In Donna Beegle’s neighborhoods garbage service was an absolute luxury. After getting fined for taking garbage to an apartment complex, her family would keep it. And have rats. “I had rats crawl across me in bed to go down the wall,” she said.
Beegle was the keynote speaker on September 23 to over 250 people at Wenatchee Convention Center for a conference on Ending the Cycle of Poverty, a coordinated program by Wenatchee Valley service clubs and social agencies to reduce poverty. “Poverty steals all there is,” she said.
Poverty left her hopeless, ashamed, isolated and experiencing fragmented help.
Hopelessness breeds in homes where it’s normal for someone to shut off the lights or turn off the water. “We had love, we had family, but we didn’t have money,” she said.
Her cousin Tammy went to emergency rooms 17 times for blood clots in her chest. The doctors would release her, saying see your doctor. “She lived in a car with three kids,” Beegle said.
Tammy died from the clots.
Beegle constantly felt shame, asking herself, “What’s wrong with me?”
Bullies would beat her up and pull her hair, then she’d be punished by the school principal while handfuls of hair fell out. “My cousin Wanda was my hair stylist,” she said. “I used gas station pink and white powdered soap for my shampoo.” She didn’t know any better.
Her mom wouldn’t talk to teachers. She’d say, “I ain’t going in there and make a fool about myself.”
We watched an unreleased video of Beegle’s life by the Public Broadcasting System where her mother says, “I taught every one of my kids to do everything around the house.”
Isolation traps hopelessness and shame. “I was never around people who were making it,” she said.
She didn’t understand middle class language. “Two professionals were talking about me and I didn’t have a clue.”
A career meant nothing. “Every woman I knew got married early and had babies. I wanted to be a mom, a good mom, and find a way to get by.”
She got by. She gave birth to eight children and has three living.
Poverty programs were fragmented in states her family worked. “How smart I was depended on what state I was in. In Oregon, I’d be behind and they’d catch me up. Other schools, I was way ahead.”
When she quit school, a teacher asked, “Why do you want to quit school? You won’t be able to get a job.”
Beegle said, “School had nothing to do with me. A job for me as a migrant worker meant rent and food and we’d still get evicted.”
To get clothing for her daughter at school, Beegle asked an agency in a wealthy area for clothing. A man refused her because she didn’t live in the community.
She cashed food stamps, bought rent receipts, drove to low-income housing in another neighborhood, wrote that address on the rent receipt and marked it paid. She chose clothes her daughter said looked new. “I’m not about saying that’s right, that’s what is.”
At 25 she had two children and a welfare check for $408 per month and rent at $395. To qualify for rent subsidy, she had to enroll in a school to get her GED. She signed up. “I found people did care,” Beegle said. “I didn’t have a clue.”
A mentor, a professor at the University of Portland believed in her. “We get our sense of self from what other people think of us,” she said.
He said, “Read the newspaper, circle anything you don’t know and bring them to my office.”
Later he hired her as a Teaching Assistant for $100 to find grammatical errors in students’ papers. She realized some students wrote worse than she did.
In ten years she passed the GED, earned a doctorate in Educational Leadership and for 23 years has been recognized nationally as a genuine voice to guide service clubs, justice programs and social service agencies to help people in poverty move forward..
She’d be willing to train our local program leaders for Ending the Cycle of Poverty.
She convinced me she could do it and we should do it. If you want to help call Jennifer Dolge at the Community Foundation, 663-7716.