January 17, 2020

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Catholic Charities aims to change people’s futures

David Bethuram

Catholic Charities seeks to break the cycle of poverty with comprehensive programming. Breaking the cycle of poverty requires more than just solving one “crisis.” It takes addressing the whole person. Catholic Charities programs do just that.

Our approach is to offer comprehensive anti-poverty programming to help struggling families connect with resources they need to break from the cyclical nature of poverty. Since January marks Poverty Awareness Month, I thought I’d introduce to you an amazing woman, Kimberly, who lived in poverty for most of her life.

Kimberly said as a child, she remembered the smell of mold and mildew. She would watch as her most valuable possessions were destroyed by them. She remembered being cold and being in houses with no heat or hot water. Her stepfather would use gray duct tape to wrap around the cords of the heaters when they burned out; that way they could keep using it. Yes, it was a fire hazard, but who cared—the heater was keeping them warm. Despite her his efforts, they were still cold.

Kimberly told me that her “scars run long and deep”—they will always be there. The long-lasting effects of trauma stick with you.

She said her family never had a working kitchen. Kimberly’s mom would cook food at her parents’ house, and then take the food back to wherever they were staying. Most of the places they lived in had no running water and were very unsanitary. She and her siblings would go to their grandparents’ house to take baths. People who are raised like this simply pass it on down the line. And you grow up thinking that it’s OK to live like this.

As for food, they didn’t starve. But they were hungry. They ate whatever they could afford. This is where the past affects the present. Today, Kimberly describes herself as “somewhat of a food hoarder”—afraid of not having enough food for her and her daughter.

Kimberly knows what it feels like to be hungry. She must constantly remind herself that she no longer lives that way. But it’s the only way she has ever known. This kind of living goes back in time, too. She said, “I’m now in my thirties, and I’m still haunted by the trauma and food insecurity.”

Yes, the long-lasting effects of trauma stick with you. But Kimberly refused to let her past dictate her future because she had Catholic Charities to walk with her when she was a teen and young adult. She was shaped not by the commonly accepted “fact” that since she grew up in poverty, she’ll always live in poverty. Instead, Catholic Charities helped her realize that while she can’t change the past, she can change the future.

Today Kimberly is far from her childhood of mold, cold and hunger. But even though she has healed much and doesn’t have to live that way anymore, the effects of early poverty and trauma are still a part of her being. She says they have shaped her into the woman she is today—a woman who is motivated and works hard to make sure that her daughter will have more opportunities than she had growing up.

“Catholic Charities help me take what I saw and experienced as a child,” Kimberly said, “and use that to drive me to be a better person for myself, for my family, and for others who live through the trauma of poverty.”

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at dbethuram@archindy.org.)

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