Poverty expert brings life experience to training session

Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 4:58 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - ”Poverty is the problem and when you can get the community to wrap their arms around that and let go of the stereotypes and myths, so that we are seeing people and helping them truly move out and stay out.” That is renowned poverty expert Dr. Donna M. Beegle’s approach to addressing the poverty crisis.

Hosted by Heart of Maine United Way at Eastern Maine Community College Tuesday, Dr. Beegle combines her personal lived experience of poverty with research to communicate a compelling case. This training session was open to the public and Heart of Maine United Way encouraged community members of all backgrounds and industries to attend.

“I was born into migrant labor, generational poverty. Most of my family members can’t read are write. I have five brothers, I’m the only person who’s not been incarcerated,” describes Beegle. “I dropped out of school at 15, I was taught I wasn’t smart enough for school because I didn’t know the words that teachers used, I didn’t know the examples they used. I could feel I wasn’t wanted. So I got married at 15 and 10 years later, my marriage ended and I fluke landed into a community action program, where they actually help not only housing, childcare, fundamental human needs, but also helped me to learn I wasn’t stupid, that I had something to offer. So I got my GED at 26 and 10 years later, my Doctorate.”

Founding Communications Across Barriers in 1989, Dr. Beegle’s efforts and philosophy coincide with Heart of Maine United Way’s mission to solving the statewide poverty crisis.

“Started in 2018, we set a 10 year goal by 2028 to move 10,000 people out of poverty in our communities. So we’re about halfway through and we’ve definitely seen movement,” explains Heart of Maine President & CEO Shirar Patterson. “I think one of the things we’re really learning from her today is about listening for the why.”

Maine’s Department of Administrative and Financial Services estimates about 11.5% of Mainers are impoverished in 2021, compared to 10.2% across New England.

We talked to Dr. Beegle to hear her insights into solving the problems of poverty and homelessness Maine currently is struggling with.

”Fighting the poverty requires understanding it, the housing affordability crisis, the childcare crisis. We have to recognize that investing in affordable housing is essential,” says Dr. Beegle. “Recognize that people are going to have a hard time developing any potential if they don’t have a place to lay their head. The answer to poverty is people, but it’s poverty-informed people so that they’re aligning with their neighbors, their fellow human beings, seeing them as people. They’re not some subculture, they’re not some subspecies.”

For more information on Dr. Beegle’s work, visit Communication Across Barriers’ website.

For more on Heart of Maine United Way, including community events like this, visit their website.