with no shoes, trailers that looked like they were questionable as to whether they would hold up,” Brian Andrews recalls.

“When our family moved to Cody ... we were not expecting that working with those in poverty would be in the plans,” Andrews told the Park County Health Coalition last month. “We had just spent 16 years working with a Christian missionary organization that focused on northern Mexico. There, we definitely saw poverty — people who lived in cardboard shacks that could not survive the rain, and small garbage dump communities that sprung up making use of all that Tijuana or Mexicali threw away to survive.

“But when we moved to the picturesque town of Cody ... we thought our exposure to poverty was behind us.”

But what they saw at Juby’s was a scene of such poverty that they felt compelled to do what they could to help.

“We really were hard-wired more like missionaries than pastors,” Andrews said during an interview last week.

Andrews said he has learned since then that poverty is a bigger problem in Park County than he would have believed.

“It may come as a surprise to many that 10.5 percent of Park County lives under the poverty line,” he told the coalition. “That’s $22,050 annual for a family of four. On a world-wide scale, that poverty line is really pretty generous. It’s a considerably better living than many of our friends in Mexico, and much, much better than those living in war- and famine-ravaged areas of Africa and Asia.

“But poverty means more than the income rate. Generational poverty is a mindset. It’s a culture. It’s often accompanied by a feeling of hopelessness that results in higher levels of drug use, alcoholism, domestic abuse and crime. This hopelessness is perpetuated by a mistrust of the very system that may be able to offer help.”

While not all of Park County’s poverty is in Juby’s, “it definitely is a visible pocket of it,” Andrews said.

With permission from the senior pastor at Christian Missionary Alliance, the Andrewses began coordinating efforts to help people in the trailer park. They began by working with Julie Snelson, who previously established a nonprofit organization called Grannie’s Love, which distributes school supplies to needy children.

“I suggested, instead of going to schools, actually going into neighborhoods and giving them to kids,” Andrews said. “She thought it was a good idea, and that was the first exposure we had there.”

Later, the Andrewses organized a free breakfast at Juby’s, complete with an inflatable bouncehouse for children’s entertainment.

Then, that Christmas, they led a Christmas caroling group though the neighborhood.

“We had no relationships there, so there was little response,” he said.

They began bringing a bus into Juby’s to transport children to Wednesday-night programs at the Christian Missionary Alliance.

In October 2009, the Andrewses established the Jubilee Inner-Town Ministries, an interdenominational, nonprofit Christian organization with eight partnering churches.

The name was chosen from the Old Testament use of the word jubilee, Andrews said.

“Every 70 years in the Old Testament, God had Christians set everything back to right,” he said. “All debts were settled, and families returned to where they belonged. It was kind of like a year of forgivings ... We use it as a celebration because of the forgiveness it represented.”

Brian Andrews’ last day as assistant pastor at Christian Missionary Alliance was Dec. 31, 2009, though the church and the ministry continue to work closely together.

The mission rents a trailer in Juby’s, in which the Andrewses and other volunteers host activities, such as story times, “Homework Help and Hangout,” coffee and doughnut mornings, pre-marital counseling sessions and various workshops, such as bikes and photography. They also organized a Bible study at New Life Church across the street from Juby’s.

Jubilee also sponsors Friday Night Gatherings, with Juby’s residents and volunteers gathering as families for visits and fun.

“The greatest part of our ministry has been the relationships we have been able to build,” Brian Andrews said.

“We love the people we are getting to know. They are open, genuine, accepting, intelligent, generous and friendly.

“Through relationships, God is consistently giving us ways to encourage people as they take small steps toward freedom from poverty and addictions. We cannot change people’s situations ourselves, as much as we may wish to. But we can walk alongside them, share God’s love and forgiveness with them, serve them and encourage them. And sometimes, that’s all people need.”

How you can help: Reducing generational poverty takes time, caring and understanding

Helping reduce the incidence and patterns of generational poverty is a big job, even in Park County, and Jubilee Inner-Town Ministry welcomes help from anyone interested in lending a hand.

Mission leader Brian Andrews offers the following ways people can help those in poverty:

• Understand that they have often survived through very tough backgrounds. “If I had lived through some people’s stories, I don’t know if I would have lived. Please respect them and have compassion,” Andrews said.

• If somebody is battling against an addiction, believe in them as much as possible. When they fall, don’t consider that their final state. Think of it as a bump along the road.

• If somebody has a criminal record, don’t think of that as the sum total of who they are. Many times people have come far beyond where they were when the committed their crime. If you feel you have reason to be cautious, be cautious. But guard against cynicism.

• Teach people the hidden rules of middle class. Don’t scold them for using different rules or look down on them.

But help equip them to know how to use the hidden rules that will help them succeed.

• Relationships and role models are the most significant bridges out of poverty.

Good role models are one of the biggest needs for people who have been in generational poverty, Andrews said.

They can be effective only through established relationships and genuine caring and concern.

“But that takes time, and it takes commitment,” he said. “You have to understand the culture and not look down on them.”

Young girls without fathers in their lives are particularly in need of a good example from a father figure, and that can come only in the family friendship setting, he said.

“There’s something for the boys, but there isn’t anything for the little girl to have contact with a good father figure.

They become very lonely, and that leads to other kinds of activities and behaviors that are not good.

“When families get together, that can help meet those needs and provide that example.”

He cautioned that there will be setbacks as well as progress.

“You must be determined; it takes time to win someone’s trust,” Andrews said. “You need to know this is going to take time, and there’s going to be some disappointment.”

For people to move out of generational poverty and its patterns, “They’re going to have to learn to branch out into kind of a middle-class mindset,” he said. “They’re going to have to be bicultural, and in order to encourage them, we have to become bicultural as well, at least to some extent.

“We may not want to engage in fighting, but we might want to learn to tell a good story.”

Andrews listed several observations about generational poverty that can aid in understanding its culture.

They include:

• Reputation is a big deal. People who grew up here on “the wrong side of the tracks” and have a reputation of being addicted to drugs have a very difficult time living that down when they get their lives turned around.

• Sometimes it is noticeable that people in poverty are not treated with the same level of respect as those in middle and upper classes.

“In the middle class, a lot of times, there's a certain respect that you have to have based on a person’s accomplishments, and that kind of precedes whether or not you feel like you’re going to be able to be a friend,” he said. “We tend to look and judge first, then decide whether we want to be friends with them.

“In poverty, it goes more directly to, ‘Do I like this person or not? Do I want to be their friend?’ It’s based more on who you are, not on what you’ve done. It’s more subliminal.”

• People living in poverty have a very supportive sense of community — working mothers are constantly taking care of one another’s kids to the point that it can be difficult to tell which kids are siblings, which are cousins, which are friends and which kids go with which mothers.

• We are no longer shocked when we hear of a kid having gone through heart-breaking sexual or physical abuse. It still hurts, though.

• “We know several people who are working on or wanting to get their GEDs. They value that ... but when it comes down to it, they doubt how much difference it’s really going to make in their lives,” Andrews said.

• It’s not unusual for kids to think of shoes as only for the most extreme of weather. “We’ll get them to the kids’ program at church and then realize they aren’t wearing them, or they will take them off at the church and we’ll have them home before realizing they’re not wearing shoes,” he said.

• “We know very few people who could be considered lazy. The issue here most likely is that they have given up hope that they can help their situation through work. We also know people who want desperately to work, but can’t keep a job because they don’t understand what it takes to do a job well. Most of the people we know have very strong work ethics and do very good work. They are simply subject to the economy and job availability,” Andrews said.

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