College students minimize costs by sacrificing health, future investments

Joe Helmer at MU's Plaza 900 Dinning Hall Thursday, July 15, 2015. Helmer has worked at the dining hall since just before winter break. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Joe Helmer at MU’s Plaza 900 Dinning Hall Thursday, July 15, 2015. Helmer has worked at the dining hall since just before winter break. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Story written by Nick Kelly.

COLUMBIA — Cici Jones did everything she could to reduce her apartment’s $150 monthly electrical bill.

She slept with two to three comforters so she didn’t need to turn on the heat until the winter became unbearably cold. Jones also used lamps instead of ceiling lights for lighting.

Through her efforts, Jones reduced her monthly electrical bill to $70, which was the only way she could afford to live in her apartment.

“It came to the point where I realized that I would need to make extreme sacrifice to pay the bills,” Jones said.

Jones’ situation is common among college students who become frugal not because they want to — but because they have to.

Jones, a senior communications major at MU, works two jobs year-round and sometimes three jobs: at Plaza 900 Dining Hall, a call center and a work-study job.

Because of her busy schedule that keeps her away from home from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., her eating schedule suffers.

“I can’t eat healthy often,” she said. “I might eat one time a day and not till 10 or 11 (a.m.).”

She said she eats twice a day, if she is lucky.

Eating healthy also wasn’t much of an option for Mackenzie Rook, an MU senior history major. Her meals often consisted of food she found at fraternity parties, such as fruit rollups. Rook also frequently ate macaroni and cheese because of its convenience and how long she could make it last.

“It’s good the first time you reheat it,” Rook said. “It’s not good the second time. Then you start looking at your life and thinking, ‘Is this really worth it?’”

Her eating habits, which also included eating rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, were among the reasons she moved back in with her parents.

She didn’t like her living situation.

During her first year of college, Rook wanted to live in the dorm. Then, she moved to an apartment, thinking the move would solve everything.

She returned to her parents’ home by Thanksgiving of her sophomore year and has lived there since.

The reason for the frequent moving?

Rook didn’t like being poor and realized she lacked money for basic items such as toilet paper and detergent. She never bought items such as those before because her parents always provided them for her and her brother, Spenser, a sophomore physics major at MU.

Add on rent and sorority dues, and Rook quickly found out sometimes she wouldn’t have enough money for the basics.

“I would have zero dollars and still need toilet paper,” Rook said.

Rook’s desperation ultimately forced her to become a bit of a thief.

“I’d come home and steal toilet paper out of my house,” Rook said. “I would bring my backpack home and pretend to do homework in a quiet spot, but I’d actually steal toilet paper.”

When Rook didn’t rob the family toilet paper stash, she found a new appreciation for the food in her house.

“She stood at (our) pantry and said, ‘There’s so much food,’” said Mary Rook, her mother.

From Goldfish crackers to pretzels and ice cream, MacKenzie Rook couldn’t help but look at her parents’ kitchen in awe.

“(Seeing) all the food I didn’t pay for was so beautiful,” she said.

Through her first three years of college, MacKenzie Rook found a new appreciation for everyday necessities. She’s not the only one to experience a shift in monetary mindset.

If given several thousand dollars a year ago, Joe Helmer would have bought a new car. An MU sophomore mathematics major, Helmer would prefer to invest that money because of his new fears.

“I’m afraid of running out of money,” Helmer said. “(I’m also afraid of) not being able to buy food and not being able to afford the rest of my education.”

Establishing Missouri residency is one way some MU students can afford their education. Through the program, out-of-state students pay about $25,500 per year, according to MU.

It comes with more sacrifice for out-of-state students.

They are required to stay in Missouri for all but 14 days from the end of the spring semester to the beginning of the fall semester, according to MU residency requirements. Out-of-state costs are about $40,000 per year.

Forced to stay in Missouri to get in-state tuition, Minnesota native Micah Schiff questions whether it is worth it.

“It’s really hard to stay away,” Schiff said. “Staying here for the summer, I didn’t get to see my friends back home.”

Sacrifice is a common theme among college students, but it is also prevalent for their parents.

Mary Rook and her husband, Terry, moved to a smaller house when their two children went off to college. The Rooks have four cars, each more than 10 years old and with more than 100,000 miles.

Traveling is also less frequent for the Rooks, who typically take at most one family trip a year.

Despite the changes that come with having two children in college, Mary Rook appreciates what she has.

“We do have four cars, we do run the air conditioner and we do have heat,” she said.

Although Mackenzie Rook moved in to her parents’ home during college, Cici Jones will move in with her parents once she graduates next year because it eliminates her need to worry about bills.

Before she went to college, Jones never thought she would move back home, but she realizes it is her best option.

“I definitely never wanted to go back to live with my parents, but I know it would be the most cost efficient,” she said.

Similar to the experience of reducing her electrical bill, Jones realizes that she will need a new approach when handling her money — she won’t get to do what she wants; she will do what she has to.

“The cost of college in general has changed everything,” Jones said.

Early investment in children earns dividends

20150714_SCHOOLS_AV_01Story written by Emily Adams.

COLUMBIA – Columbia resident Amanda Crawford expected her child to learn the ABCs at preschool but was surprised to discover her daughter had a talent for math – and a budding love for learning.

Crawford said her daughter, now 5 years old, didn’t go to daycare as a toddler. Columbia’s Title I preschool, which she began attending at age 3, was her first real exposure to other children.

“She was either with Mom or Dad,” Crawford said. “Going to preschool helped her pick up on social cues from other kids.”

The early exposure to education isn’t a guarantee that Crawford’s daughter will be successful in school, but it increases the odds in her favor, said Mary Rook, Columbia Public School’s preschool director.

“If they’re successful in preschool they’re more likely to be successful in kindergarten,” she said. “They’re more likely to be successful in 3rd grade. They’re more likely to be successful in high school.”

It’s an opportunity Crawford said she would not have been able to afford for her daughter if not for Columbia’s Title I preschool program, which served more than 620 kids in the past year.

Funding for the program comes from the federal government and covers full tuition at twenty-six Columbia classrooms. Annual funding is based on the number of students in the district who qualify for free or reduced price lunches and is supplied in hopes that students will meet state standards.

Community support for the program was reflected by voters’ approval of a recent bond issue that will pay for a new preschool building, due to break ground this month, Rook said. The building will host 10 preschool classes and seven early childhood classes in addition to special education and therapy services.

Students are not the only ones who benefit from the Title I program, which also seeks to support low-income student’s families. Fran Grant, a preschool teacher at Battle High School, teaches four days a week. The fifth day, she meets with parents.

“On Fridays we conduct mostly family visits. We bring education activities and materials for the family to use at home. We also discuss behavior, family situations, and developmental questions” said Grant, who also introduces parents to programs offering affordable food and clothes if they are in need.

In the classroom Grant teaches a “Golden Triangle” of language, social, and self-help skills that will prepare her students for kindergarten.

“(Elementary) school is a very different thing. It moves fast and has a lot of transitions. The kids have a kindergarten teacher, a music teacher, an art teacher, and many other adult staff who direct them throughout their day” she said. “By helping our students develop strong language social and self-help skills, they can be more successful in their new school setting.”

Crawford’s daughter, one of Grant’s former students, attended her first formal class this year in summer school. Crawford said her daughter wasn’t as excited about summer school as she had been about preschool, but picked up concepts much faster.

“She is really good at math and is even starting to pick up on words and sounds,” she said.

Rook, the preschool director, said the Title I program has expanded significantly since it began with a single classroom. But it still is not available to everyone.

To be eligible, low-income families must complete a screening at the Title I office at Eugene Field School in Columbia. The screening assesses the child’s development.

“The children who have the highest need developmentally, that’s who we offer preschool to first,” Rook said.

Even with free tuition, some families can’t take advantage of Title I schools because they don’t have transportation. Federally funded preschool programs Head Start and Title I together only cover about a third of low income families, said John Wright, a former state representative from Columbia.

Wright co-sponsored House Bill 1689, which goes into effect this school year, as an attempt to help school districts cover attendance gaps in preschools.

“In the first year only a subset of schools, those with unaccredited status, can qualify for funding under the bill. In the second year funding is expanded further to provisionally-accredited districts,” he said, explaining that unaccredited districts are prioritized so students can improve to meet state standards.

Rook, the preschool director, said funds spent preparing children for school save money down the road, reducing the likelihood that children will end up in jail or need other social services.

“For every $5 you put in early childhood you get $10 or $15 back,” she said. “We are saving money on prison beds by investing in children.”

MU student struggles to balance school, work and live within budgets

Story written by Daniel Perreault.

COLUMBIA — During her classes McKenzie Lockett may look like an average MU senior studying psychology.

She listens to music with headphones as she walks down the street wearing sunglasses. Her life outside lecture halls and labs tells a far different tale.  Lockett works at a clothing store in downtown Columbia, a research center on campus and at a local crisis center. Lockett works 25 to 35 hours each week. 

Although the amount of hours she works may vary depending on the week, one thing remains certain. Lockett’s busy work schedule leaves little time for anything else.

“It’s very hard to balance work, school and my social life,” she said. “I am more devoted to my work than most college kids,” Lockett said. 

If all that isn’t enough to keep Lockett busy, for the past year she has worked on an unpaid research project. Lockett is studying post traumatic stress symptoms in college students and how they affect the way they are able to find meaning in things such as religion.

Not everyone can handle it as well as Lockett. Cavill Thompson, an MU junior, works at a Kohl’s in Columbia on top of his job in the Army ROTC. Thompson said he struggles to handle his jobs and school. 

“Most nights I get very little sleep,” he said. “But it’s what you have to do to make it by.”

Throughout her time at MU, Lockett has learned to be grateful for everything that has. Lockett has a friend who went to college with a nearly identical situation, but Lockett got a couple of scholarships from MU.

Although the scholarship money was not much, it was the difference between the life she lives today and dropping, which her friend did after one semester.  

Lockett said her story isn’t anything new on the MU campus because many students she knows work multiple jobs. 

MU Campus Dining Services runs the nine dining halls on campus and follows the university policy that prevents students from working more than 28 hours in a week. Tony Soots, an MU senior who works at one of the dining halls, said that because of this cap, “a lot of students have to work a second job.” 

Local organization reduces burden of health care

The Rain offices in Columbia, July 15, 2015. Rain was founded in the early 90s as a faith based organization to provide care for people dying of AIDS. The organization now provides housing assistance and case management services for HIV patients in 62 counties in Missouri. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

The Rain offices in Columbia, July 15, 2015. Rain was founded in the early 90s as a faith based organization to provide care for people dying of AIDS. The organization now provides housing assistance and case management services for HIV patients in 62 counties in Missouri. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Story written by Breyanah Graham.

COLUMBIA — Because of the financial burden caused by the expensive cost of her health care, retired teacher Samantha Jones has lost faith in the health care system.

“I pay $500 a month out of pocket for my health care that is not covered by my insurance,” Jones said. “It’s not affordable. You have other things, and if you are paying four, five hundred a month it’s so hard, especially for people that don’t have a lot.”

Jones is one of the many people in the U.S. who don’t have the health care coverage. Her insurance has coverage gaps, leaving her with high medical bills.

“You either have insurance or you don’t,” Jones said. “We have so many people that need medical help. They have insurances that they can’t afford, bills from doctors. It’s a problem everywhere.”

With the passing of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, more low-income Americans are able to get affordable and quality health insurance. “The percentage of working-age adults who are uninsured has dropped from 18 percent to 13.4 percent,” according to the latest edition of The Commonwealth Fund’s Affordable Care Act Tracking Survey recorded in May. These numbers reflect that the Affordable Care Act coverage is helping many people that could not have previously afforded health care.

However, while the Affordable Care Act has made insurance affordable for many people, its benefits have not been accessible for everyone. Under law, states are allowed to decide whether to expand Medicaid to people who are not eligible for its coverage. For people such as Jones who do not qualify for Medicaid or government aid, this means that the majority of the cost of their health care has to come out of pocket, which can cause a serious financial burden.

Cale Mitchell, the executive director for Rain-Central Missouri, has seen the burden firsthand. Rain is a nonprofit aid service organization that works with low-income individuals with HIV, Hepatitis, and sexually transmitted diseases.

“Income inequality and health care inequality go hand in hand,” Mitchell said. “When they come to us, they have other needs that need to be met besides health care, like housing and education. It’s like the chicken and the egg for them. Which one comes first?”

For low-income individuals who are living with HIV/AIDs, not being able to qualify for government funding is even more troubling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the estimated lifetime cost of treating HIV is $379,668. With the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, a full-time minimum wage employee making the federal wage only earns $15,080 annually, not even half the cost of treating HIV annually.

Fortunately for individuals who have limited access to health care, there are places like Rain that specialize in helping people at risk for, or infected with, STDs and other potentially life-threatening diseases.

With the help of funding from Ryan White Health Care, Rain has spent the last 25 years helping people with HIV/AIDS get affordable health care.

“Many more people that have HIV/AIDs are able to be insured now, but there are many people who fall through the cracks,” said Mitchell. “For those that are HIV positive, by utilizing federal dollars, we sent them to doctors and help them get proper treatment.“

For people with HIV/AIDs and other potentially-life threatening diseases, not being able to get proper health care can be detrimental to their health.

“It doesn’t help that there is so much stigma attached with the disease,” Mitchell said. “Ninety-five percent of people with HIV come to Columbia to receive health care because they are afraid that someone will find out that they are HIV-positive.”

As a result, Rain is lowering the number of uninsured HIV/AIDs individuals in the Mid-Missouri area. Rain reports that they serve just over 400 individuals in a typical year.

“Income is a barrier to a lot of things,” Mitchell said. “The amount of effort is certainly more, but it’s not impossible to help them.”

Seniors adapt to life on fixed incomes

Story written by Abby Wade,

COLUMBIA — At 84, Vera Henson has great-great grandchildren, and she plans on staying around long enough to add another “great” to the list; Henson still has a steel in her voice when she speaks and despite being hard of hearing, she refuses to miss anything.

Vera Henson in the lobby of Oak Towers Thursday, July 16, 2015. ABBY WADE/Missourian

Vera Henson in the lobby of Oak Towers Thursday, July 16, 2015. ABBY WADE/Missourian

Henson is back at Oak Towers, a low-income public housing facility for adults over the age of 50, for her third time.

Returning, she said she had to swallow her pride.

“It’s hard to walk back in because you’re not better than they are,” she said. “Don’t misunderstand me, you’re no better than they are at all.”

According to the National Council on Aging, roughly 23 million Americans over the age of 60 live below the national poverty level, with a higher percentage of women than men.

“If you could get out of public housing and do better, I say go,” she said. “But for somebody that really needs a home, it’s OK. You just have to learn to adapt and tend to your own business.”

One of the places those individuals find to live is Oak Towers, operated by the Columbia Housing Authority. The authority was founded in 1956 to replace filthy or dangerous residences with safe, sanitary properties for low-income citizens in Columbia, funded by a federal urban renewal grant, according to the CHA website.

Oak Towers, built in December of 1966, is one of the only housing facilities specifically for low-income seniors in Columba. To be eligible, a single person cannot earn more than $36,600 per year. 

The wait list can go up to six months, said April Steffensmeier, the services coordinator at Oak Towers.

“Columbia is really lacking in space in public housing,” she said. “There are way more people that need public housing than what we have available.” 

“There are a variety of reasons people come into public housing,” Steffensmeier said. “It could be generational; that’s what they grew up with. Some people lose spouses and they don’t have the resources necessary to maintain the life they previously had.”

Steffensmeier stresses that Oak Towers is not a nursing home, and she works to help ensure residents lead independent lives. But individuals sometimes struggle to integrate into public housing and come to grips with their financial situation.

“It’s just consolidating your prior life with what’s available to you now, as far as the stuff,” she said. “People come in with a lot of stuff sometimes, and there’s not a lot of space to put all of that. So they’re left with deciding what’s really important to keep around, and what they can move on from.”

Bobby Turner in the lobby of Oak Towers Thursday, July 16, 2015. ABBY WADE/Missourian

Bobby Turner in the lobby of Oak Towers Thursday, July 16, 2015. ABBY WADE/Missourian

Bobby Turner, 67, moved into Oak Towers after a life that began in Waynesville, Missouri, where he dropped out of school after eighth grade.

Later, he worked as a janitor for Atkins Janitorial Service and as salad-maker at the Ramada Inn.

In eighth grade, Turner began working at a local movie theater, and he decided he would rather make a living than continue with school.

“If I went to high school, I could’ve had a better job,” he said. “I could’ve advanced myself in my job. Not having a high school education really hurt.”

Turner moved to Columbia in 1982 to receive help from New Horizons, a program to assist him with his mental health. In 1985, he moved into Oak Towers.

Seventy-five percent of adults over the age of 60 depend on Social Security as their sole source of income, according to the National Council on Aging. Turner collects $862 a month in Social Security, but after paying his rent of $285 a month, paying off the debts he said he owes to finance companies, and buying groceries, he said he’s “just about broke.”

Turner said he couldn’t afford to live anywhere other than Oak Towers.

“Rent is so expensive, and then on top of that, you have to pay utilities,” he said. “Any place else would be a $300-400 a month plus utilities. It’s really expensive.”

In Oak Towers, residents have built their own sense of community.

“Bobby’s an old shoe around here,” Henson said, smiling. “He’s been here for 20-something years. He never has family come see him. I think you’d call him a loner, but he’s a good man, he really is.”

Turner enjoys the dances, bingo and independent lifestyle at Oak Towers.

“I’m free now. I just get to kick back and enjoy life.”

And just as Turner regretted not graduating high school, Henson wished she had continued working.

“I didn’t have anybody to guide me,” she said. “I was a Christian, and I knew to always go to the Lord in prayer about things. But I’m human and I jumped before I listened to what I was supposed to be doing.”

Raised by her grandparents in Warrensburg, Missouri, Henson was a model before she began working as a nurse at University Hospital.

After meeting her first husband, she moved to Columbia where she had four children. Most of that time she spent at home.

“I thought my obligation was to be a wife,” she said. “That’s the way I was trained.”

After her first and second husbands passed, Henson was left with little to live on in retirement. She, too, relies on Social Security, but a significant percentage is deducted for her Medicare benefits. After also paying for food, rent, and her heart disease and arthritis medications, she can barely make ends meet.

Henson met her second husband in 1987 at a jam session when she first moved into Oak Towers. They were together for 10 years and two months, and they moved back to Oak Towers when he became ill. When he passed in 2004, Turner struggled again to sustain herself.

“I think the best part of my life was when I was married,” she said. “I don’t like living alone. And if I didn’t have the Lord, I couldn’t make it.”

“Back then, we lived,” she said.

Family overcomes poverty with help, resources from community

Food lines the shelves of The Central Pantry, Thursday, July 15, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Food lines the shelves of The Central Pantry, Thursday, July 15, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Story written by Madeline Jarrard,

COLUMBIA – Success for some is simply finding a point in which they feel they can comfortably provide for their families.

Patsy Bulington, 66, recalls a time seven years ago when her family struggled to make ends meet. Her success story is not one of extravagant wealth, but of finding stability.

The Bulingtons’ financial struggles began when their lives were changed in an instant: A car accident left Bulington’s husband, Thomas Bulington, in serious condition. Her son was knocked unconscious in the crash, and both of Thomas Bulington’s feet were crushed.

“He was trapped,” Patsy Bulington said.

Her husband was completely immobilized for six months. He had been a truck driver before the crash, but he was now unable to move, much less work.

“They didn’t come right out and say it, but (the doctors) said that he would be lucky if he ever walked again,” she said.

She dedicated much of her time to caring for her husband, which impacted her job as a cook at the local school. To add to the family’s stress, her contract was not renewed the following spring.

“We were both unemployed for a year and a half,” she said.

That period of time was one of the hardest the family, including the three grandchildren Patsy Bulington was raising, had ever faced.

“We didn’t go anywhere or do anything,” she said. “We scraped money together.”

During this trial, the Bulington family found help at their local La Plata, Missouri, food bank. Without it, Patsy Bulington knows “the kids wouldn’t have had a whole lot to eat.”

Food lines the shelves of The Central Pantry, Thursday, July 15, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Food lines the shelves of The Central Pantry, Thursday, July 15, 2015. The pantry is a service of The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Patsy Bulington was also thankful for friends who brought food from the food pantry to her house when she had to stay at home.

Sean Ross, supervisor for the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri in Columbia, said that he has seen many situations like the Bulingtons’.

“We help them right away,” he said of people that come to the food bank for the first time.

Ross said he has seen thousands of success stories in his 11 years at the food bank. The common theme he sees in these success stories is persistence.

The key, he said, is “recognizing you’re making progress.”

Although it took about four years for the Bulingtons to see tangible progress, they were persistent.

“Our future was uncertain at the time,”Patsy  Bulington said. “We took it one day at a time. … We had to start all over.”

The money was hard to come by. When foreclosure loomed, the Bulingtons fought to keep their house.

“We paid the bills and clung onto what was left to make ends meet,” Bulington said.

However, the sacrifices that the Bulingtons made paid off in the end. After six months in a hospital bed and three months rehabilitating in a wheelchair, Thomas Bulington returned to driving his truck.

In 2012, the couple applied for a job transporting campers from factories to the dealerships. Today, their finances have stabilized and they have traveled throughout 48 states and Canada moving trailers.

“We survived and got through it,” Bulington said. “I think it just made us stronger in the long run.”

Choosing a balance between passion and pocketbook

Story written by Lauren Frias.

COLUMBIA – When choosing a career after graduation, many people have to find a balance between their passion and their pocketbook. Some choose in favor of their passion, while others opt for financial stability.

Missouri resident Nickie Dedrick, an employee of the MU Hospital, said she went into a career that she didn’t initially major in during college. With a bachelor’s degree in archaeology, Dedrick said she happened upon her hospital job when she couldn’t find any open positions in her desired profession.

“I tried to look around at the museums, but there weren’t a whole lot of job openings available when I graduated, so I didn’t end up going that route,” Dedrick said.

Dedrick said that she originally had a plan to become an archaeologist and attend excavation digs, but she had to settle for a more stable career. Originally an insurance verifier for the hospital, she transferred to her current position as reimbursement assistant after six years. Because of her dedication to her hospital job, her passion for archaeology developed into a side interest.

“I don’t do too much with archeology,” she said. “Now, its kind of more of a hobby and interest of mine, so I have no future plans for it.”

Dedrick admits that sometimes she considers going back to archaeology, but she wouldn’t want to relocate her family. In the midst of the circumstances, Dedrick said she chose her hospital job for the income, not passion.

Sixty-eight percent of Americans in the workforce said they would take a lower-paying job involving their passion over their current job that offers more financial stability, according to a 2013 study by Philips Work/Life. 

Missouri resident Christy Martin is among those in the 68 percent of Americans who voluntarily took a lower-paying job involving her passion over a career that was in line with her college degree.

Martin, a paraprofessional for a Columbia middle school, said she picked a specific job to be closer to her children, though it was outside her degree work studying business administration.

Martin said she followed her passion of working with children.

“I had always thought about being a teacher, but I didn’t get a degree as a teacher,” Martin said. “This job let me work with the kids like I wanted to, and it also allows me to have time with my own kids.”

Martin said her husband served in the military, during which time she was not working for 10 years. When her youngest daughter began attending school full-time, she took the paraprofessional position as an opportunity to make an income while spending time with her children.

In another study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014, only 36 percent of students with some college education say that they are actually satisfied with their current job.

MU student Leslie Parker, a career specialist in the the MU Career Center, said that she helped a variety of students choose what career to pursue. She recalled one case that raised a red flag after a series of questions as a part of the assessment process.

“She didn’t talk too much about why she would be a fashion designer,” Parker said. “I think it was just something she really liked to do. … She just loved fashion, and that’s what she was passionate about. But it’s not what she chose.”

In spite of this, there are some college students who decide to pursue passion over income. Still in college, students take up jobs outside of their desired career field to help pay off their tuition.

MU student Mary Evanoff will start her junior year in the School of Journalism. However, rather than getting a jump on her journalism career, Evanoff took up a job at Yogoluv, a frozen yogurt shop near MU.

“I like ice cream, but it’s not my passion, if you know what I mean,” Evanoff said. “I’m just doing this to pay rent and school fees.”

Evanoff said she hopes to eventually pick up a career in public relations in Paris. She minored in French studies in addition to journalism.

In light of the complexity surrounding a decision between a dream job or a job for income, Martin offered advice to help steer those considering between the two.

“I am the type of person who, if you’re not doing what you like to do, if you’re not doing what makes you happy and what’s fun for you, then the job even with the money is pretty much worthless,” Martin said. “The job that I’m doing now isn’t even a teaching position; it’s kind of like an assistant-teacher-type job. I don’t make a whole lot, but I love being with those kids.”

Stress of poverty linked to psychological changes

Mary Tyler at the Central Missouri Community Action offices in Columbia Thursday, July 15, 2015. Tyler took financial classes at the center while unemployed and now works there. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Mary Tyler at the Central Missouri Community Action offices in Columbia Thursday, July 15, 2015. Tyler took financial classes at the center while unemployed and now works there. ADAM VOGLER/Missourian

Story written by Madeline Jarrard.

COLUMBIA — The stress of poverty — worrying about housing, wondering about the likelihood of a next meal, tabulating a meager income against mounting expenses — isn’t hard to imagine. Over time, though, that anxiety can cause subtle changes in the brain.

Poverty is linked to a reduced attention span and limited ability to multi-task, which add to the numerous obstacles faced by those who struggle financially, according to a 2013 study published in in the academic journal Science. Poverty, the researchers wrote, “captures attention, triggers intrusive thoughts, and reduces cognitive resources.”

The study indicated that the implications of poverty are more substantial than a lack of money − they relate to the functionality of one’s brain. The researchers found a correlation between the stress of poverty and poor decision-making. Cognitive capacity is the amount of information one can retain, and those living in poverty suffer from a “tunneling effect.”

Teri Roberts is the Asset Development coordinator for Central Missouri Community Action. At the center, she teaches a variety of finance education classes, including budgeting.

“Our clients are low income, so they struggle to meet basic needs,” Roberts said.

Roberts teaches students to manage the money they have and to live on a budget. There are many people who don’t know basic financial information, she explained.

But Roberts does more than teach finances. She explained that the general mindset of people who enter the class is they “can’t even pay the bills, much less save money.”

But this mindset is tangible for all people.

According to the study, financial concerns have a cognitive impact comparable with losing a full night of sleep. Researchers cited that the effect of poverty is similar to a drop in cognitive ability by 13 IQ points.

The goal is to avoid the “poor decision making” that poverty threatens.

Roberts finds simple ways to encourage better spending habits. “We all have money we fritter away,” she said. She calls it “fritter finder,” where people find things in their lives that are not necessities. She gives the examples of lottery tickets and other expenses that add up.

The change that Roberts makes is tangible. There were pre and post assessments taken of individuals who took the budgeting class. Of the 20 to 25 people analyzed, the difference before and after the class was substantial. Roberts cited an 89 percent increase in knowledge demonstrated by the tests.

Mary Taylor, 36, participated in the budgeting class when she was unemployed and low on money.

“I wasn’t doing near as good as I thought I was,” Taylor said.

Taylor, who had Roberts as a teacher, explained how helpful it was having a budget plan.

“I definitely felt more confident,” she said.

Now, Taylor works for Central Missouri Community Action at the office in Boone County.

Angela Hirsch, the Community Services Director, explained more about the goals of the classes.

The budgeting classes at Central Missouri Community Action help teach people to best utilize the money they do have. Instructors help their students create a path to their goals: buy a house, go to college, or simply live within their means.

But for some, the goals come in small steps.

The penny roundup is another way the instructors teach how to save money. Individuals are taught to save the coin change from all of their purchases. For example from a $9.50 purchase one could pay with $10 and save the 50 cents.

“That starts to add up,” Hirsch said.

Affordable addiction treatment hard to find for those without health care

Story written by Jordan Meier.

COLUMBIA — Stefie Sylvanog grew up surrounded by addiction.

Her mother was addicted to K2 and other drugs. Her stepfather was addicted to alcohol. She grew up without a lot of money.

“Addictions around here are easy to come by and hard to break,” said Sylvanog, 29, as she smoked a cigarette outside the women’s shelter where she lives.

Sitting at a picnic table outside St. Francis House, Sylvanog, who uses the name professionally for her photography business, said she is clean now except for the cigarettes, but she used to be addicted to the prescription drug Adderall.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one out of 10 Americans making less than $20,000 a year struggle with addiction. For many, the lack of money correlates to a lack of access to affordable treatment, which can create a barrier to overcoming addiction.

As she lights her fifth cigarette, Sylvanog tells the story of her addiction. When she was younger, doctors had her take extremely high doses of Adderall to control her ADHD. They started out giving her normal doses of the medication, but when her body stopped responding to it, the doctors just kept increasing the dosage. At one point she said she was taking 650 mg of the medication a day. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a normal dose of Adderall for children is 30 mg.

“250 mg in the morning, 150 mg in the afternoon, and 250 at night. You do the math,” she said.

When Sylvanog first tried to get off the medication, she went through major withdrawls and only lasted one week before she was forced by her father and grandparents to start taking it again, she said.

“Do I blame them? Yes. They couldn’t see that I was a child who didn’t need this s— in my system,” she said.

After moving in with her mom, Sylvanog said she continued to struggle with the addiction for years and even overdosed a few times.

“I was crying out for help and people were seeing it, but they didn’t know what to do,” she said.

Sylvanog said the only reason she was eventually able to get the treatment she needed was because she was under 18 and qualified for Medicaid. After signing up for Medicaid, Sylvanog went to a doctor and started getting off the pills. Once she was off Adderall, she went to a Boys and Girls home where she got therapy to work through some of the trauma she had experienced as a child.

“They saved my life,” Sylvanog said of her time at the Boys and Girls home.

If she were to need addiction treatment now, however, she would have a difficult time paying for it. Medicaid primarily covers adults with disabilities and low-income children and their parents in Missouri. She can’t afford private insurance.

Missouri does provide funding for treatment centers statewide, so patients without private insurance can get help. The majority of that funding historically has come from Medicaid. However, last year the Missouri Department of Mental Health added a new program called PR+, or Primary Recovery Plus.

“PR+ programs were largely modeled after the CSTAR General Population Programs but do not have some of the services available in CSTAR.  It offers a full continuum of services within multiple levels of care to assist individuals without Medicaid coverage,” said Debra Walker from the state’s department of mental health.

Comprehensive Substance Treatment and Rehabilitation (CSTAR) is the state’s Medicaid substance abuse treatment program.

Despite this, experts interviewed for this article as well as those in the state’s department of mental health agreed that treatment is still hard to come by for people without insurance.

“There are usually more individuals needing treatment than treatment providers can serve,” Walker said.

“The services are effective, there just isn’t enough of them,” said Denis McCarthy, a MU psychology professor specializing in alcohol addiction.

To Sylvanog, the solution is simple.

“Make treatment more available to those who need it and want it. That’s the key, people who want it,” she said. “Give people means to end the cycle.”

In Sylvanog’s experience, the closest thing a person without medical insurance gets to treatment is when he or she overdoses on drugs and goes to the hospital. Then the person can get clean and sober for a few days before being sent back out onto the streets.

“(The hospital) gives fare for a cab service and that’s about it. They have 4-5 days of sobriety and then they are back out on the streets doing the same s—,” Sylvanog said.

Americans who make more than $20,000 per year are less likely to be addicted to drugs or alcohol — about 7 percent of people with higher incomes are addicted to drugs compared to the 10 percent of people in the lowest income bracket, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But people aren’t more likely to be addicted simply because they’re poor, Walker said.

“There is a correlation between household income and substance-use disorders. This is a complex relationship and a correlation does not mean that one causes another,” said Walker, adding that transportation can also be a challenge for people who don’t live close to treatment centers.

Even though portions of people in poverty do struggle with addiction, many of them want to get help, they just don’t know how to get it, said Sylvanog.

Central Missouri Community Action is working to solve that problem in Columbia. As part of the community outreach agency’s efforts to alleviate poverty in mid-Missouri, the organization helps people find treatment for addictions if they need it.

“People (in poverty) want more,” said Angela Hirsch, the agency’s community services director. “It’s simply an issue of not knowing how to get there.”

AVID program helps prepare Columbia students for college

Brittany Brown, 16, at Woodridge park Thursday, July 16, 2015. Brown, a senior at Battle High school, is in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program. EMILY ADAMS/Missourian

Brittany Brown, 16, at Woodridge park Thursday, July 16, 2015. Brown, a senior at Battle High school, is in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program. EMILY ADAMS/Missourian

Story written by Emily Adams.

COLUMBIA — With fall approaching — and with it, the dreaded college application season — Brittany Brown is surprisingly stress-free.

Brown, a senior at Battle High School in Columbia, credits her peaceful attitude to the Advancement Via Individual Determination program at her school.

Introduced in Columbia two years ago, the AVID program is meant to help motivated students prepare for college. Participants learn studying techniques, critical thinking, time management and self-assessment skills. Students enroll in advanced placement classes and receive help applying for colleges and scholarships.

Nationally, AVID programs serve a large percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds – 74 percent of participants qualify for free and reduced-priced lunches – but the program is open to anyone.

“A lot of people think AVID is designed strictly for low-income,” said Rachel Bennett, Battle High assistant principal and director of the AVID program there.

She said enrollment in AVID mirrors the larger student population at Battle, where about half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

“To have a successful AVID program, it has to match the demographics of the school,” Bennett said. “You have to have kids who will be team players and really want it. They have to be a good fit for the program to be successful.”

In the most recent selection process, 207 students completed applications to join the program, she said. Of those, 162 were selected after written and oral interviews.

Brown, who survived the screening process for a second year, recommends that students apply again even if initially denied.

“AVID helps in a million ways” she said. “It prepared me for college, especially the part where you take AP classes … I used to fall asleep in those classes all the time.”

Brown said that, before joining AVID she focused more on her social life than studying.

“I had a 2.6 GPA freshmen year and it skyrocketed to a 3.2 after AVID,” she said. Brown’s grade point average now is high enough to be accepted by her No. 1 school, University of Tampa.

AVID also has helped Brown prepare for the cost of college, which she is paying for by working at Aeropostale. Brown said her mother is a single parent, and while the family’s income is high enough that she doesn’t qualify for free lunch, Brown expects to pay for college on her own. She hopes to find scholarships through AVID to help.

“I think everyone in my family has had a full-time job while in high school,” Brown said. “I’m working for it.”

Bennett said the program can help self-determined students of any socioeconomic status pay for an education.

“Most parents can’t afford to write a check for an $80,000 bachelor’s degree somewhere,” she said. “AVID works for these kids, to get them into college and find scholarships.”

Brown, who wants to study nursing and work with humanitarian agencies in Africa, said AVID helped her realize her own potential.

“I really do like challenges,” she said. “I think I would have found a way to persevere, one way or another.”