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Bridges seminar addresses poverty

By MASON BLANFORD mblanford@paducahsun.com

Poverty is uncomfortably relevant to many communities, and Paducah is no exception.

Four times a year, Jennifer Etherton discusses the issue in her Bridges Out of Poverty seminars, a product of United Way's Impact Poverty study that aims provide a comprehensive look at poverty regionwide, and work with affected individuals.

The latest meeting was Thursday at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College Emerging Technology Center, and was attended by members of several community organizations who focused on understanding poverty as a framework, and its symptoms, causes and potential solutions.

Those attending represented the following community organizations: Audubon Area Community Services, Baptist Health Homecare, Court Appointed Special Advocates By The Lake, the city of Paducah, Immanuel Baptist Church, Lone Oak United Methodist Church, Paducah Bank, Paducah Cooperative Ministry and Paducah Power.

Through the WKCTC Work and Learn Program, Etherton works one-by-one with low-income students to help find ways for students to pay for college.

In her work, Etherton said a cornerstone of progress was developing a strong rapport with her students, referencing a relevant quote from Dr. James Comer, a world-leading child psychiatrist: "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship."

"It's important to realize that not one size fits all," Etherton said.

That's why it's important to try to understand a poverty-afflicted person's point-of-view, seminar participants discussed Thursday. They identified a common stereotype about those in poverty: "If you're poor, you're just not working hard enough."

Etherton herself is familiar with those words. She became a mother at the young age of 17. She stated she received financial and medical aid for years from the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program.

"I think people assume poverty is a dollar amount, but it's more complicated than that," she said. "I was fortunate to have a supportive family; I had opportunities other may not have."

One truth is also clear, she said: Resources buy more choices.

Some in poverty have those resources. Some don't.

"I think it was easier for me because of some of those differences, but â ¦ Some people's roads are longer and bumpier."

Heather Miller also felt mindful of her opportunities.

Today she's a career developer for Audubon Area Community Services, an Owensboro-based social services organization that works with K-TAP recipients in efforts related to job search and financial stability.

Yet she's had her own experience when she needed to receive help.

"I grew up in the projects, I was raised on food stamps and growing up I was a single mom," Miller said. "Now that I've got my bachelor's degree, I can give back and help those in my shoes five years ago."

"This seminar is helping me see ways to bridge the gap," she said, referring to the distance between poverty and easier living.

Jeff Garner, business systems manager at Paducah Power, said the Bridges seminar training helps him find ways to aid customers in need.

He cited Operation Round-up as one example, a program that assists struggling customers with paying their electric bill.

"We want to understand what customers in survival mode are going through," Garner said. "What customers who are living day-to-day might see or encounter. If we know that, we might know more about how to help them get the assistance they need."

The next seminar will be held in September. Learn more at unitedwaypaducah.org/bridges-out-poverty.

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