“My dad grew up in poverty”: why COVID-19’s impact is personal

When I heard that a whole generation of economic progress could be lost because of COVID-19, what might have been an abstract concept felt personal.

Like kids across the country, my first grader, Addi, spent this spring learning from home. One assignment had her interviewing a family member, and she chose her grandpa: my dad. She carefully printed questions in her notebook—using her best phonetic spelling—and as FaceTime connected, I settled in to hear the stories I remember hearing as a child: my dad and his brothers chasing each other across farm fields, dad knocking an aggressive farm goose senseless in self-defense, his exasperated mother shooing six boys out of her kitchen with a rolling pin—or whatever else was handy.

Addi and I giggled over several of these same stories, but hearing them as an adult, many were tinged with a sadness and struggle I hadn’t remembered. Like when my dad told Addi about his family’s two-seater outhouse, how the brothers competed to be first in line for a weekly bath so the tub water would still be clean, how glasses of water turned to ice on bedside tables in the wintertime, how his parents saved every bit of extra money to buy each boy a second-hand bicycle one Christmas, how they rarely visited a doctor, and how his parents buried their only daughter and a son before their fifth birthdays.

It dawned on me: Not in a faraway country or too long ago, my dad grew up in poverty.

My dad went on to work his way through college, becoming the first in his family to graduate. His career included stints as a teacher, an engineer, and a business consultant. My childhood was filled with its own share of adventures but no hint of deprivation. So when I read that in some regions coronavirus is expected to result in poverty levels seen 30 years ago—knocking progress back by one generation—I couldn’t help but think of the difference one generation had made for my own family. To lose all that so quickly … I can scarcely imagine the anguish.

Poverty forces families to focus on immediate survival rather than planning for the future. They might resort to consuming business inventory that could have been sold or seeds that would have been planted. They might have to use money saved for their children’s school fees for doctors or medicine. They might simply give up on dreams, their aspirations a casualty of the crisis. These men and women are resilient and hardworking. They can make progress—just as my dad did—but they are nonetheless vulnerable to setbacks like this virus.

Reflecting on my own family’s story, I see the importance of HOPE’s commitment to helping families in underserved communities rebuild their dreams. Amid crisis, HOPE is coming alongside men and women with tools and resources, reminding them that this coronavirus doesn’t have to sweep away everything they’ve worked for.

I’ve seen the difference one generation can make, and my family is standing with HOPE as they stand with those we serve, ensuring this is only a season—not a generation—of struggle. 

Join us in coming alongside entrepreneurs and communities as they recover from crippling financial shocks caused by coronavirus lockdowns. Let’s help them move forward, rebuild, and flourish. New and increased gifts to HOPE’s Rebuilding Dreams Fund will be doubled. Learn more or make a contribution today.

Jill Heisey

Jill Heisey

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Jill has been privileged to work with HOPE as a writer for more than a decade. Meeting the men and women HOPE serves fuels her desire to keep sharing the story of how Christ-centered economic development can transform lives.

3 responses to “My dad grew up in poverty”: why COVID-19’s impact is personal

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    Thank you Jill for sharing. I relate.

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    Sally (Michael) Rothermel Jul 17 2020 at 12:24 am

    Jill – I know your Mom and have heard about you (and the girls) through her. This was a most touching view of your Dad’s accomplishments as he gave his all to succeed. My parents are long gone, but they too had many hard times that we recall through their many stories. The world as we now know it has been completely turned upside down and the next generation will not know the care-free lifestyle we’ve had for years. May the Lord watch over all of us and hear our prayers!

  3. Avatar

    I have always admired your father but never knew the story behind his life. So glad that you were able with your daughter to bring part of his story to light. Life is never easy I know for a fact and telling this story will bring a lot of thoughts to everyone’s mind. I so enjoyed reading your story and Maybe this will help other people who have overcome poverty in different odds in their lives and to see the success that one has made is so amazing.

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