Finding the road out of poverty

Until I reached my early 20s, I believed that my childhood had fewer financial advantages than the average childhood. Once I gained more life experience, I saw that my family hadn't been as poor as I thought we were.

That doesn't mean we weren't poor, though. We wore hand-me-downs, didn't go on vacations much, qualified for reduced school lunches, things like that. But we were "poor with potential." When I arrived, my parents were in their very early 20s, and my dad was at the beginning of establishing his farm. While they didn't have much money at that point, they knew how to manage it. And while they didn't have much income coming in from jobs, they knew what to do to make that happen. Things started to change when I was a teenager. In fact, my youngest sibling remembers a completely different childhood -- vacations and new carpet, but nothing about the really difficult times.

Through the years, my eyes have been opened to the ugliness of what it really means to be poor in the US (which is, admittedly, different from other parts of the world). My kids go to a school where 67 percent of the students are low-income. A couple of acquaintances have also taught me a lot about the cycle of generational poverty.

Brandon (as I'll call him) became a single father while still a teenager, which immediately limited some of his career choices. And not only that, he has difficulty finding child care on second and third shifts. Last year, he wanted to borrow money from us against his tax return to buy a different vehicle. We said no, but somehow he found the money anyway. He couldn't afford to insure it, however, which resulted in multiple offenses, traffic tickets and supposedly even a night in jail.