NORWICH, N.Y. — For some, it was their first look at poverty. For others, it was their first chance to help.
Seven human services students in Assistant Professor Julanne Burton’s Introduction to Human Services class, at the SUNY Morrisville Norwich Campus, are participating in a class project, Big Ideas About Poverty.
Burton implemented the concept in her classroom three years ago after learning, from a United Way presentation about the ALICE (Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed) population, that a significant number of residents living in the Chenango County community are living either at or below the poverty level.
Through the assignment, students conduct a critical action project around poverty in the local community, devise a plan; and actually carry it out.
“It is a way for me and my students to give back to my community,” said Burton, herself a Chenango County resident, from Earlville. “Some of these students are going to stay in the area to work and I want to get them started in being a part of the community. I want them to reflect on the issue and the impact they can have on it.”
Many people are unaware of what poverty looks like, according to Burton. “Even people with jobs could still be living below the poverty level,” she explained.
“I thought it looked like someone wearing really baggy clothes, maybe the person who didn’t have good hygiene,” said Lillian Gallagher, of New Berlin. “Now I know that the person could look just like you and me and still be living in poverty.”
Gallagher’s project involves helping Unadilla Valley Central School set up JT’s Cupboard, a room stocked with free clothing, prom dresses and tuxedoes on loan for anyone who can’t afford to buy them. The cupboard, named after former school board member Jamie Thompson, also carries school supplies and personal hygiene products.
Gallagher went a step further, starting a peer group at the school, comprised of 15 children who meet to talk about their day and stress in their lives.
“I did it to show them that they are not alone,” said Gallagher, who’s planning on a career as an advocate for victims or children. “I know how hard it is to be in middle school and high school today, and I would have loved a group like this. I am just trying to show the kids they are not alone in their struggles.”
Cheyenne Miles, of Oxford, is assisting with the Backpack Food Program already in place in the Oxford School District. She helped obtain a generous donation from Chobani yogurt for the program, which fills weekend and holiday gaps for those in need who rely on free and reduced lunch and breakfast during the week.
Two other students, Jason Burlew and Stephanie Ray, both of Norwich, are working with the Bandura Family & Community Alliance, which was expanded to Norwich last year and provided 1,200 meals to families on Christmas Day.
On Dec. 11, Burton’s class will meet with individuals and agencies in the community to discuss their projects, their impact and how they relate to larger issues around poverty.
They will also share their experiences.
“This project has really made me think more about poverty and what I can do to help,” Miles said.
“I feel like I am making an impact,” Gallagher said. “And I am much more empathetic.”
Burton’s class project was not the Norwich Campus’s first to help alleviate poverty in the community.
In late November, the campus hosted Bridges Out of Poverty, an initiative which brought the community together to talk about and develop concrete tools to address poverty in Chenango County. The event, a collaboration among the Norwich Campus Human Services Institute, eHealthy Connections, Chenango Health Network and Improve Norwich Now, attracted nearly 100 participants.
The following students are participating in Burton’s Big Ideas About Poverty project:
Jason Burlew, of Norwich
Lillian Gallagher, of New Berlin
Kaley Judge, of Sherburne
Cheyenne Miles, of Oxford
Stephanie Ray, of Norwich
Aubrey Root, of Earlville
Amy Walker, of Afton