This post was written by LDA Class of 2022-2023 Team Rock Forward members: Jess Daniels, Corporate Contractors, Inc; Katarina Dries, (YLDA), Craig High School; Patrick Gasper, School District of Janesville; Kari Swirth, Irontek; Jamie Thiede, Johnson Financial Group; Lisa Tollefson, Rock County and Scot Truesdill, City of Janesville.
November’s topic was based on Poverty & Diversity in Rock County
This session was a roller-coaster for many of the group members. We were inspired by the many groups and organizations in Rock County doing terrific work but saddened at the same time by the depth and magnitude of poverty in our community. It hit soft spots in us as many of Rock Forward members have children at home.
Getting to ‘experience’ what poverty is like
The day started out with an online Poverty Simulation. This gave us a small insight into understanding how those in poverty in our county need to make tough choices every day between basic needs just to survive.
We were given 10 minutes to complete 28 “days” of decisions to choose between two options individuals facing poverty face every single day. Many LDA classmates were not able to “make it” through the month without running out of money. This was a stark reminder that many individuals in our own community face these challenges every day.
Combatting homelessness and poverty challenges
After the simulation we heard from a panel of individuals who are boots on the ground in our community trying to combat our homelessness and poverty challenges on the day to day.
During this time, we were shocked to learn the numbers of identified unaccompanied minors in Beloit/Janesville (numbers close to 800 combined). Not only were we shocked at the realization of the large number of children who are homeless but also the barriers that stand in their way to receiving help.
Although the information shared with us is heartbreaking, it is also inspiring to see the work that is being done by the staff in so many organizations to make a difference in the lives of struggling community members.
One of the stories shared with the class was about a 16-year-old who was sleeping in his vehicle after losing his mother and his father was incarcerated. He was able to fly under the radar to not raise any alarms that he was struggling or needed help. It took him reaching out to a friend when he felt he had no other options but to ask for help.
It was startling to understand there could be many more individuals just like him living out of their car or on the streets without anyone noticing.
Another great organization helping homeless men in Rock County is, GIFTs Men’s Shelter. We heard from MaryAnn Raash, Executive Director, and Hunter Ditzhazy, Administrator, on the programs they offer and success stories from a few of the men.
For individuals like the young man above, there are opportunities and programs here in the Rock County community for them to seek help. Specifically, Community Action offers many programs to help community members in Rock & Walworth Counties. Their staff is dedicated and genuinely committed to bettering the participants’ lives.
We were exposed to some of the programs they have for the members of the community in need, the Merrill Community Garden, The Fresh Start program, Transitional Living Program and so much more.
Diversity and inclusion training
We wrapped up the day with diversity and inclusion training with Marc Perry and Katie Wheelock. This training allowed us to open our eyes and see what types of bias and stereotypes we hold.
This was presented in a safe space for all the LDA participants to talk freely and share any stories/experiences they may have had in their lives. The more challenging conversations we have with our peers, families and friends will allow our community to move in a more inclusive and positive direction.
All in all, this session was tough. It opened our hearts and minds to what is really going on in our community. It allowed us to look at ourselves and think about what we can do to better our community. What can we do to transform just one person in our community’s life?