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Coalition meetings are held the second Wednesday of every month from 11:30 to 1:00 at the Marquette County Services Center at 480 Underwood Avenue in Montello. Everyone is welcome.
To improve lifestyle choices and options in Marquette County through positive cultural and environmental changes.
Marquette County is a place where the community members are increasingly involved, healthy and successful.
By Keri Solis
You may have heard the phrase “Land rich, income poor” used to describe Marquette County. Even though we have vast natural resources and a beautiful landscape that draws people to the area for lazy summer days and winter recreation, we have very few high-paying jobs and an aging (retired) population.
Both the Montello and Westfield school districts hover around the 50% mark for students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch. In 2009, Marquette County was at an 11.1% poverty rate, which is an increase from 2000, when the rate was 7.7%. In 2009, the state rate was 11.1% and the national average was 13.5%. As of 2010, nearly 17% of the residents used FoodShare, a supplemental nutrition assistance program, which was slightly higher than the state average.
While it is easy to ramble on with statistics, it is another thing to put yourself in the shoes of a person living in poverty. Recently, CAP Services held a poverty simulation at Montello High School in which I participated.
For me, being a single person with no children (unless you count my Black Lab, who has a personality of his own), I just have to worry about being responsible for myself.
That all changed in the simulation. I was a single 20-year-old mother with a one-year-old child. I was living with my father who worked outside of the home. I also had a nine-year-old brother.
The simulation was held over an hour with each 15-minute time period representing a week. There were several businesses and services set up in the room. They represented charities, the workplace, public school, college, jail, a pawn shop, quick cash stores, banks, grocery stores and more.
In our family packet we knew how much money we had to have for groceries, a car payment (luckily, my group’s car was five years old and paid for), electricity, etc. We also knew how much dad made every month, which was around $1500. He had to spend half of each 15 minute “week” at work. The rest of the time he could shop, go to the bank, or try to get help from a service or charity.
The first week, my brother went to school and I went to a county agency to get help with additional transportation and rent. I had to wait in line and that was all that I was able to get done that week. Dad made it to the bank after work to cash his check.
The second week I set out to get more aid with food costs and daycare. The first time I went to fill out the application I didn’t have all the information with me. This wasn’t a planned part of the simulation. I actually didn’t realize I needed to have certain documents until I got there. As a result, it cost extra time and gas money for me to come back with everything I needed.
While this was happening, my dad was pulled out of work because my little brother had been suspended from school and we had left him home alone. He was causing trouble in the neighborhood and the cops picked him up. End of week two.
At this point, even though I was enrolled in college, I hadn’t had time to attend class. I also hadn’t had time to get a job. My dad and I argued over what I was going to do the third week. I thought I should make getting a part-time job at night my priority since I hadn’t been to college for two weeks anyway. Once I found a job, I could go back to school. We needed to pay the bills now. My dad was arguing that in the long run I should be in college so I could get a better job. My plans were changed when we found out my little brother was on spring break for the week, so with him in tow, we went to buy groceries and pay the rent. We had a rent voucher, but we found out that it could only be used the first two weeks of each month, so we had to use up some of our cash. We tried to go to the bank to cash a check, but it was closed.
Since I didn’t have a job and I had now missed three weeks of college, week four was spent standing in line and then filling out a job application.
For me, the hardest part was having to juggle what I was doing because I had to watch my little brother. (The first week I had been given daycare assistance for the month for my one-year-old.) He would get into trouble if left home alone even for a quick trip to the bank. It wouldn’t look good if I brought him on a job interview. Bringing him to a college class with me, even on his best behavior, I’m sure would be frowned upon.
Without the daycare assistance, my only opportunity for working or college would be at night, when my dad could watch my daughter.
It was also hard to know what resources were available. I’m sure I could have gotten additional help if I had known certain resources existed.
After the simulation, which was made up of varied family units with different scenarios, the group discussed the prior hour. Many of them had the same experiences that I did. Others had to deal with a family member who kept returning to jail. Others were swindled, while a few ran into some good fortune.
As we tried to relate our experience over the past hour to real life, each person had a different perspective. This included the struggles of people caught in the “gray area,” where they make just over the “limit” to receive assistance, but not enough to break the cycle.
A 2011 report from the UW-Extension stated that “poverty wages” are most common among those with lower education. In Marquette County, 61% of adults have a high school degree or less, which is higher than the statewide rate of 45%.
The report also said Marquette County is in an area of the state where 13.6% of the population reported food hardship, defined as not always having the money to buy food they needed.
The event was very well received by those in attendance, which included members of the County Health Department, CESA 5, Aging & Disability Resource Center, Guardian Angels, Hope House, and others. If you belong to an organization that would like to take part in a poverty simulation, please contact CAP Services. For more information on resources for assistance in Marquette County, please visit http://marquette.uwex.edu or call 608-297-3141.
For more information on Neshkoro Area HCHY activities please contact Tara Chesebro.
Neshkoro news: Welcome Tara Chesebro to HCHY!
For more information on Endeavor Area HCHY activities please contact Sue Allen.
Endeavor News: To join the Endeavor EPIC parent's group, please contact Sue Allen. Bring the kids to play while parents talk.
For more information on Montello Area HCHY activities please contact Tiffany Lodholz.
Montello News: Montello's PIE group meets weekly on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. Parents and kids of all ages welcome. Learn more
In 2011, excessive alcohol consumption in Marquette County cost $17.7 million and contributed to at least 154 alcohol-related hospitalizations. View the full report.