Our Eyes Were Opened

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What Does Gentrifying Mean?

As I take people on a tour through Greenville, I use the term gentrifying. I often need to explain what that means. I’m challenged because gentrifying has both good news and bad news about it. I’ve developed the term gentle-fying to expand what I’m talking about. Both gentrifying and gentle-fying look the same at first. Homes with repair issues are purchased and refurbished. People new to the neighborhood move into the home. And eventually with both, the value of the properties in the neighborhood rise and some people can lose the homes where they have lived for decades. This last point does not have to be inevitable but usually happens, sometimes just more slowly with gentle-fying. Below is how I distinguish between gentrifying and gentle-fying.

Gentrifying vs. Gentle-fying a Neighborhood

Gentrifying:  House is purchased for income building

Gentle-fying: House is purchased for neighborhood building

Gentrifying: Security is based on locks, gates, and systems

Gentle-fying: Security is based on friendships and watching out for each other

Gentrifying: Long-time residents may not be welcome

Gentle-fying: Long-time residents are cherished

Gentrifying: Diversity is threatening

Gentle-fying: Diversity is embraced

Gentrifying: My way is the right way

Gentle-fying: Our way is the right way

Gentrifying: The past is obscured as not important

Gentle-fying: The past is celebrated as part of the heritage

Gentrifying: Us vs. Them

Gentle-fying: It’s all Us


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Myth Busters

Compiled by Beth Templeton, 3.30.18

Based on Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, Mariner Books, imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015

  1. Not having money has nothing to do with having hope.
  • The absence of cash can equal the absence of hope.
  1. The poverty level is dropping. Our community and economy is growing. The upward trend will continue.
  • In the fifteen years prior to 2011, the number of households living on income of no more than $2 a day doubled to 1.5 million households. (1 out of every 5 children)
  • Unless Greenville does something about its housing crisis for lower income households and transportation needs for everyone, the community will strangle itself.
  • 12% of children under 18 in SC lived in extreme poverty in 2016. Extreme poverty is defined as 50% or less of the poverty guideline. (Family of four poverty guideline in $24,600)
  1. Most people who live on $2 a day or less are people of color and/or single.
  • Almost half are white.
  • Almost one-third are headed by married couples.
  • In SC almost one half of babies born are born to single mothers.
  1. People don’t have to be poor because they receive government benefits.
  • One way the poor pay for benefits is with their time. (Poverty Simulation responses.)
  • The EITC requires that a person worked at least part of the year.
  • Supports such as SNAP (food stamps) are not cash and cannot pay the bills.
  • Only about 25% of income-eligible families get any kind of rental subsidy.
  1. The changes of the 1990s when welfare was “killed” resulted in fewer people living in poverty.
  • There are indeed fewer numbers of people using welfare but that does not mean they are not living in poverty. The number of homeless children in schools increased from 656,000 (2004-2005) to 1.3 million (2013-2014).
  1. People who live on $2-a-day or less do not work.
  • 70% of children who experienced this level of poverty lived with an adult who held a job at some point during the year (2012).
  1. If “they’d just get a job” then everything would be okay.
  • Less than 10% of the jobs in the US are in manufacturing (12 million in 2012). Compare that with 15 million in retail and 14 million in the leisure and hospitality industry.
  • Low wage earners feel they need at a minimum: 1) Full time hours. 2) Predictable schedules.  3) $12-$13 an hour. $15 would be fabulous. NOTE: The average renter wage in Greenville County is $12.23. The hourly self-sufficiency wage for a household of one adult, one preschooler, and one school age child in 2016 was $18.32). 4) Safe working conditions.
  • Full time work would provide such “extras” as health insurance, vacation days, sick/personal days.
  1. People who are poor just don’t have any motivation. They choose to be poor.
  • Ways people get by: doing hair, babysitting, selling meals, cleaning homes, fencing stolen goods, selling plasma, selling drugs or sex, private charities, under-the-table income-generating scheme, selling SNAP, using public spaces. NOTE the use of multiple “jobs.”
  • Network for Southern Economic Mobility discovered that a child in Greenville County has a nearly 70% chance of staying in the lowest two quintiles of the economic ladder.
  • “To put it simply, not having cash basically ensures that you have to break the law and expose yourself to humiliation in order to survive…The line between good and bad blurs even further, especially in the eyes of a child. “ (page 154)
  1. Solving poverty is a personal, not governmental problem.
  • The authors suggest that ending $2-a-day poverty requires: 1) all deserve the opportunity to work 2) parents should be able to raise their children in a place of their own 3)not every parent will be able to work, or work all the time, but parents’ well-being, and the well-being of their children, should nonetheless be insured. (p 159)
  • Equality of Opportunity Project reports that the 5 factors keeping people stuck in Greenville County are: residential segregation, income inequality, local school quality, family structure, and social capital. Other factors are structural racism, public policies, cultural messages and media, institutional policies, transportation, and the criminal justice system.
  1. People who live in poverty do not adhere to our American values.
  • David Ellwood in Poor Support claims the basic values are: 1) autonomy of the individual 2) virtue of work  3)primacy of the family  4) desire for and sense of community.  People who live in poverty adhere more or less to these same values.


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Tribute to a Magnolia Tree

Every morning when I wake up, I open my curtains and crawl back into bed to read, write, or simply let my mind wander. As I do these things, I look at the magnolia tree outside my window. Because of my sight angle, I can see only leaves just above the roofline of the screened porch. I can not see the trunk near the ground.

The tree is a magnificent tree. It is huge with a trunk diameter of eleven feet. It is an old tree, likely eighty to ninety years—the age of the house. Because the tree hugs the screened porch on the back of the house, the porch is about ten degrees cooler in the summer than the rest of the yard. The tree also often protects the porch from rain and wind.

The tree has its challenges, however. It drops things three seasons of the year. In the spring it drops its leaves…certainly not all of them but it’s a large tree with lots of old leaves to shed. Once the leaves begin to slow down, then the furry protective coating of the buds and the flower petals fall. Next comes the seed pods in autumn, called grenades by energetic little boys who love to use them as ammunition. To enjoy being in the yard requires raking and raking and raking to remove leaves that can become breeding ground for mosquitoes. Raking next gathers flower petals that are slippery, slimy, and dangerous after getting rained on making casually walking in the yard dangerous. The final raking of the year involves getting up “grenades” that provide ample opportunity for turning an ankle.

But for all the complaining about the challenges of the magnolia tree, it reminds me constantly of God’s love and care for me and indeed for the world. The tree’s branches that embrace everyone in its presence remind me of God’s love and grace and care. Just as the tree shelters birds and squirrels, it also shelters me. I immensely dislike the squirrels in the tree because of their propensity to get into the attic and make homes and families there. But that’s God…calling me to love those who aggravate me or threaten my sense of security.

The tree is steadfast. It has stood and grown taller and taller through the decades. It was willing to shelter boys determined to climb to its top and build a treehouse. It kept them safe even when I feared for their lives. The tree withstands heavy winds, rains, and snows. It is a constant.

The tree also demands my attention and care. I cannot ignore it because it drops leaves, petals, and pods. God, too, demands that I pay attention to my relationship with the Holy One and what is going on around me. My attention pulls me to get involved. God calls for me to take action to make sure that others are not harmed by what’s going on in life. When I don’t rake or find someone to do the raking, my neighbors can suffer the aggravation of leaves in their yard or and even illness caused by mosquitoes. God, this God of justice whom I worship, seeks the same from me and all God’s followers. Care for others. Take steps to nurture justice. Pay attention. Love God.

And the tree overloads my senses with the scent of the big, plate-sized flowers in the summer. The love of God can overwhelm me, too, with its headiness, its beauty, its surprise appearance when not expected.

I love looking out my window every morning and being reminded of God’s love when I look at this big old magnificent tree. I don’t always appreciate it and what it offers for my life. And that I must confess is true of my relationship with God, as well.

Not everyone appreciates the magnolia tree. They see it as simply a nuisance. But this tree reminds that life is bigger than I expect and that God is with me, day in and day out. Alleluia!

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Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc. 2017


Areas Where OEWO, Inc, Events Happened:

  • GEOGRAPHIC: Greenville, Rock Hill, York, Liberty, Spartanburg, Greensboro, Columbia, Clemson, and Chautauqua County, New York.
  • GREENVILLE HEALTH SYSTEM: pediatric residents, Emergency Department residents, first year medical students, Med Ex, Cancer Institute, and Nurse-Family Partnership.
  • COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES: Furman, Bob Jones University, and Greenville Tech. Beth also taught an eight-week course on the Psychology of Poverty at Furman’s OLLI.
  • SCHOOLS: Liberty Middle, Greenville Middle, Fisher Middle, Monaview Elementary, Alexander Elementary, and Chautauqua County, NY, School Board Association.
  • CIVIC GROUPS: Leadership Greer, Leadership Greenville, AmeriCorps, Junior League of Columbia, NC Public Housing Directors, and Greenville Partnership in Philanthropy.
  • BUSINESSES: Don Pilzer Law Firm, and JM Robbins.
  • CONGREGATIONS: Taylors First Baptist, Greenville Universalist-Unitarian Fellowship, First Baptist-Greenville, First Baptist-Clemson, Downtown Presbyterian, Fountain Inn Presbyterian, John Knox Presbyterian, Fourth Presbyterian, and Buncombe Street UMC. Beth also preached in seven congregations a total of 12 times.

Book Highlights

  • The Christmas Strawberry and Other Stories came out just in time for Christmas.
  • Conversations on the Porch and More Conversations on the Porch continues to be used for women’s Bible studies.
  • Angelika’s Journal is used by Buncombe Street UMC in their Sprouts Sunday evening programs. Teachers use the book for book study groups and workshops.
  • Loving Our Neighbor is a basic resource for churches involved in poverty work.
  • Understanding Poverty in the Classroom continues to be a resource around the country.


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The Christmas Strawberry

I’m excited to announce that my newest book is now available on Amazon and at Fiction Addiction in Greenville, SC. The Christmas Strawberry and Other Stories is a collection of stories and poems that reflects on the inherent contrasts of Advent and Christmas: joy and sorrow, traditions and just getting through, religious emphases and secular aspects, loneliness and love, wealth and poverty. Some people live more on one side than the other but in reaching out, all our lives are enriched.

I hope you will join me at a book signing on December 4, 5 pm-7 pm at Fiction Addiction, 1175 Woods Crossing Rd #5, Greenville, SC 29607.

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Is Donald Trump an Abbot?

How timely is this?

Thomas Merton, October 20, 1962
“People demand that the government ‘interfere’ in nothing, just pour money into the armament industry and provide a strong police for ‘security,’ But stay out of everything else! No interference in medicine, mental health, education, etc., etc. Never was a country at once shrewder and less wise–shrewd in nonessentials and lunatic in essentials.
I have no doubt the world feels toward America the way many monks feel toward an abbot who wants to exercise total power, to receive unquestioning obedience on the basis of slogans about which he himself ceased thinking twenty-five years ago, and who above all else wants to be loved, so that he may never, at any time, to himself, seem to be exercising power, or loving it. Nobody denies him the power he has: few give him the love that he needs in order to be safe and content. And therefore he uses his power, from time to time, in unpredictable, arbitrary, and absurd ways in which he defends his own ends and makes everybody miserable.”

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Hidden Voices (#6 in a 6-part series)

One other group of people whose voices are hidden are those who deal with severe mental illness and addiction issues. We’d like for people with mental health issues and severe addictions to stay hidden. They are scary to us. They also are some of the biggest users of community services. They tend to go to the emergency department at the hospital a lot. An average visit costs $2100. They tend to get arrested a lot. The state of South Carolina spends over $19,000 a year to incarcerate someone.  They tend to use agency services a lot. We may only hear their voices of delusion while their voices of truth are often hidden.

Greenville has one Housing First model of shelter and that is Reedy Place, on Hudson Street, right beside new condominiums that are selling for $600,000 to $800,000 depending on the number of bedrooms. The residents of Reedy Place must have severe addiction and/or mental illness. The idea of a Housing First residence is that when someone with a severe addiction or mental illness receives housing first and feels safe and secure, then he or she is more likely to deal with the issues of the mental illness or addiction. Reedy Place has 23 one-bedroom units. The first building had 15 units. Greenville Mental Health staff followed those original 15 people. Last I heard, five are still living there. The second group of five moved to better places, a couple of those were to nursing homes but they could not have gotten in had they not been in Reedy Place. Of the last five, one died and they lost track of the other four. That’s a 66 percent success rate.

There’s a large Housing First shelter in Charlotte. The universities there received permission to pull the medical records of the first year’s shelter residents for the year prior to coming into the shelter. Those residents’ medical bills totaled over $2 million. During the first year of residency, the medical bills of those same people totaled just over $700,000.

The state of Utah decided to go totally housing first and the last official number I saw was that they had reduced their homelessness by 75 percent.

Hearing the voices of our neighbors is challenging but we must if we want to be a community that models the God we worship and the faith we proclaim.  There are others whose voices are hidden. I hope we all will being listening.