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Karen Ordway moved to Bath to escape an abusive relationship. She is looking forward to using the skills and connections she made through the Speakers Bureau to help others rise above their circumstances to escape poverty.

On June 18th, ten Steuben County residents graduated from the Food Bank’s Speakers Bureau in Bath and spoke in front of an audience of about 90 community members. The speakers shared their stories about poverty, homelessness, addiction, domestic violence, and abuse, while also offering countless examples of resiliency and ideas for change.

In so many ways, our society tells people living in poverty that their experiences and perspectives don’t matter. At the Food Bank, we believe that successful legislation and programs designed to lift people out of poverty must include expertise from people living with poverty and food insecurity.

Our Speakers Bureau program is a ten-week leadership development and public speaking training in which participants gain the skills and confidence to become leaders in their community and speak with decision makers about the realities of poverty, hunger and related issues. Catholic Charities of Steuben County Turning Point in Bath recruited this session’s participants, and members of the Hornell Area Toastmasters Club provided public speaking training.

The Speakers Bureau offers far more than speaking skills. Speakers Bureau participants learn the root causes of hunger, which can alleviate some of the paralyzing blame they feel for circumstances beyond their control. Many discover a new sense of self-worth and become empowered to advocate for themselves and others. The Speakers Bureau format also forges new relationships with other hunger-relief advocates and creates a close-knit network of connections the participants carry forward.

“It’s people coming together to find that while our experiences are unique, none of us are alone in  them. It’s all of us learning together about why poverty exists in the wealthiest country on the planet,” says Lyndsey Lyman, Food Bank Advocacy and Education Manager.

“These folks are the movers and shakers; the caring individuals who will create healing spaces for themselves and their neighbors; the people whose stories and ideas we need at the forefront at this time.”