By JOSEPH DITS
South Bend Tribune
6:21 PM EST, December 3, 2011
SOUTH BEND - Denise Murphy seems nervous, as if she's shivering inside.
And she makes no secret about her mental soup, counting off pills she
takes for migraine headaches, high blood pressure, sleeping trouble
and depression. She says it all circles back to the car accident she
had when she was 16 or 17.
“I believe that’s why I lost my job,” the 38-year-old tells a Tribune
reporter, thinking back on her 13 years as a restaurant server.
She has stepped aside from one of many tables in the Charles Martin
Youth Center where people in poverty are dining with middle-class
“allies,” about 130 people altogether. Here, through the St. Joseph
County Bridges Out of Poverty Initiative, the monthly topic on this
August day is finding medical care.
She says she lost Medicaid two years earlier. Project Homecoming, a
program of the nonprofit Indiana Health Center, supplies the pills she
For her, like others in this room, a single bridge out of poverty isn’t enough.
A survey goes around the room to 64 of the low-income participants
there. About half report that they have high blood pressure. Nearly 40
percent don’t have a primary care doctor, and about the same number go
to the doctor only if it’s life threatening.
As they dine, a huge brainstorming session starts with a doctor and a
handful of panelists who work in the local trenches of health care for
the needy. Questions fly about life without health insurance. The
speakers reply with tips on avoiding the emergency room, tapping into
health fairs, and finding pain and diabetes medicines when certain
programs can’t help.
Three months pass. In early November, an aunt finds Murphy in a sudden
and terribly ill state. After a visit to a local hospital, Murphy
flies by emergency helicopter to a hospital just west of Chicago. She
has suffered a stroke and an aneurysm, a condition where a bulge forms
in a weak spot of a vein or artery.
It keeps her in intensive care for at least three weeks.
“It’s been boiling up to this for some time,” her mother, Margaret
Murphy, reflects as she waits, day by day, for word from the doctors.
She is gathering up Denise’s paperwork to see what kind of health
insurance she has — and if she has it at all.
To her, there’s no doubt that lack of medical coverage played a role
in her daughter’s condition.
“She should have been sent to a neurologist all this time,” she says.
Margaret Murphy is seated at the Bridges Out of Poverty gathering on
Nov. 21 at First United Methodist Church. By pure coincidence, a man
at her table tells her how he made it through two aneurysms.She isn’t
here to take Denise’s place. In fact, she started coming because
Denise had introduced her to Bridges. Margaret Murphy has been working
a part-time job for senior citizens, taking a class on managing her
finances and getting ready to go back to school — resolute that she’s
turned her back on about 30 years as a certified nursing assistant.
“That’s hard work,” she says of her CNA career.
The guest speaker on this day is Phil DeVol, who co-authored the book
“Bridges Out of Poverty” and wrote “Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By
World,” both of which lay the groundwork for the local Bridges
“The reason I wrote ‘Getting Ahead’ is that I learned that people in
poverty are problem solvers,” DeVol says.
He tells the crowd that he’s observed poverty and charity since he was
a kid in a missionary family in India, then drafted to serve in the
Vietnam War, came back to live among poor neighborhoods in Fort Wayne
and then worked in the addictions field for some 20 years.
“Your city is one of 50 or 60 using Bridges Out of Poverty,” DeVol relates.
“South Bend is really a model, people respect what you’re doing,” he
adds, noting that a private foundation in Memphis will be visiting the
program to get ideas.
He’s come to hear feedback from these participants — input he’d put in
the next edition of “Getting Ahead.”
Debra Haynes graduated from Getting Ahead and now facilitates one of
the classes. She suggests to DeVol that class facilitators gather to
share ideas for teaching.
She also notes that there could be a simpler way to teach the “hidden
rules” — the unspoken guidelines that people in poverty follow. The
rules at the heart of the curriculum as students try to grasp why they
keep ending up poor. But students don’t always get it right away,
Marce Bingham facilitates classes at the nonprofit REAL Services,
where she works as an asset building coordinator.
She asks DeVol: Once students are connected with support, how can they
stay connected over the long term?
‘Not giving up’
Around them are some tough graduates of the class.
Short and bold, Valerie Huston doesn’t sit long enough to finish the
pizza on her plate. She’s here to network. And she plans to take South
Bend’s newly elected mayor, Pete Buttigieg, on buses to show how
difficult it can be to get to jobs.
Huston hasn’t lived in South Bend for almost 22 years. She returned in
poverty, stymied by her own lack of transportation.
Research shows that it generally takes two to five years for someone
to escape poverty — and that’s with several good things lining up,
says Bridges Director Bonnie Bazata.
It’s like “climbing a hill on roller skates,” says Clara Ross, an
AmeriCorps member who works at Bridges
Fannie Alford, even at age 70, wants a part-time job, testifying,
“I’ve been in poverty a long time.”
She makes gift baskets and has written two small books of poetry,
strung together like a novels, that her son had printed for her. She
has no good way to sell or market these yet. She’s proud to have
graduated in May — alongside one of her 35 grandchildren — with an
associate degree in human services from Ivy Tech Community College.
She says she wants to give her children the “legacy of not giving up.”
Staff writer Joseph Dits:
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