The “mushroom capital of the world” – as a water tower in Kennett Square proudly displays – is in Southern Chester County in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania. It’s the claim to fame for an otherwise small patch of flyover country that is made up of small towns, farmland, small businesses and global corporations, churches, and community organizations. And, like much of the country, this semi-rural community also experiences the brokenness of opioid addictions, a story making headlines across the country.
The opioid epidemic and generational poverty are no strangers to our community. Paradoxically, we live in the 25th wealthiest county in the United States, yet at least 20 percent of the population struggle to live a sustainable life. And while many churches dot this region, the faith community is generally disconnected from the vulnerable population. A small fraction of this group are even loosely connected to a church – the institution one would expect to be a primary source of hope, and social connection.
Recently, a social services agency realized the need for addressing systemic issues that lead to or don’t alleviate poverty and started running an intensive workshop called “Getting Ahead” for people experiencing poverty. Through this class, an informal support group of friends is created and the individuals become consultants to the community on the nature of poverty. Additionally, the community has invited the “Getting Ahead” graduates to participate in community conversations alongside decision makers from a variety of sectors, where issues like community collaboration, economic opportunity, and affordable housing are being discussed.
We have a long way to go in Southern Chester County. Too many remain friendless; too many don’t have someone to call in a time of crisis. Too many are disconnected and we are lonely because we need each other. One doesn’t need a social service program as much as they need an ally, because every journey matters. Our community has signs of hope though, light shining in through drawn blinds, and neighbors pulling each other into circles of friendship.
Read more stories of hope and heartbreak in the Summer 2018 symposium on social isolation here.