Local Views: Child’s questions stir thoughts about helping others in Rock, Walworth counties

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Royce DeBow
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

As a board member of Community Action Inc. of Rock and Walworth Counties, I take pride in the programs we run that are aimed at creating pathways out of poverty. Whether it’s transitional housing, job training or other programs, the staff works to illuminate options for individuals in need.

What beautiful resorts, vibrant communities, diverse businesses and dairy and crop farms we have in Walworth County. Add a state university and a technical college, and many would view the area as a snapshot of middle class Americana. Rock County also enjoys diverse employers, ample farming operations and higher education opportunities with Beloit College and Blackhawk Technical College.

Both counties have arts communities, family businesses, medium and large employers, and quality public and private schools. Recreational opportunities abound. Lake communities in Walworth County and the Rock River bring tourists and visitors who infuse millions of dollars into local economies.

By comparison, our residents have lower-than-average incomes and more poverty than the typical Wisconsin county. Food pantries are active, and social services administered by the counties are busier than most would agree they should be.

We live in a place with more people in poverty than most of us likely realize. That truth was underscored for me during a recent experience. The church my family attends holds an annual event where families enjoy dinner and build gingerbread houses with supplies provided by the church.

While sitting in an early-December Sunday service and hearing the pastor promote the event, it occurred to me that Twin Oaks Homeless Shelter, a Community Action facility on the Rock and Walworth county line, would likely have some families with young children.

 The evening of gingerbread-house building, I signed out a church van to pick up three families from the shelter to attend the event. Excited chatter filled the van as the kids talked about where we were going and what it would be like.

Less than a mile from the shelter, one of the youngest children repeatedly said what a “great” and “nice” car this was. Keep in mind, we’re talking about a plain white church van with vinyl bench seats. Then the child said, “Mom, can we live in this car?” While everyone continued their conversations, anticipating the evening’s activities, the voice of that young child, plaintively asking if she and her family could live in the van, brought the most shattering words I’ve ever heard.

We live among many people whom we probably think are mostly like us, along with some who are more fortunate and some who are less fortunate. What we may not know, however, is where or how these less fortunate people live and what can make a difference in their lives, especially those experiencing extremely difficult times. A young child’s plea to “live” in the “nice car” is unforgettable. Where we live, how we live, and how we see and help those around us is what can matter more than I ever realized before this experience.

Royce K. DeBow is board president of Community Action Inc. of Rock and Walworth Counties, 20 Eclipse Center, Beloit, WI 53511; phone 608-313-1300.

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