Binghamton locals who are taking on the fight against poverty united to discuss how to make a difference.
David Campbell, chair and associate professor of the public administration department, facilitated a forum that featured three panelists who discussed how being active leaders in the community helped people overcome the challenges of poverty.
The audience, composed of faculty, students and organizers, wanted to know about what motivated the panelists into getting involved with community service.
Alan Thornton became the CEO of the Rescue Mission after starting as a volunteer and serving the mission for 19 years.
“We are passionate about ending homelessness and hunger. It’s all about mission,” Thornton said. “I believe that we can do it, and I see it happen every day when people walk through our doors”
Deborah Thorpe, program director of All Saints Soup Kitchen, said that she spent her childhood watching her parents volunteer frequently and it became natural for her.
“Fairness is something we should strive for. I know life isn’t fair but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to do what we can to bring some fairness to life,” Thorpe said.
Larry Parham, upstate campaigns manager of Citizen Action of New York, said he fights discrimination and campaigns for policies that would address economic, social, racial and environmental justice.
“I organize because it’s in my nature. I can’t watch people who have less in the world and not do anything about it,” Parham said.
All Saints Episcopal Church Soup and Sandwich Saturdays, organized by Thorpe, provides meals every Saturday at noon and allows people who wouldn’t go out at night to have a safe place to enjoy a meal and socialize with others. Thorpe said that recent cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — a decrease from anywhere to $11 per person and $36 per family of four per month — will likely increase the amount of people coming to the soup kitchen.
“We help people economically and socially. We serve them like a restaurant with china, silverware and flowers so people know that they have a worth,” Thorpe said.
Thornton described a personal account of how a man who lived in a dumpster overcame his circumstances and now lives independently. The same man began writing affordable housing grants and wrote a $1.1 million grant to rehabilitate 55-57 Whitney Avenue to Whitney Place, which is where the current Rescue Mission is located.
“We cultivate opportunities. By creating programs that help people live on their own, we’ve placed 544 people in permanent housing, 10 times more than what we’ve done in previous years,” Thornton said.
Despite all of their achievements in the community and in the fight against poverty, the panelists have each had disillusioned experiences that greatly impacted them.
Parham described his biggest disillusionment as the reluctance of progressive and liberal individuals to get involved in change.
“People want a just society but don’t want to get involved. We live in a society that discriminates against basic human rights,” he said.
According to Parham, it’s unrealistic to think that a group of people will come together and spontaneously create a movement. It starts by convincing one person every day — then at the end of the month, he said, there will be 30 people willing to make a change.
“We want to align our systems in Syracuse, Binghamton and Ithaca to make sure that there were no barriers that prevented people from living in this country,” Thornton said.
After hearing about their effort, the panelists encouraged students to take an active role in the community because they can have a huge impact.
“We have students from all different backgrounds come together to share ideas with each other that shows who they are. The best way to fight discrimination is to share different viewpoints in a social setting,” Thorpe said.
Thornton believes that students should find their passion, get involved and see where it leads them.
“The younger generation has the world open to them with endless possibilities,” Parham said. “Start doing something now.”
After the panel, students were allowed to speak with the panelists individually and do some networking.
“Seeing how everyone is very oriented around the community and knowing the depth of how people are helping is very encouraging,” said Avra Dugan, a junior majoring in the Decker School of Nursing. “It emphasizes the immediacy of the issue.”
Allison Alden, director of the Center for Civic Engagement, was very pleased with the success of the forum and hopes to sponsor more themed panels in the future that spread awareness about different issues within the community.
“It’s about how people engage about addressing the issue,” Alden said. “There will always be poverty and if this is where someone’s passions lies, then they will have better ideas on how to do that.”