Living in Utopia?

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By Emily Rose Proctor/And anonymous contributor

Over the past few months, those involved in Caring and Sharing of South Walton’s new “Communities of Transformation” (COT) program have been getting to know one another. Some started out as participants, others as volunteers. Everyone has been learning that distinctions between the “haves” and “have-nots” are not what they thought.

Recently an exercise “Step to the Center” invited all to self-reflect and be vulnerable. They learned that MANY have struggled or had family members who struggled with making ends meet, addiction, mental illness, incarceration, and divorce.  Some have feelings of inadequacy and find it difficult to trust, and some have unhealthy perfectionism, workaholism or need to be in control. To many, their faith is most important, and yet some have also had periods of doubt, anger at God, or outright unbelief. Some participants have master’s degrees, while other volunteers never graduated from college.

On June 25th, all will  “graduate” into “Phase 2” of COT, where they will be matched together in small groups of ongoing support. Participants will be invited to share their stories with the group. But one brave soul was willing to share her story now:

Living in South Walton is a privilege for many. It hosts a wide array of fine dining, boutique shops, beautiful beaches, and very affluent people. Can such a Utopia have a dark side? It can and it does. The sad reality is there are many impoverished families residing in this very unique community. Yet, for the most part, we remain invisible. 

Living here is a constant reminder that I will never live up to this area’s standards. If you saw how I lived, compared to someone just a couple of miles away, you might believe I’m living in a third world country. 

I am a single mother to a wonderful child. My son and I live in a house that should probably be condemned. We live with no heat, no air conditioning, and undrinkable water. There’s faulty wiring in the walls that have started small fires and fuse boxes that look homemade and are 40 years old. This is our reality, but, believe it or not, my neighbors have it worse. So I can’t complain. I’m living in Utopia, right?

Perhaps you’re wondering why I don’t move? Unfortunately, you need funds to move, and now with a housing shortage, there is no affordable housing. Trying to better my situation makes me feel like a gerbil running on a wheel in its cage, constantly spinning, but never moving forward. 

I am fortunate that I didn’t grow up in poverty. I am disabled. I worked enough to qualify for disability and not just social security. I’m grateful that I receive the monetary help and that my son and I have insurance. And yet $1100 of monthly income in Utopia is not enough. I feel beyond impoverished, especially in this community. 

Recently, I came across a program in South Walton called Communities of Transformation. I thought I’m at this dead end, what could I possibly lose? Plus dinner is provided every week? Absolutely nothing!!!  It’s a program designed to give people a hand up and not a hand out. But for me, it’s so much more. 

It’s given me more self awareness and a sense of hope. The wonderful volunteers have made me feel worthy. The changes I’ve made and the blessings that have happened since I started this program are nothing less than miraculous. 

Perhaps I’ve always been living in Utopia—I just could never see the beauty while living in the ugly. This is my story and this is my truth, and it’s constantly evolving into a better place. A place I never imagined. Perhaps Utopia?

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