Catholic Herald staff
Learn how to better serve the poor, improve poverty outcomes and build an informed community at a prosperity conference Monday, Aug. 24, in Rice Lake.
“From Poverty to Prosperity – A New Paradigm” will take place from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Rice Lake High School auditorium.
The event is “a fresh look into the barriers that keep people from being able to move out of poverty,” explained Jayne Stewart, executive director of the St. Joseph Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Rice Lake, which is co-sponsoring the event.
She’s hoping to see a good showing of area priests, deacons and parishioners at the conference.
“This is one way that we can listen to our pope, listen to our Catholic social teaching, and help the people out of poverty,” she added.
Stewart and her husband first heard the keynote speaker, Dr. Donna Beegle, at a national St. Vincent de Paul Society conference last fall, and Stewart immediately knew she wanted to bring Beegle to northwestern Wisconsin.
“We just had so many ‘aha’ moments that day,” she said.
Beegle’s talk was so enlightening, they skipped two scheduled workshops to join her workshops; later, Stewart also attended Beegle’s two-day Poverty Institute in Bloomington, Minnesota.
“So what makes Dr. Beegle any different than other knowledgeable people speaking on poverty? Her unique insights and strategies come from her own experiences in being raised in generational, migrant poverty,” Stewart said.
Born to homeless migrant laborers, Beegle dropped out of ninth grade and married at age 15. Many of her family members were illiterate and/or had been incarcerated; she lived in cars and picked fruit to earn money.
After her marriage ended, Beegle received her GED in her mid-20s and continued studying until she eventually earned her doctorate in educational leadership. The story of how she overcame poverty, as well as her many communication insights, inspired and energized Stewart’s efforts in her own community.
“Dr. Beegle talks about what it takes to break the iron cage of poverty, helping people in poverty to move forward, and taking the shame out of poverty,” Stewart said. “The root of it is communication. We don’t communicate to people in generational poverty.”
Stewart has been involved in Rice Lake’s St. Vincent de Paul Society since 2007. In her community, she believes despite organizations’ best attempts to help without duplicating services, there’s still something of a “silo” effect.
“People who are trying to get out of poverty just fall through,” Stewart said. “Some things just aren’t addressed. Dr. Beegle really takes a community approach on this, and that’s what’s really exciting.”
Beegle also talks about separating the poverty from the person, and taking the shame out of poverty, Stewart continued. “She will help people … to take a new look at how we treat each other. When she talks about some of the things we haven’t thought about before, it’s not a confrontational approach at all that she teaches.”
In the final hour of the event, Barron County officials will dialogue on how to become an “opportunity community” and take the first step toward solving some community problems.
“We kind of wanted to invite everyone to the table to give them an opportunity to talk,” she said. “A lot of employers are really struggling to find workers.”
Stewart also thinks the event will have a uniting effect.
“We really want to get as many people there as we can to hear this,” she added. “That’s why we wanted to make sure this event was free. We didn’t want money to be a barrier.”
They also opted for early registration to ensure they could accommodate everyone, she said. So far, 200 people from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan are attending; they are hoping to draw 300.
“Pope Francis has called on all Catholics to give preferential treatment to the poor,” Stewart said. “That has always been the mission of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
“If you are looking for a way to live out your Catholic faith,
please consider joining your local St. Vincent de Paul Society,” she added. “The primary purpose of the St. Vincent de Paul Society is the spiritual growth of its members. From that spiritual growth, we develop our essential elements of friendship and personal service to the poor.”
The event, including lunch and refreshments, is free and open to the public. Register by Aug. 14 to be included in the lunch count. To register, go to www.svdpricelake.org/povertytoprosperity.html.