If we expect change to happen, people with lived experience must be part of the process of building and sustaining hunger-free communities. The Food Bank of the Southern Tier’s Community Advocates Program builds leadership skills of people who have experienced financial hardship and food insecurity so they can raise their voices in the work to end hunger. Graduates are equipped to share their stories and change the narrative about people who experience financial hardships, and to illustrate the complexities of poverty and food insecurity in the United States.
These collective voices come together to educate elected officials and the general public on the root causes of hunger; and shine a light on the often hidden crisis of hunger, and make the issue more personal by connecting people who are struggling to get by and have been subject to a broken system that keeps them in poverty. The Community Advocates Program began as the Speakers Bureau in spring 2016. Since then, four cohorts have completed the training. So far, Community Advocates have aided in research with local colleges, participated in various community boards and committees, helped execute community food security programs, visited elected officials in both Albany and Washington DC, and educated many public and private groups about their experiences with food insecurity and financial hardship.
Janelle was born and raised in Cameron, NY, one of eight children. She was born with a physical disability and has felt as though she was seen only as her disability by many people throughout her life. Her Speakers Bureau graduation speech title, “Disability Does Not Define Me,” captures her perspective on her physical abilities’ impact on her life these days. Janelle now lives in Bradford, NY with her husband and works in Bath.
- The impact of ableism on differently-abled people.
- the benefits “cliff”
A Southern Tier native, Jackie has lived experience with hunger, financial insecurity, and trauma. While struggling to survive, she often felt invisible and like her voice went unheard. She became familiar with the Food Bank after attending a listening session. Through the Speakers Bureau Jackie gained skills and built connections that have accelerated her personal and professional growth. Jackie is very engaged in her community, including serving on the board of a local nonprofit organization. A mother to four children, Jackie is committed to using her experiences to build a better life for her family and a stronger, more equitable Southern Tier community for her neighbors.
- How to advocate for mothers living on a limited income
- How to advocate for people with disabilities
- How life has changed since learning about the systemic causes of poverty
Dee offers perspective on life in prison and life after prison. She shares her insight on how poverty and incarceration are intertwined. Dee participated in college courses while serving her sentence. She was working on medical assistant certification but a series of retinal strokes left her disabled and led to her dependence on assistance programs. This mother of six grown children hopes to start a support group for formerly-incarcerated women.
- How poverty and incarceration are connected
- Misconceptions about incarcerated people
- The realities of life after prison
Josephine has lived in poverty all her life. She left her home in Alabama to come to New York City as a domestic housekeeper in the 1960s. She then moved to Binghamton with her young son to continue her education. She has dedicated her life to community activism and organizing; helping low wage workers, the elderly, and people with disabilities realize they have the power to change their outcomes. Jo has a deep understanding of the root causes of poverty and the systems that keep people in it. She shares how poverty has impacted her life, and she calls for an end to this “painful and humiliating disease.”
- How poverty is painful; like a chronic disease
- How generational poverty shapes mindsets and lives
- What we can do to eradicate poverty and reframe how we think about it
Michelle has worked in the medical field for 34 years. She has three kids and has lived in Bath for 19 years. She is a domestic violence survivor. She is currently living in poverty and working to make ends meet. Her determination to persist through life’s challenges is palpable!
- The benefits “cliff”/ returning to work after disability .
- Surviving domestic violence
Laura Cobb came to Bath, NY in 2014 looking to make a change. There, she overcame addiction, experienced and overcame homelessness, and experienced the incredible challenges of navigating the social safety net system in our communities. Laura is a natural leader and organizes food, clothing, and other resource sharing amongst members of her community.
- Advocating for oneself in the social services realm and beyond.
- Incorporating the Christian faith into overcoming challenges.
Rosemary cared for others as a nurse until chronic pain ended her career after 24 years. Rosemary struggled to keep her sense of self when she could no longer work. She spent all her savings while she waited for Social Security Disability benefits to kick in. Formerly self-sufficient, she had to rely on family to get by. Rosemary has found new purpose in volunteering at her local food pantry and advocating for resources for her community.
- Living with chronic illness
- Finding a purpose post-career
- How to adjust to receiving social security benefits
Wendy was raised in a middle-class family. She sustained a traumatic brain injury on the job which left her permanently disabled and unable to work. She is entirely dependent on social programs. Wendy credits Medicaid with saving her life. Wendy has a dry sense of humor and quick wit. She is a self-described politics junkie.
- The importance of Medicaid
- How to advocate for poor people
- Living with a disability
After living in England, Jamaica and Canada, Lorna moved to Broome County after a life-changing event disrupted her financial situation. She is now a United States citizen. Lorna lives in a “food desert” and is concerned about the quality of food available to her family. She believes in the health benefits of locally-grown produce. Lorna was a teacher in Canada but needs an additional master’s degree to teach in the United States. She is continuing her education while raising her family.
- Misconceptions about Muslim-Americans
- Why we need to challenge our bias
- The importance of nutritious local food for people living in poverty
Dawn is a survivor of abuse and single mother to a child with special needs. With the help of her mother and her faith, Dawn works to overcome her struggles and work toward her personal and professional goals. With strength and humor, she shares her winding path to achieve her dreams while working to beat poverty.
- Why poverty persists despite following “the rules” for success
- How poverty forces people to stay in difficult situations
- Why it’s difficult for people receiving benefits to get off them
Charles Thomas is a US Army veteran and addiction survivor living in Bath, NY with his wife, Ruth. While in the service, he witnessed things that exacerbated his addiction. Charles found support in Narcotics Anonymous and has now been clean for 21 years. He has four children, 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He is an avid singer, and is a member of the Praise and Worship Team at Bath Baptist Church. He is an avid jokester and loves to make people laugh. He is also a member of the Advisory Board for the Office of the Aging for Steuben County.
- Bringing together community members to support one another
- Building a new life after overcoming a big challenge
Schedule a Speaker
Speakers can discuss the broader topic of hunger and food insecurity in the Southern Tier as well as their own specific areas of expertise. Speakers can address a large or small group in settings such as a panel, interview, presentation, community cafe, event, or a less formal talk. View speaker profiles above and contact the Food Bank to get more information about the speaker, including availability and stipend cost.
Want to host a Speaker? Contact
Jacqueline Bogart, Community Empowerment Coordinator
Interested in facilitating a Speakers Bureau class or starting your own program? Contact
Lyndsey Lyman, Advocacy & Community Empowerment Manager
Do you have experience with food insecurity? Become a Community Advocate!
We are seeking the leadership of experts in lived experience of hunger or poverty whose voices are underrepresented in the anti-hunger movement. We’re looking for folks from all walks of life! Community Advocates are problem-solvers who share their experience and information about poverty and food insecurity with their community and elected officials.
Jacqueline Bogart, Community Empowerment Coordinator
Community Advocates Training helps participants:
- learn about the root causes of hunger in the Southern Tier
- build strong relationships in their community
- develop their personal narrative to move others to action
- network and engage with anti-hunger leaders and elected officials through political advocacy