February 1st, 2014
It’s nice that the President has noticed that our country has a problem with “income inequality,” as it is the fashion to call it, or, as I call it, excessive numbers of excessively rich and excessively poor people. In the spirit of the time, I would like to forward some words from a person who was professionally concerned with the topic. This is printed on a poster in the conference room at the Vermont Department for Children and Families’ Morrisville District Office. David Murray, who wrote it, was a long time employee of the Department’s Economic Services Division. Or, as we used to call it when things had names that meant anything, the social welfare department. He passed away a few years ago. Please forgive the acronyms and references to outdated programs. I think you’ll get the gist.
I was sitting in a Voc Rehab office this morning with a person who is at ETC and has medical barriers to work. To help pass the time I asked what her kids were doing this summer and she told me they were doing volunteer work. Then she asked me if I was taking a vacation this summer. I said yes, the family and I were going to Maine for a week. She thought that was nice and said she had never been to Maine. This woman is my age – over forty. I thought it odd that she had never been to Maine, as most people seem to go there to see the ocean, so I asked her if she had gone to New Hampshire to see the ocean. She said, “No, I have never seen the ocean.”
This may show how naïve I am, but this amazed me. I can remember as a kid headed for Maine for the first time, my parents told me that the water was so wide I wouldn’t be able to see the other side. I didn’t believe them. How could anything be that big? But it was and when I got there I was thrilled at the sight!
She is forty-something years old, lives five or six hours from the ocean and has never seen it. She has been on welfare for a long time and can be called one of the “hard to serve.” Are these facts connected? Who can say? If this were 1986 and I were still an SPOP worker (ask an older co-worker if you don’t know what this means) I would suggest she save up her SPOP allowances for a few months and use the money to go see the ocean. Maybe then I would have my answer.
In the rush of ETL dates, conciliations, sanctions, job placements, assessments and all the rest, I think we need to keep some perspective, especially with the hard to serve. We need to keep in mind that it might be hard to see a future if you haven’t seen the ocean.
You all know there are many things the hard to serve haven’t seen besides the ocean. Like supportive parents and spouses, praise for jobs well done, involvement in constructive school activities and on and on and on.
Our job is to help people see the future. Maybe that should be one of the questions on the assessment form, “Can you see your future; have you seen the ocean?