Speaker shares how she escaped poverty

Friday, March 30, 2007

Presentation meant to show what poverty is really like.

At 25, Donna Beegle found herself with two children, no husband, little education and living in poverty.

On Thursday, Beegle, who now has a doctorate, shared how she escaped poverty during a presentation at the Show Me Center to more than 100 partners with the East Missouri Action Agency. EMAA helps low-income families in eight counties, including Cape Girardeau, Perry and Bollinger.

Beegle was born the child of uneducated migrant farm laborers. Her family constantly struggled with poverty.

"I come from generations of being homeless and being hungry, and no one in my family has an education higher than the eighth grade," she said.

Beegle's early school experiences were stressful -- she never had the right clothing, shoes or lunch. By the age of 15, Beegle had dropped out of school, was married and worked in a foam rubber factory.

Ten years later, Beegle was divorced with two children and homeless. She worked long hours for little pay, and it was never enough to pay both the rent and the utilities.

"I knew something had to change, even if I did not know how or what to do," she said.

Beegle learned of a pilot program connected to a community college that aimed to help single women gain education or skills to earn a living. She received her GED and eventually went to college.

Today, Beegle travels the country speaking publicly about her experience living in poverty and teaches social workers, educators and health officials how to work with families that come from backgrounds like hers.

"As advocates, we need to know what it feels like for those living in poverty," she said. "We have to break the isolation between those in poverty and those not in poverty." Beegle said it's important to educate the middle and upper class about what poverty is really like. The media doesn't portray an accurate picture of poverty, she said.

"When you ask someone why people are living in poverty, they might say it's because these people aren't working or they use drugs," she said. "Actually, two-thirds of the people living in poverty work one or more jobs."

Because many educators never lived in poverty, Beegle said, they don't "understand its root causes and effect on children." But poverty should not be an excuse for poor academic performances, she said.

"We have to go through our systems and find out how these people are falling through the cracks," she said. "We have to figure out why they are struggling to get out of poverty."

jfreeze@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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