by Tami Shaver, Program Director
Last year, we as a Big Brothers Big Sisters staff challenged ourselves to learn more about what it means to live in poverty. I mean, the kids and families we serve are typically living in poverty, so we should probably try to understand and empathize with what they go through, realizing we will only be able to scratch the surface of understanding. We participated in a poverty simulation put on by United Way of Northwest Arkansas (if you haven’t done this, I highly recommend you sign up for the next one!). We read the book $2.00 a Day – Living on Almost Nothing in America and met with another non-profit to discuss it. And we took a staff “trip” to understand a little bit about what it’s like to live without the things I take for granted every day…
Challenge: Take public transit to a specified location. Solve some riddles to figure out your destination. Figure out what bus takes you back to your first location.
Real Life: The first bus never showed up. We waited in the hot sun for about 40 minutes. Our boss had to pick us up to take us to the first location. We solved our riddles and followed the instructions. My team figured out the bus schedule and managed to take it back to the original location. We arrived 15 minutes late. The other team had to walk nearly a mile back to the office in 100 degree heat, because they didn’t realize they were supposed to pull the cord on the bus to make it stop. Oops! My team got the better end of that deal. Regardless, we were all hot and sweaty and smelled a bit.
Real People: We met a family that was homeless. They were looking for shelters, but shelters were full. They had a 3 year old and a 2 year old. Everyone was cranky. The kids were drinking milk out of bottles. My water bottle was hot by then, so I can imagine what that milk was like. I had cleaned out all of my son’s diapers and wipes from my purse so it wouldn’t be so heavy for our “adventure” and was sad I had nothing tangible to give them. I did give a cupcake to the little boy though, with mom’s permission, and in doing so, I made a friend.
We also met a woman in a wheelchair who had started on the bus at 8am. She had to go to the doctor in Springdale and was now on her way back at 3pm. It was at least two different bus routes for her and she was alone, but she was proud to say she could do it on her own.
We met a group of ladies who took the time to teach our novice bus riding coworkers how to get the bus to stop where they needed it to stop. Mentoring at work!
Real Light Bulb Moment: I was humbled that day. For our staff it was an adventure in experiential learning, but for many of the people we serve, and many others in Northwest Arkansas, it is a way of life. I am blessed to have a car that works, so I don’t have to rely on public transportation. I live in an area that doesn’t have the bus system, so I honestly wouldn’t be able to hold a job if I had to rely on public transportation. Your entire life is dependent on bus schedules and whether they are running on time (or if they even show up). And I can’t even imagine trying to carry groceries, or waiting in the hot sun with my own active toddler for a bus that may or may not be running.
Now what?: That melting hot day has stuck in my mind for 9 months. I wonder where the family with the young children slept that night and where they are now. It would be so easy to get bogged down in despair when there is so much need in our community. What can I really do to help? Northwest Arkansas is home to so many wonderful organizations that the hardest decision you should have is not whether or not to get involved, but how do I decide where to put my time and resources? My husband and I give both to organizations that meet immediate needs, and then to organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, that have more long term goals to help families out of the cycle of poverty. Clearly, my passion is mentoring and I know the Bigs that I help put in the life of a child are able to come along side the parents as a support and give kids experiences and perspectives they would otherwise miss out on. So instead of feeling hopeless, I’m getting involved and giving back. If we all do that, hopefully the people I met on the bus that day will have a little bit easier time finding the resources they need in order to thrive.