Author Inspires Hope
A collaborative book reading and discussion with a culminating author event has proven to be a powerful and life-changing experience for the women and men served by educational, social service, and correctional organizations in communities around the state.
Over the past six years VHC has sponsored the Welfare Brat project centered on Mary Childers’s memoir, which describes her childhood growing up in multi-generational poverty. Mary endured a childhood often marked by violence and neglect; through her struggle she pursued the dream of a different life, eventually achieving the college education she desired. Her story led her to write a memoir, Welfare Brat, a poignant narrative that has received high praise from both reviewers and everyday readers — including many in Vermont.
Welfare Brat recounts Childers’s life of childhood hardship in the Bronx, where she grew up on welfare as one of seven children in a house with no phone and little to eat. Childers’s determination to transcend generational poverty ultimately led her out of welfare, to college and an eventual PhD in literature. Many readers and critics have hailed her book for its honesty and clarity in relating her struggle, both internal and external, to break the cycle of poverty.
“I thought Welfare Brat was amazing and well-written and can help and inspire people from all over,” noted one program participant. “I like how engaging the discussion was and I loved what Mary had to say. She was real and open and doesn’t sugarcoat life.”
Groups have the opportunity to meet and visit with Childers, who today lives in New Hampshire and works as ombudsperson at Dartmouth College. Dr. Childers reads from Welfare Brat, speaks about her life and the process of writing, and signs copies of her book. Taking part in small and large discussion groups, participants have the opportunity to make connections between their lives, the book, and each other. By making connections between their lives and Mary's, participants are inspired and empowered to move toward their own personal, educational, and employment goals.
“I learned that being on welfare isn’t what everyone thinks it is,” another participant said. “Bad things can happen, but at the end something good can come out of it.”
Since 2007 (the book was published in 2006) VHC has offered ten Welfare Brat discussion programs that involved 51 community organizations in 19 communities statewide. Nearly 1,400 books have been distributed and read, and over 460 people have attended author events with Mary Childers. The programs have continued to draw robust participation, providing a forum where women and men can discuss the challenges poverty poses to families and children, and how they can rise above those challenges. Childers’s story shows that they can.
Annotated list of recommended further reading to complement Welfare Brat