My Craigslist Car and the Poverty Cycle

I bought my ’98 Cavalier for just over $1000 on Craigslist. 

This is the first car I can truly call my own; I saved up the money, put in several hours of research, and met with the previous owner in a Dollar General parking lot to exchange my hard-earned cash for a set of wheels. 
When I first got my license, my trial vehicle was our beat up baby-blue family van that eventually stuttered to a permanent stop on a back road in my hometown when I turned 17.  Dad gave me his work truck after that, which was totaled when a middle-aged woman T-boned me on 16th street.  I then acquired a retired police Chevy Impala with the insurance money, and later sold it when my meager bank account began to dwindle. 

I took IndyGo bus 25 from home to work to school and back home for half a year.  I thought of my bus rides as hour-long adventures, prime people watching.  I made friends with the regulars; I became a regular.  However, I grew sick of the hard, plastic seats and the lack of air conditioning in many of the buses.  I hated the way some businessmen and women looked at the bus stop with loathing—some even crossed the street to avoid us.  And I couldn’t help but to feel like a stranger to the people who stood waiting with me.  Here were people who pushed old grocery carts with their belongings around the city.  Here were young mothers nursing their crying babies in the middle of a crowded bus.  Here were middle-aged women with aprons who went to work an hour early every day and left an hour late every evening.  I, on the other hand, am a student from a lower middle-class family who will likely never know the true struggles of a poverty-level life. 

When I bought my Chevy Cavalier, although it was old with high mileage, I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of empowerment—that I was moving up in the world, and that I deserved this car.  I needed it; I wanted to go places on my own time.  I was no longer going to stand riding on that gross bus anymore.

So this weekend when I took my beloved car to the auto shop and they told me the repairs might cost upwards of $800 dollars, I lost it.  I make under poverty-level income as an AmeriCorps VISTA, and that $800 dollars is a full month of payHow can I afford to fix my car and pay my rent?  Groceries?  Utilities?  My phone bill?  Many of my days begin at 8 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. with school and work, and I can’t fathom how a bus will fit into that equation.  Plus, I love my car.  I love the freedom of driving it to my buddy’s place on the weekends, and my favorite picnic spot for lunch.  My mother sent me a text earlier that said, Please tell us how much this will cost.  We can help pay.  In the meantime, we can drive you to and from work. My boyfriend’s family offered to let me drive their extra Ford Focus while my car gets repaired.  Everyone I talked to this weekend offered up their support in one way or another, sometimes at the expense of their own comfort.

My panic subsided this morning as I drove the borrowed Ford Focus to work.  The ride is so smooth, and unlike my Cavalier I didn’t hear the roar of the muffler every time I accelerated.  I won’t have to ride the bus after all.  I am so thankful for the family and friends who will help support me, and for the money that I can eventually save up to buy a nice vehicle.  But in the back of my mind, I think about all the bus-goers who travel to minimum-wage jobs, and who might not have a solid support system.  Where is the fairness in that?  I am lucky enough to have help out of a tough situation because I’m not stuck in the cycle of poverty.  I chose a job that puts me at poverty-level income for a year, but I still have my family to fall back on, my student waivers, my friends and loved ones who are more than willing to lend a hand. 

Here’s the bottom line: I work as a VISTA because I want to decrease the disparity between classes. I know firsthand the struggles of being without a car, and I don’t want to go back.  Many Indianapolis residents have no choice.  

My challenge to readers is this: next time you walk past a bus stop, try not to stigmatize.  Imagine yourself without a vehicle, and with no means of getting your hands on another.  Imagine the lack of freedom that comes with this, the weight of the groceries that you must carry from stop to stop. 

How do you help?  Sometimes a simple smile will do, or any small show of support.  If you find yourself truly passionate about making a change, I recommend looking up AmeriCorps VISTA, whose mission is to break the cycleHere’s a link:

5 Steps to Protect Our Children

A couple of weeks ago, the VISTAs at MCCOY went through Stewards of Children child sexual abuse prevention training.  I ate dinner with my boyfriend the night before, and was surprised to feel the nervous butterflies in my stomach when I talked with him and considered what this training might entail.

“I wonder if it’s going to be anything like the ‘good touch, bad touch’ talk we had in school?”  I remember that day in elementary school well.  Our tight-lipped teachers herded us into a classroom where a guest speaker sat in a rocking chair with two felt dolls at her feet—one boy and one girl.  As a child, I was terrified of both dolls and strangers, so the message was especially resonant for me.

My homeschooled boyfriend was lucky and never had to experience the trauma of sitting in a small room with a stranger who pointed out the “no-go zones” on creepy dolls. 

“My mom just sat down with us and we had a conversation about it,” he said, with no trace of anxiety or discontent with the way he was taught to stay safe from potential harm.

And that’s similar to the format for Stewards of Children; this training is a conversation between adults to learn how best to protect children from sexual abuse.  There are no scare tactics, no strangers, and no felt dolls involved.   Instead, the training “helps provide adults with the capacity and momentum to take action against child sexual abuse.”  In essence, the three-hour session opens up a conversation between people who are invariably responsible for at least one child in their lives, and gives adults the opportunity to talk about, understand, and prevent a semi-taboo issue.  

During training, we were armed with a list of “5 Steps to Protecting Our Children.”  I’m going to give you two of those five steps, and encourage you to attend this training to learn the other three (see how sneaky I am)! 

STEP 1: Learn the Facts of Child Sexual Abuse

It is highly likely that you know a child who has been or is being abused.

Experts estimate that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. This means that in any classroom or neighborhood full of children, there are children who are silently bearing the burden of sexual abuse.

1 in 5 children are sexually solicited while on the Internet.
About 35% of victims are 11 years old or younger.

30 to 40% of children are abused by family members.

As many as 60% are abused by people the family trusts.

STEP 2: Minimize Opportunity for Child Sexual Abuse

Reduce risk. Protect children.

Understand that abusers often become friendly with potential victims and their families, enjoying family activities, earning trust, and gaining time alone with children.

Think carefully about the safety of any isolated, one-on-one settings. Choose group situations when possible.

Set an example by personally avoiding isolated, one-on-one situations with children other than your own.

Monitor children’s Internet use. Offenders use the Internet to lure children into physical contact.

Please visit to learn more about Stewards of Children training and preventative strategies, or visit MCCOY’s webpage to view upcoming trainings in Marion County!

Works Cited:
Steps and Data collected from
Picture from 

Written by: Danielle Guerin, AmeriCorps VISTA
“When I think about education, I feel it’s important that an individual grabs this opportunity. If not, I believe that they will not be prepared for the world around them. Education is a must in a world that is changing every day.
That is one of the most poignant quotes that came out of Real Talk Remix, a youth roundtable discussion, which was held this past October. The event was held in partnership with WFYI’s American Graduate program. 16 youth, from 5thto 12th grade, came together to talk about education and what needed to be changed.
The youth came up with their  three biggest issues in school:
  1. Structure of the education system
  2. Teacher-student communication
  3. Bullying and safety in schools

Attendees of Real Talk Remix had many suggestions for the improvement of their education experience. From concerns with student/teacher/counselor relationships, to student-student bullying issues to the overall structure of curriculum of schools, these youth believe we can do better. The youth who attended the event left with new ideas about what they could do to make their schools better. MCCOY came up with the following next steps:
•The Youth Advocacy Council will incorporate what they heard from peers into their working groups on education reform and bullying. They will advocate on these issues in the coming year through tracking legislation on the topics in the state legislature and hosting “listening sessions” for youth to voice their concerns on the issues of bullying and education reform.
MCCOY will incorporate youth feedback into our 2013 Legislative Prioritiesof education, bullying, and youth violence. Focusing on the following priorities:
  • Embrace a comprehensive evidence-based approach to prevent all forms of peer aggression, including bullying, gangs, dating violence and suicide that provide resources and training to all school personnel and that foster school environments and interactions that promote positive social skill development
  • Re-engage disconnected youth and adults in education and career-focused opportunities

•If you’d like access to the full Real Talk Remix agenda and format to host your own Real Talk, email Danielle Guerin.
To view the full report, go here

New summer VISTA Members

MCCOY is so excited to have two 10-week AmeriCorps VISTA Members serving with us this summer! Krystin Gehrich (left) is a recent graduate of Ohio University (BA Psychology) and Amy Karch (right) is recent graduate of Indiana University (BA International Studies). Both young women are truly impressive and well-poised to change the world! In the past three weeks, they have made significant contributions to MCCOY’s Early Intervention and Prevention Initiative (Krystin) and the Youth Program Quality Assessment (Amy). In the fall, Krystin is heading west to grad school in Montana (yi-haw!) and Amy is currently looking for employment in her fantastic hometown: Indianapolis. So far, I can personally attest to the high quality of her work : ) The VISTAs and I are the only staff members who do not have an office window. These ladies were clever enough to create their own!