Changed Lives: Stories from the War on Poverty
By Jesus Garcia, Special Assistant, Office of Public Affairs
Tears, testimonies and thanks were shared at ACF’s War on Poverty discussions on July 17, featuring clients who have benefited from ACF programs.
I was honored to be one of three featured panelists who addressed dozens of ACF employees in the central office and in the regions during a session called “Changed Lives: Stories from the War on Poverty.”
During the hour-long discussion, ACF staff heard from the history of past clients who were participants in programs, suggestions on how to improve programs, and positive feedback on what worked. Panelists included:
- A father who formed a closer bond with his teen daughter because of the Fatherhood Initiative
- A former migrant worker who attended Head Start and excelled in academics
- A fellow ACF employee who avoided homelessness and hunger thanks to the precursor of TANF
Kavin Gray, an active participant at the Concerned Black Men National Family Service Center in Washington, D.C., he spoke about his community work with youth and how his mother, renowned community activist Kimi Gray, inspired his advocacy for the district’s African-American neighborhoods. Thanks to the Office of Family Assistance’s Fatherhood Initiative program run by grantee Concerned Black Men National, Gray was able to connect to the most important youth in his neighborhood, his own daughter. Gray said it was difficult raising a teenage daughter who was fiercely independent and who was living with his ex-wife. But he was determined to make sure that his relationship with this daughter was solid and that she would finish school in order to better her future prospects. “I told her that I would make sure she would cross that stage to get her diploma, even if I had to carry her,” said Gray. Today, Gray enjoys a good relationship with his daughter and his grandchildren thanks to the foundation provided by Concerned Black Men National’s Fatherhood Initiative.
This summer, Washington, D.C., plays host to a college student with big dreams who overcame impossible odds. Denise Cruz is a former migrant Head Start student who grew up between Texas and Minnesota, following the harvest season with her family. Denise, one of four children belonging to Maria and Ricardo Cruz, grew up carting water to the fields as her family picked fruits and vegetables. Before entering Head Start, she spent her days in the field near her mother or waiting in a nearby vehicle. Eventually she was enrolled in a migrant Head Start program. By accessing early education, Cruz’s cognitive skills developed earlier, which helped her stand out from the rest in school. A farmworker herself throughout her youth, Cruz still dedicated time to her studies. Today, she is a rising senior at Michigan State University. She is majoring in sociology, specializing in Chicano studies. Her next goal is graduate school. Cruz eventually wants to help other migrant students achieve the same success she attained. She points to the work of her counselor who guided her achievement as a future career she would like to follow. Cruz also credits her success to her father, who started a livestock business to grow the family’s income and to make sure everyone was taken care of under his roof.
My life with ACF has come full circle. Back in 1980, my mother developed a serious illness that wiped out our family income and required my dad to give up his job to take care of my paralyzed mother. Prior to my mom’s sickness, we were a young family achieving middle class, owning a new home, and living the American Dream. Within one month we became poverty stricken due to mounting hospital bills and two parents no longer working. Then the government’s social safety net, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (now known as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) kicked in and helped my family stay afloat for six months before other resources came into the picture. The very same agency that helped my family during its darkest hours is the agency I report to work every day. I’m grateful that I am a part of an organization that helps so many.
ACF will continue to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty throughout 2014 and 2015. Many of the current ACF programs were established in 1964 and 1965. ACF has already hosted five events in our central office since January and plans another four before the end of the year, along with several well into 2015.
To learn more about ACF and the War on Poverty, visit these links: