Step into someone else’s shoes

Cynthia Keeth is executive director of Strategies for Change, a local substance-abuse prevention and treatment center for women

Interested in joining Sacramento’s Walk a Mile effort? Contact Cynthia Keeth at (916) 448-2951, ext. 225, or

For those working their way out of poverty, bureaucratic requirements can be daunting. Poverty is not just a matter of money. It influences the mental and emotional well-being of those living within the day-to-day struggles of its clutches. Even with welfare reform, low-income people continue to face challenges that can seem isolating and insurmountable. The situation, however, is not hopeless. In fact, I believe that change is possible, and it begins with education. Education begins with understanding.

I recently learned of a program, called Walk a Mile, that fosters understanding by pairing public policymakers and low-income people, one on one, for a month of “walking in each other’s shoes.”

The inspiration behind this national program is to bridge the gap between policymakers and the constituents whose lives are affected by government policy. Walk a Mile is rooted in the principle that greater personal understanding of issues facing low-income individuals by policymakers will lead to the development of sound public policy.

Walk a Mile takes place November 15 through December 14. During the course of the four-week program, low-income individuals are matched with participating policymakers and share activities that are part of their regular routine, such as going to a welfare office, food bank or grocery store; or attending a public hearing or community meeting or visiting the Legislature. Policymakers also will be asked to feed their families on the amount that a low-income constituent would receive on food stamps.

It is said that sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones. Walk a Mile is a simple concept with the potential of far-reaching results. Walk a Mile leads to the kind of understanding that makes politics work better for everybody by simply having people meet face to face to share their stories, reveal their experiences and learn the truth about their obstacles.

Join me in participating in this wonderful program. Please encourage your local public-policy representative to participate in Walk a Mile. If you are low-income or know a low-income person who has a story to tell, we would like to encourage you to join Walk a Mile. There is hope in the process, and I believe we can learn a lot from each other.