Melinda Gross, Executive Director

May 30, 2014; 1(503) 893‑8046Melinda Gross

I was drawn to CoAc­tive Con­nec­tions because of what the orga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sents: under­stand­ing and empow­er­ment. Hav­ing grown up in poverty (and still fight­ing my way out), I never knew how this affected and shaped every­thing about me. It is hard to tease out the dif­fer­ent things that make you…well, you.

I have worked on poverty-related issues my entire life, even as a child. I was one of those kids that started a trash club, recruit­ing my friends and neigh­bors to hop on their bikes with me and pick up neigh­bor­hood trash. They weren’t as excited about it as I was, so it didn’t last too long. I was also one of those chil­dren who cre­ated neigh­bor­hood peti­tion posters to put up a stop sign, and to save the whales. I was one of THOSE kids, and I couldn’t say no when­ever some­one needed an extra hand or a volunteer.

But in the process of becom­ing involved with the orga­ni­za­tion, I began to learn things about me that I never quite under­stood before or even thought about. This is a com­mon occur­rence when peo­ple par­tic­i­pate in our Poverty Aware­ness Train­ing. You don’t quite know that you grew up in poverty until you learn about what it means beyond lack of finances – there are ram­i­fi­ca­tions socially, phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally. One could say this about any experience.

But there is a rea­son why I am so adamant to not seek med­ical care when I am sick or injured. There is also a rea­son why I eat all of the free food I can, regard­less of whether I had already eaten din­ner. There is also a rea­son why I am only now start­ing to enjoy veg­eta­bles (they don’t all come in a can?). Before I can make ANY deci­sion, I do a cost analy­sis. Even if it is as sim­ple as going out to lunch. That deci­sion doesn’t come so lightly to me, and I don’t think it ever will…and, well, I might enjoy bud­get­ing a bit more than the aver­age per­son. So that helps.

The ram­i­fi­ca­tions of poverty can last a life­time – and they can affect the way you live for the rest of your life. I appre­ci­ate how our train­ing brings dig­nity and under­stand­ing around the poverty expe­ri­ence, mak­ing me feel more open and will­ing to share about some­thing so pri­vate and per­sonal. Peo­ple should know about this. It is part of what makes me me, and it is a part of what makes other peo­ple around us who they are. So many of our neigh­bors are expe­ri­enc­ing poverty today, and their expe­ri­ence, right now or in the past, will be shap­ing them.

When I am not try­ing to start trash clubs, in my “spare” time I love to travel, hike, play piano, pho­to­graph with film, and (try to) paint the world around me. I also have a habit of doing things that I tra­di­tion­ally don’t like or haven’t expe­ri­enced, push­ing myself to try and even like new things, like run­ning. Now THAT’S hard.

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  • The training taught me to “manage what I have better and be more aware of the stress level it causes to not be able to meet ‘your’ needs.” (Poverty Awareness Training participant)