Today we heard from Nora Stanger, whom among her many accomplishments is currently serving as the guidance counselor of Miami Valley Christian Academy. Nora shared with us about her Appalachian upbringing in which she lived in extreme poverty in every sense of the word. "Run down" is a nice way to describe the picture she showed us of her childhood home. Her mom was the first to divorce in her family and was therefore disowned by them and her father abandoned Nora and her siblings at a very early age. They were so poor that many times they went three days at a time with no food and often woke up so weak they could not even stand on their frail, shaky legs. Nora's sisters were often abused (even told they were only good for the purpose of being prostitutes).
As you might guess, tempers flared due to these extreme, inhumane conditions. People shamed them with such phrases as “my daddy paid for your lunch”, “you are white trash”, “you are lazy and should get a job” and there were even teachers who gossiped about their situation. Nora even candidly shared how she even used to hate folks bringing Christmas gifts because they always seemed to do it more for themselves. They would never stop and ask how they were doing or even look them in the eyes and talk with them like humans.
Nora told us of two kinds of shame. One kind “we should never shake” is shame from breaking our moral code. However, there's a shame “you want to put away from you” which comes from being pressed down in life so much that it feels like you are being held under water and gasping for a single breath. Nora also told us that folks in poverty do not feel valued, cannot dream and especially can not envision themselves as successful. She spoke of how men who had broken spirits when their ability to provide was taken away.
After all of this heartfelt setup, Nora shared her story of success and hope. Believing that education was a requirement and not an option, Nora's mom read to them and taught them as much as she could and even started a 4H club. She told of how her mom walked and drove them to the book mobile any time it was in town. Nora's mother insisted the children go to college and many not only went but earned advanced degrees. Nora's own mother also earned a college degree! Somewhat jokingly Nora commented that her mom's “gift” was the ability to deny reality.
Nora's message for us was that as human beings who live in a community, we ought to be champions for one another otherwise we would not survive. Her definition of a champion is “one who would fight for you even when you can't fight for yourself”. Nora believes we are all created for a purpose and that purpose is good. She defined Financial Poverty as “not having enough $ resources to meet basic needs” and Mind Poverty as a state of mind that diminishes or depletes the value of a person...she commented this is the most widespread poverty.
At the end of her talk Nora challenged us with several ideas...
- When we are broken broken (like a bone) we can become stronger when we are healed. Yet we may need someone to help us realize we are or can be stronger. Will you be that person?
- There should be room at the community table for all. People need to belong within a community with dignity, adventure, accomplishments and successes. When we diminish others we diminish ourselves.
- Ask yourself, “What do I bring to add to the feast?” We are not a real community until everyone participates in the community.
- Because people took a risk in this shy, dirty, little girl (Nora) many lives have been touched. Think of the many lives we are losing in our community.