National speaker to lead local poverty conference



By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

During his time as director of Adult and Community Education, Steve McFarland worked closely with individuals trying to overcome various obstacles to move toward a better life.

Hearing such plights, McFarland remembered a lecture he heard at a conference by a woman who escaped poverty and today travels the country to share her story of hardship, determination and success.

Working with Carmen Lone, executive director of the Bridgton Community Center, McFarland is teaming up with local businesses and nonprofit organizations to bring Dr. Donna Beegle to Bridgton for a special conference, “Pathways to Prosperity,” on Friday, Oct. 16 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Magic Lantern Theatre. Cost is $35. Register by calling 647-3116 or online at

Several area businesses will sponsor the conference: Hancock Lumber, Magic Lantern, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Bridgton Community Center, as well as Maine Adult Education, The Opportunity Alliance and The Bingham Program.

Businesses interested in sponsorship should call 647-3116 for more information.

When communities come together to harness the value of everyone, lives are changed forever.

McFarland seess the Pathways to Prosperity conference as a bold long-term initiative — a community-wide effort to confront poverty in Bridgton, and implement research-based and proven practices to create lasting change and economic development.

Ultimately, the hope is to:

  • Support and mentor residents living in poverty as they walk along the path to a more secure financial future,
  • Develop coaching relationships between “Navigators,” those in the community who have achieved success and “Neighbors,” those who are currently experiencing poverty, but will soon be on the pathway to achieving success of their own,
  • Build community-wide networks of support for Neighbors where social service providers are working together to more efficiently and effectively serve them.

Bridgton has much higher than average rates of poverty. Seventeen percent, more than one of every six Bridgton residents lives in poverty. For all of Maine, the rate is 13%. The following measures, taken from the 2009–13 American Community Survey, highlight the extent of poverty in Bridgton:

  • Almost 900 of the 5,210 Bridgton residents live in poverty.
  • The impact on children is greatest. More than 25% of the nearly 1,000 children under 18 years of age in Bridgton live in poverty.
  • The U.S. poverty guideline for a family of four is about $24,000 per year. About 350 Bridgton residents are in households earning less than 50% of the poverty line — or less than $12,000 per year for a family of four.

“ These sobering statistics should concern all of us. Poverty is linked to many of our societal challenges: unemployment, poor health, alcoholism, drug addiction, crime, broken families, and many negative societal concerns,” McFarland said. “Poverty undermines the quality of life for everyone in an economy, not just the poor.”

The hidden costs of poverty, which go beyond the suffering of the poor, are staggering. These costs include property loss, deteriorating real estate values, bodily injury, and increased public and private expenditures for insurance, law enforcement, court cases, prisons, and health care, plus the lost productivity of people who could be employed or more gainfull- employed.

“The issue feels overwhelming to individuals who want to make a difference; many of us don’t know where to begin. But together — armed with knowledge of poverty and its impact on those living in it, along with strategies of how to confront it — we can make a difference. And we will,” McFarland added.

McFarland believes a united community can make a difference for those struggling along. He points to a Margaret Mead quote that sums up the group’s goal — “Never underestimate the ability of a small group of thoughtful, caring people to change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Guest speaker, conference leader

Dr. Donna Beegle has captivated audiences across the nation and abroad, giving an “insider’s view” of generational poverty.

She is scheduled as a keynote speaker and workshop leader at the Pathways To Prosperity Conference on Oct. 16, and will give an informative, inspirational and motivational presentation on viewing poverty through the eyes of those within it.

Dr. Beegle will speak about improving communication across poverty barriers, and her own journey from abject poverty to a Doctorate. Her education, work, and passion are to help people from all races and backgrounds, who are trapped in the crisis of poverty.

“My education, my work, and my passion are to help people from all races who are trapped in poverty. I want them to have genuine options for lifelong success. This can only happen if the voices of those struggling with poverty can be heard and their perspectives understood,” Beegle said. “Poverty is resolvable, however, making a difference for people who live in the crisis of poverty requires a paradigm shift. A shift that moves us beyond stereotypes and judgement, to a deeper understanding of the causes of poverty and its impact on human beings. With this awareness, we can work together to provide genuine opportunities for people to move out of poverty.”

Dr. Beegle is the author of See Poverty…Be The Difference and An Action Approach To Educating Students In Poverty.

Dr. Beegle and her organization, Communication Across Barriers, have received numerous awards including the National Speaker of the Year from the New Mexico State Bar Foundation and the Oregon Ethics in Business award.

Communication Across Barriers is dedicated to broadening and improving opportunities for people who live in the war zone of poverty
. CAB’s goals include:

  • Assist communities and organizations to “fight poverty, not the people who live in it.” CAB illuminates real and structural causes of poverty and provides life-changing information that shatters common myths and stereotypes about people who live in poverty
  • Offer research-based strategies and insider perspectives for improving relationships, communication, and opportunities across poverty barriers
  • Develop an army of speakers and trainers who can educate and assist communities in breaking poverty barriers
  • Provide models and programs that increase a connected, collaborative, community-wide approach to fighting poverty
  • Educate and engage people not in poverty with tools and avenues for making a difference in their own communities


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