Article 43


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Poverty In Suburbia


Boulder County families, agencies will be featured on ‘Dateline NBC’ special
Show highlights middle-class families dealing with poverty

By Magdalena Wegrzyn
Longmont Times-Call
June 22, 2012

Three Boulder County families and several area human services providers will be featured in a “Dateline NBC” special that examines poverty in the suburbs.

The hourlong special, “America Now: Lost in Suburbia,” follows three middle-class families as they deal with poverty for the first time. Dateline has filmed the families, who live in Niwot, Lafayette and Superior, since last fall.

“There’s so many affluent suburbs in Boulder County, and these three families our producers met with, they had relatable stories that we really thought would resonate with our viewers,” said NBC News spokeswoman Monica Lee.

Niwot residents Diane and Jon Windemuller, both 42, agreed to participate in the show to shine a light on the harsh realities facing suburban families, they said.

Diane lost her job as a human resources executive in spring 2011, and Jon is underemployed in a sales job. When the couple’s 8-year-old daughter developed a rare liver condition and spent 11 days in the hospital, medical bills began to pile up.

Since January, camera crews have followed the couple as they apply for aid with medical bills and housing, chose groceries from the OUR Center’s food pantry and met with a marriage counselor.

Middle-class suburban families are going through quite a bit of hardship in this economy, and we felt that we could serve as a voice for that and offer encouragement and hope as we work through all of our circumstances,” said Diane, who is now working a temporary administrative job.

The special also profiles Ann Huggins, a single mother from Lafayette who struggles to pay for her teenage daughter’s medical bills, and Joyce and Lincoln Welch of Superior, who rely on Medicaid and food stamps to support their family of three children after Lincoln lost a high-paying job.

NBC anchor Lester Holt also interviewed the county’s director of housing and human services, Frank Alexander. In a news release from Thursday, Alexander touted the county’s early intervention and prevention approach, a shift prompted by the growing number of people needing services for the first time. Since 2008, Boulder County has seen a 150 percent increase in food assistance and a 63 percent increase in Medicaid services.

OUR Center executive director Edwina Salazar said the NBC special highlights an issue the Longmont nonprofit knows very well. About 30 percent of the OUR Center’s current clients come from the middle class, she said.

“What we’ve found is that poverty is creeping into the middle class,” Salazar said. “People’s wages are falling and we have more people coming in.”

The influx of newly poor clients has presented a different challenge to case managers, Salazar said.

“When someone is newly poor or situationally poor, they need a lot more education on what resources are available to them, and then they need support to follow through and apply for those resources,” she said. “There’s sometimes a denial level of, ‘Are things really as bad as we think?’ ... They want to think that things are going to turn around faster than we know they are.”

Staff from the Sister Carmen Community Center, which serves low-income residents in Lafayette, Louisville, Superior and Erie, were also interviewed, said program director Sarah Nelson. Sister Carmen clients from Superior and Louisville, predominately middle- and upper-class communities, have increased by 49 percent since 2010.

Huggins, the single mom from Lafayette, started out as a client and volunteer at the center and was later offered a part-time job as the center’s manager of volunteer services. The 50-year-old said coping with her struggles—getting laid off as an office assistant in mid-November and losing health insurance for her and her daughter—gave her clarity about what matters in life.

“It’s really helped me focus on my life, how I want to live and how I want to give back to my community, and my job reflect that now,” she said.

Though it’s a sensitive topic—and Huggins admits she’s nervous about seeing herself in the show—she hopes it encourages people who are struggling to ask for help. With support from Sister Carmen, she received food and medical assistance, as well as career and resume help.

“I hope that they take away from (the show) that there’s help available, and that there’s community out there to help them,” Huggins said. “And there are really good, loving people behind that community support.”


Posted by Elvis on 06/24/12 •
Section Dying America • Section Next Recession, Next Depression
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