My Register Experience

The New Poverty: Bright spots in an otherwise dim story

Posted in Register Week by Michael Bugeja on November 11, 2009

If Tuesday’s post was dim, discussing bleak statistics about the scope of what some are calling, “The Second Depression,” this one contains two brighter spots, interviews with the executive director of a young woman’s resource center and with a young woman entrepreneur who could have fallen into the hopeless syndrome of depression due to joblessness, but instead relied on a historic Iowa value: neighborhood (but with a digital twist).

ywrcHeather Soener heads the Young Women’s Resource Center, 705 E. 2nd Street, Des Moines, which helps girls and young women from every demographic.

You can check out the long list of programs and services here.

In our interview, Soener told me that the center does “a lot of prevention programming,” especially for young girls reaching the fifth grade. One of the things impacting their lives and normal development is unemployment. “Families are under great pressure with layoffs now.”

The center also focuses on a Latina group of girls, emphasizing their culture and roots and how some values might differ in the community. (The Latino/a Iowa cultures share a strong work ethic.) In both groups, the specter of unemployment echoes. “You hear things like, ‘My mom worked there for seven years, and now she has been laid off.’”

Layoffs at home and school have harsh side effects on girls, in particular. “They might develop trust issues,” Soener says, “or the ability to form relationships, being more cautious” because of the instability at the places where girls expect to find little or none. “The focus is elsewhere rather than on the children.”

Soener also tells an anecdote that underscores the worries of Carey L. Miller, executive director of the Iowa Food Bank, profiled Tuesday on this blog, about having insufficient resources to serve the hunger needs in the 42-county service area. We’ll include that telling anecdote in our story.

Speaking of which, we will file that on Thursday. Because I have an award-winning photographer in Dennis Chamberlin, I can do narrative journalism, relying on him to showcase our article in slide shows and pictures. That narrative will end with Suzanne Hull, with whom we shared coffee this morning at Smokey Row Coffee, 1910 Cottage Grove Ave, Des Moines.

20091111.015Hull is a remarkable young entrepreneur, the creator of the Web site “Unemployed in Des Moines,” which provides advice and information about getting a job in addition to unemployment news, such as the recent extension of unemployment benefits for the 31,000 Iowans who have run out of benefits since June.

Suzanne, a 1999 Wartburg College graduate in economics and international business, was laid off twice this year and could have fallen into the syndrome associated with the new poverty, believing her work ethic and self-reliance could overcome any difficulty, even one as potentially dire as this economic one. Instead, she joined a business book club, networked within the community and then followed a piece of advice that led to an epiphany and change of attitude: She moved her laptop from the comfortable couch in the basement to the kitchen table, where she did some remarkable work, using Web 2.0 to foster interpersonal communication.

She created her own neighborhood for the unemployed in Des Moines, meeting in the same cafe every other week for informal networking. A lot of good has come out of Hull’s contribution, and others can learn from her example.

Read about that in The Register.


3 Responses

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  1. Bill Kunerth said, on November 12, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Michael and Dennis–Been out to the ranch the past week mother henning
    deer hunters, so haven’t read all of your reports and stories from the
    Register. The new poverty assignment should result in some excellent
    pieces. What you are doing is so important and so basic and used to be
    almost routine for most responsible newspapers, but has been badly neglected
    in recent yeas. And it can’t all be attributed to the economic situation.
    Too many reporters and editors have just gotten lazy and have forsaken
    “shoe leather, in-your-face” journalism for reporting via he computer.
    Perhaps your foray will rejuvenate a few. Readers recognize and appareciate
    this kind of reporting.

    If it’s not out of your territory, you ought to talk to Lois Smidt at Beyond Welfare
    in Ames. For 10 years or so, she has been directing an umbrella-type agency that works with persons looking to get back into the work stream. The participants
    in the program play a major role in its direction.

    Keep pounding the pavement.


    Bill Kunerth

  2. Chuck Kuster said, on November 12, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Michael —
    Another positive economic segment are the tens of thousands of home based businesses in Iowa. We represent a vibrant and growing segment that could be an answer for Iowa’s economic woes. Unfortunately, our business needs are usually ignored.

    I question the wisdom of public leaders who spend millions luring new industry to Iowa, placing strains on our schools and other infrastructure, but then ignore small businesses that are already committed to our fine state.

    We are everywhere. On my block there is a marketing communication company, a book publisher, a fellow who runs a fantasy sports league website, a husband and wife who own a premium sales business, a videographer and a photographer. There may be others.

    Anyway, Michael keep us thinking.

    Chuck Kuster

  3. Elizabeth said, on December 7, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    I found the Young Women’s Resource Center among the causes listed in the Chase Community Giving fundraiser widget on Facebook and voted for them. I will look for the other group mentioned above as well. Couldn’t hurt.

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