The Toxic Stress of POverty
Financial poverty is rampant in our community. 43% of children in USD 383 qualify for free or reduced lunch, indicating their families are struggling financially. The stress of poverty has a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn as well as on their physical health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, poverty is one of the greatest causes of disparity and inequity in health. The toxic stress of poverty has been found to be associated with deleterious outcomes in learning, behavior, physical and mental health (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007). Poverty and isolation are known to be a major factor in negative health outcomes. Thrive! places an emphasis on social health in a way no other agency can, as our focus is building support groups through intentional friendship and trained mentors. Leaders (those moving from poverty) develop goals to pursue their own financial and health outcomes and then are provided the support needed to make these goals a reality. The changes affected by our Leaders will impact their families for generations. Ultimately, our vision is to end generational poverty.
Why does poverty have such an impact on learning and health? Our brains are designed to keep us alive. Under times of stress, our midbrain takes over and disengages the cortex, the thinking and learning part of our brain. It pulls a fire alarm for our bodies by releasing adrenaline and cortisol to prepare us to flight or flee. Blood rushes to our major muscle groups, our heart rate increases, digestion stops as we direct our energy elsewhere, our immune system ramps up in case our body is damaged in a fight. As Dr. Nadine Burke Harris says, this is great if you are in the woods and facing a bear. But what happens when the bear lives in your house? What happens when you live in a world focused entirely on survival? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk )
An excellent video I use to describe this when making presentations, particularly to educators, is called Learning Brain vs. Survival Brain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoqaUANGvpA). In this video, Jacob Ham, PhD, describes how difficult it is to process new information in survival brain. Please take a few minutes to watch. Imagine how hard it must be to take in new information with your brain in survival mode. Dr. Bruce Perry (my hero!) talks here about how stress impacts learning and behavior (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COMwI2akgqM ).
As you may know, science is my educational background. Because of this, I’m fascinated by the science around toxic stress and trauma, as I’ve spent my career working in fields with individuals experiencing both. One topic I always found fascinating in my biology classes was aging and the role telomeres play. Have you heard of telomeres? They are caps on the end of our chromosomes (the big bundles of DNA where our genes are encoded) designed to keep our DNA from unraveling. Just like an aglet on a shoelace, telomeres keep our DNA from fraying. (I know the word aglet from watching so much Phineas and Ferb with Kaiden when he was younger! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwizJNvl62U ). The shorter your telomeres, the more aged your cell becomes. Just like you could replace the aglet on a shoelace, our body has a protein called telomerase that can add telomeres back to the ends of our cells like glue. Do you know what inhibits telomerase and keeps it from working? High levels of stress hormones.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn has done significant research on the role telomeres play in cellular aging (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wseM6wWd74 ). She wrote a book with Elissa Epsel called The Telomere Effect that details scientific research around what shortens our telomeres and what can cause them to grow. What has been shown scientifically to grow telomeres and keep our cells healthy longer? Healthy relationships top the list. The list also includes mindfulness activities, journaling, exercise, and good sleep. Thrive focuses on each of these areas to help reduce stress for our Leaders and youth and improve their physical and mental health.
Science matters! And so does ending the toxic stress of poverty.
Jayme Morris-Hardeman, Executive Director
Why I joined thrive!
When I learned about Thrive! I was moved by its mission of helping people help themselves and wanted to be involved. I regularly contribute to Heifer International and Thrive! echoes the same philosophy of empowering people in order to help them to better their situations. I also love that Thrive! is a local organization devoted to helping people in the Manhattan community. The following are some of the reasons I am proud to be a part of Thrive!
I believe in Thrives mission.
The mission of Thrive! is to help reduce poverty by building skills and relationships that strengthen families and individuals. This model of helping people help themselves really speaks to me and I feel it’s so much more effective and beneficial than merely providing financial assistance. I’ve heard it said that Thrive! gives a hand up, not a hand out. The skills learned and connections made by the Leaders of the families involved in Thrive! can be utilized in so many aspects of their lives and can truly help them succeed
I want to be more involved in the community.
I appreciate that Thrive! is a local organization and that 100% of funds go to helping the local community rather than a substantial portion going for advertising or to pay for administrative costs to an umbrella entity. I’ll continue to contribute to national and world-wide charities, but there’s a different level of satisfaction from knowing your efforts will directly affect people where you live.
I want to be more service-minded.
To quote Audrey Hepburn, “You have two hands. One to help yourself, the second to help others.” I’ve been blessed in so many ways and want to give back. I believe helping others help themselves can have a positive effect that goes beyond the original purpose of bettering someone’s financial situation. There’s a magic that happens when a person succeeds in something and the confidence gained by the success can spill over into other aspects of their life and result in a domino effect that spurs other successes.
I was inspired by the stories of Thrive participants
It’s been wonderful to hear about some of the successes of Thrive! Leaders. I especially love the story of the single mom who recently enrolled in Highland Community College to begin her degree in accounting and how the Thrive! family helped provide her with school supplies, assisted her with enrollment, and drove her to her first day of class and took the obligatory 1st day of school photo!
I want to help make a difference.
Finally, my underlying reason for joining Thrive! is a desire to help make a contribution. The problems in the world today can seem overwhelming, but even small contributions can make an impact. We are all here for a purpose, and that is to make a difference.
Donations - You can help us THrive!
Thrive! depends on donations in order to stay operational. We have an anonymous donor willing to match any donations up to $5000 given through November 15th. This is an amazing gift and you can help us!
We would sure appreciate any donation. No amount is too small. For example, if every follower of the Thriveflinthills Facebook page gave just $10 each, we would raise $7,350, add in our anonymous donor of $5000, we could raise a very needed $12, 350! This would be such a blessing to our program and let us continue to help break the cycle of poverty in our community.
Our program is changing our community, one person at a time. It is a privilege to work with the families and individuals that we have in our program. Every week we see people who are learning they have a voice and it matters. We see people working hard to face challenges. And it is absolutely magical to see someone realize their potential, to realize they have what it takes to reach a goal or watching a child grow and learn new skills. These are things that happen weekly at Thrive! Make a difference today by donating to Thrive!
Please consider donating to our program before November 15th. Help us continue to serve people in poverty and help them change their life for the better! Donation checks can be mailed to 612 Poyntz Ave, Manhattan, KS 66502 or you can make an online donation at www.paypal.me/thriveflinthills
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