Friday, February 21, 2014

My thoughts to those who work with the poor.

I have had several jobs as a dietitian.  I have worked for Purdue to create a database of herbal supplements.  I have worked at several different hospitals.  I have worked at two different health departments - and my health department work is by far my favorite.  I honestly love working with programs like WIC and MIHP.  I would honestly do it for free if I could afford to.

Along with that, in my work the health departments I can say that I have worked with some really wonderful people.  People who care about others very deeply and get joy out of helping.  You will never get rich working in public health, but you can have a very rewarding career if you enjoy helping others.

For me it is easy, growing up poor I understand where many of these families are coming from.  I lived with my Grandma for much of my early childhood and was raised with stories from the great depression.  Knowing that my Grandma and her siblings went to bed hungry more often than full gave me my early exposure to nutrition.  My grandma talked about how she had to be carried around on a pillow for years because she had rickets.  Stories of waiting in long lines at the convent with a pot for soup for the family.  Stories of when Grandma got older and at times had to beg for food for her own children.  One of her longest friends ever was acquired when she went into B & C (now Ric's in Interlochen) and begged the owners for milk for her new baby Mary Ann.  Jack and Jean Bilow who owned the store at that time gave Grandma some milk - got to know her and my Grandfather - and became life long friends.  I have my own memories of going places with Grandma and being treated with great kindness by everyone who knew her.  Very few people who got to know my Grandma didn't love her.  She was pure kindness and love - and those who knew her very easily overlooked the poverty she lived in her entire life.

With that being said, I also have many memories (stories and personal memories) of watching my family be treated poorly by those who didn't know us because of our obvious poverty.  Coming back from the grocery store and watching my Grandma cry because people treat her like she is ,"nothing."  Hearing comments by people behind us in line about "lazy welfare rats" and "worthless welfare scum" from early on really does make you start to question your own worth in society.  Sitting in parent teacher conferences where the teacher tells your mother that you will never learn to read and it really is a lost cause, while other kids with the same issues get special help and attention to help with their reading skills - kids from "better" families - continues to make you question your value in society.  I was a free lunch receiving, poverty stricken child in a small community.

So like I said, for me it is easy to have empathy for those who require help.  I have a picture of my Grandma in my office next to my computer to always remind me of the struggles she went through.  When a mom comes in with no money for formula I can't help of thinking of my Great Aunt Dorthy Marie who died of starvation at 8 months of age because my Great Grandma's milk supply dried up and there were no programs like WIC or food stamps.  Any time I can work it so that I get formula for a baby I know that I am helping to prevent another mom from having to beg for milk and another baby from going to bed hungry.  I love what I do and would do it for free if I could.

That being said if you are going to work with poor you have to love it.  You have to see the value in what you are doing and you have to see the truth in what a smile and encouragement can bring someone.   Growing up in generational poverty it can be very easy to fall into the trap of feeling worthless.  For some it can make them be more meek.  For others this constant treatment can make them angry.  Mad that in this country where so many seem to have so much you have to struggle to even put ramen noodles in the mouth of your children.  Hopelessness because you know that your minimum wage job will really never make your life any better - and the reality of knowing that if you just stay home and do whatever you want will make you happier than working 40 hours a week at Wal-Mart.  When you grow up with that being a reality and having people treat you a certain way - coming across someone who actually is encouraging to you can make a huge difference.  In a life where every day is a struggle, and it is a struggle, finding someone who helps to make your struggle less can be monumental.  A person who looks past dirt, old clothing, poverty and sees a person of value can make the individual realize their own value - and from self value can come the ability to accomplish things that never seemed possible before.  Individuals who work with the poor should always keep that in mind.  One smile or word of encouragement can change one person's world.

I work in WIC, a great program that helps so many people, but at times can seem frustrating.  Someone may come in and be very angry because their WIC has run out and you aren't able to give them the formula/milk/cheese they need for one reason or another.  They may yell at you.  You may think, "Dang, you know you are the one who had the kid maybe you should get a job to feed that kid."  It is easy to think thoughts like that, but you have to keep an eye on the big picture.  The reality of it is that there is a good chance the person yelling at you does have a job, or two, or maybe even three.  They themselves may be very hungry, and have had to hear their child cry for the last three days because there is no food in the house to feed them.  They are mad and angry because when they come into your office they can smell the lunch you just had on your breath and you with your full belly are telling them, "No we can't give you the formula you want because of X" or "We can't recertify you today because you missed your appointment so you will have to come back in April."  Sure they are mad - I would be mad too!  If I had to listen to my kids cry themselves to sleep from hunger while you, with your lunch breath are telling me you can't help me.  I would be angry.  My babies are hungry, you have the ability to help me and you won't.

Working in WIC you will, at times, find families that don't want to make their situation better.  They are out there - most of them are not in that classification - but their are some.  There are some who just expect others to pay for their kids.  That is just how it is.  If you aren't giving them their formula/milk then they get angry because they are entitled to it and you are not giving it to them.  I would be mad if I worked my four days and didn't get a paycheck for my time.  I worked for that and I am entitled to it. . . . doesn't matter that it is different - perception is reality and to some people they perceive they are entitled to these services so not getting them makes them angry.  It can be frustrating.  You can sometimes feel less tempted to help these individuals out, but the reality of it is that you have to keep your focus.  Who are you hurting if you don't give that person formula?  You aren't really going to hurt that client - it is going to be those kids at home that suffer - not this frustrating individual in front of you.  Those kids are who matter - in WIC  that is what it is about - helping to produce healthier children.

What I am getting at is that most people who are poor are just that - people.  They are people who work, live, love and who are just trying to do the best for their kids.  Many of them work hard, I know my Grandparents where some of the hardest working people I ever knew, but for one reason or another, either lack of education, poor choices, lack of luck or all three, things just do not financially work out for some people.  They are coming to you for help in one way or another and most of them appreciate that help.  In regards to the ones that are abusing the program, you have to focus on who is really benefiting from that help - the children.  It really doesn't matter how terrible and nasty the parent is it will be the kids that suffer the most if you refuse to help them.  Along with that, if you assume everyone is from that entitled/abusing group, if you go to work everyday for a paycheck and get angry when someone comes for help, if you laugh and get joy out of denying people benefits because they don't deserve it, if you don't realize that how you act can change someones world than maybe, just maybe, you should start looking on for a new job.  You aren't doing yourself any favors continuing to work a job you don't like and you really aren't helping those that you are being paid to help.

Also, remember they are your customer, and without them you would not have a job.

This is just my opinion - for what it is worth.