Familiar worries shared at Glades Initiative’s table talks

BELLE GLADE — Karis Engle, president of the Glades Initiative Inc. health services agency for far western Palm Beach County, was very pleased with her agency, staff and clients’ participation in On the Table roundtable talks conducted across Southeast Florida Oct. 23-24.

They intended to host several people of various ethnicities for the issues discussions over a few lunch tables, she said, inviting their clients and anyone in the community who was interested in airing their community concerns — but ended up with dozens of enthusiastic participants filling the room with conversations, eager to be heard.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Courtesy of Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin counties Participants fill out questionnaires during the “On the Table” discussions hosted by The Glades Initiative Inc.

“Our problem really was facilitators, and we needed some large tables because we had more people even than what we thought,” Ms. Engle said. There was a pair of big tables with Spanish speakers, one with a dozen or so Haitians chatting in Creole and another couple where people were talking in English.
Many of the Glades Initiative’s workers are bilingual because of the wide ethnic mix that makes up the region’s population. “We had our staff facilitate at the tables. It’s really meant to be informal, just to have someone help guide the conversation, which is meant to be organic,” she explained.
“There were some questions that were floated around on the tables to help spark conversation and help get people thinking about the community and things like that.”

It turned out that regardless of the language differences, many issues people were citing are either interrelated or very similar.

“These are some of the same issues we hear often from anyone living in the Glades. One of the things is affordable housing. Another is jobs — jobs that pay a living wage. Some people just say jobs; other people say, ‘There’s lots of jobs; they just don’t pay enough to live off of.’ In fact, that’s a quote from one of the participants. ‘There is a lot of work here. It doesn’t pay well, but there is a lot of work.’

“I might get in trouble for this … (but it) was quoted from a client; those are not my words,” Ms. Engle related.

“Some others commented about teachers in the schools, wanting to have teachers being more committed to educating; fewer substitutes and more actual teachers in the schools; social activities for the youth; a safe and clean environment. ‘Safe’ came up a couple of different times. A number of our clients live down in the heart of Belle Glade, and they really don’t feel safe — too worried about getting shot,” she went on.

“More agencies and organizations that educate families about services that are available — that’s one of the things that we do do, but they’re saying we need more of that. And then one also mentioned the need for bilingual staff in local offices.” More English classes, too, were cited as a crucial component to advancement. “While we know there are some organizations that do offer them, it’s not enough, they’re saying,” Ms. Engle said.

“I’m also part of Healthier Glades, which is a Palm Healthcare initiative out here, bringing lots of residents here, that one’s more about resident engagement as well, and we recently through that group have had conversations in Belle Glade and in Pahokee, and many of these same topics came up in those conversations, too, so it was interesting to see the echoing of many similar things.

“When we talked about it in our staff meeting, two different of our facilitators commented, both the Creole speakers and Spanish speakers, that people at their tables didn’t feel like they had a voice and … a way to change anything; and especially for our immigrants, whether they’re here documented or undocumented, it doesn’t really matter. If they’re not citizens, they don’t vote, so they can’t vote,” Ms. Engle noted. “And that also makes them feel more challenged that there’s not a whole lot they can do to push for change. And they were also feeling like people weren’t asking them what they thought. They were really appreciative for the opportunity to talk about these things.”

She said that surveys of participants were conducted through the sponsoring Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties and the Knight Foundation, which were available online but also were provided for the Glades-area participants on paper because “some of our clients aren’t the most literate.”

From those, summaries will be provided for the participating public and private agencies, which included the Early Learning Coalition and BRIDGES at Belle Glade (a program of the Children’s Services Council). The responses will be sortable by ZIP code but remain anonymous, to enable targeting of organizational responses to the public concerns expressed.

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