OTTUMWA — Thursday morning gave Ottumwa Leadership Academy students a chance to take a closer look at poverty in the community.

Executive Director Hollie Tometich said poverty was not just seeing people struggle with homelessness but struggling to make ends meet.

“If someone loses their job there [at a company], they could very well be facing poverty,” Tometich said. “This could be their neighbor, this could be their brother. This could be them, that all of a sudden life turns in a way they don’t expect.”

To Tometich, it was important to look at poverty in different ways with the chance of expanding their empathy.

“It’s really important for people to understand what they haven’t experienced,” Tometich said, “or get a sneak peek into something they haven’t experienced, builds empathy and understanding. Until you step into it a little bit on your own and try to figure out how I would do this, then you’re actually putting yourself in that situation and build empathy along the way.”

Each student got a scenario ranging from struggling financially or emotionally to domestic violence. They were tasked with asking different organizations’ advice for overcoming their situations and tips on how to help.

Work Force Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Operations Manager Jennifer Endman gave different resources on how a person could handle their situation. For the scenario of a single mother struggling to make ends meet, she suggested that person come to her organization to come up with a budget or suggest other resources to become more self-sufficient.

“We want people to be able to go from point A to point B,” Endman said. “This workshop allowed students to imagine what it would be like to be poor and not take that for granted.”

Like Endman, Assistant Transit Director Mary Kirk appreciated students gaining resources. “I think it’s wonderful that all these different groups can get together and gather information, resources and get into the community.”

Student Debbie Boyer agreed. “This gave me a chance to meet more people and really get to know the services that are available at each of them,” she said. “Everybody is truly in it to help people get back on their feet when they experience a hardship. You can get a lot of services; it was almost like a one-stop shop almost.”

Milestones Area Agency Options Counselor Wendy Thompson also helped students in the scenario become self-sufficient, helping them navigate available resources.

Thompson didn’t just help give advice, but also encouraged students to think about how they would define poverty. For Thompson, it was beyond struggling financially and homelessness.

“Poverty affects the mental state, physical state and emotional state,” Thompson said, “it encompasses everything.” While Thompson mostly gave advice, she thought the session brought out the compassionate side of students.

“I like the saying ‘it takes a village,’” she said. “Poverty should be everyone’s concern. Compassion is in everyone; whether a person is able to pull that out is another question. Experiences can bring out compassion. Teachers deal with their kids facing poverty, doctors help people with poverty. We are supposed to help. When poverty is in your community, it’s everyone’s concern.”

Chiara Romero can be reached at


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