My First Three Magnolia Center Visits!

Hi!  My name is Isaac, and I am a Sophomore at W&L.  I’ll be blogging for the next couple of months about my service at the Magnolia Center in Buena Vista, VA.  I am doing service for Poverty 102, a service-based, supplementary class to Poverty 101.  Over the course of this semester, I will be blogging about my experiences at the Magnolia Center, and how these experiences relate to scholarly understandings of American poverty, and issues of poverty discussed in Poverty 101.


My first experience at the Magnolia Center was very similar to my experience at the Rockbridge Area Occupational Center.  Although the Magnolia Center was significantly cleaner, and the employees were friendlier and more available, my interactions with the Magnolia Center clientele were nearly identical to my interactions with the clientele at RAOC; it was, as I expected, difficult to talk to people about their backgrounds and their life experiences.  Whether it was because of a distrust of a white, male, Washington and Lee student, or because of mental incapacity to move beyond the exchange of “hellos,” I was unable to coax any sort of discussion out of anyone.  However, I am hoping that over the course of the semester, my continuous presence will make the people at the Magnolia Center increasingly comfortable and more willing to talk about their lives.

I am dealing with capability poverty rather than financial poverty; most of the people at the Magnolia Center are incapable of functioning alone.  Few people work, and those who can work do so only with an aide.  It seems to me that there is no way to increase the capability of these people; the Magnolia Center serves more as a caretaking facility than as a center aimed at helping the clientele become functioning, capable individuals.  Perhaps the function of the Magnolia Center is to increase the capability of the families or full-time caretakers of the mentally disabled people by freeing their time during the week.


My second visit to the Magnolia Center was very similar to my first visit.  I have, however, built up a foundation of trust among at least two of the members.  I had extensive conversations with two of the more highly functioning clients.  “Ruby” and I spoke for several minutes about her week and her plans for the weekend.  I learned later that “Ruby” easily develops crushes, and appears to be developing a crush on me.   “Ruby” lives with her parents, but comes to the Magnolia Center during the week.  It is important for her working parents to be free of the burden of taking care of “Ruby” during the week.  This reinforces my thesis from my first journal: because it is impossible to significantly increase the capability of most members of the Magnolia Center, the center serves more to increase the capability of the members’ caretakers.

I also spoke with “Ron,” who is incredibly knowledgeable about football.  He follows the Washington and Lee Generals very closely, listening to each game day broadcast.  “Ron” is blind, but he painted me a tremendously vivid picture of the final game of the Redskin’s game last week.  I encouraged him to listen to other sports on WLUR, as I broadcast several sports for the Washington and Lee radio station.  Beyond his blindness, “Ron” had an obvious mental disorder.  Though it took him quite a while to articulate his descriptions of various football games, he was able to do so.  I believe that “Ron” is one person whose capability can be greatly improved through the Magnolia Center’s programming.  Despite his blindness, “Ron” could certainly perform some sort of menial work.  I did not ask if he is currently working, but I plan on doing so next week.

The Magnolia Center puts on a Christmas play every year.  I certainly plan on attending this year.  “John” showed me the script for the play and pointed out his part in the play.  He seemed to be thrilled to participate in the play.  I believe that though the Magnolia Center can sometimes do very little to increase its members’ capability, it can increase their happiness.  Nearly all members seem to attain great joy from participating in activities like the Christmas play and from socializing with volunteers and with other members.


My third visit to the Magnolia Center was very different from the first two visits: rather than speaking mostly with clients, I spoke extensively with one of the employees, inquiring about the Magnolia Center’s funding.  The employee informed me that the Magnolia Center receives significant state funding.  In fact, she almost considers herself a state employee; the Magnolia Center and its employees must follow state rules and regulations.  The center also receives support from private donors, and from some of the members’ SSI payments.  Furthermore, some of the clients of the Magnolia Center pay a small monthly fee to attend the center.  I am unsure if the paying members of the Magnolia Center are wealthy enough to pay to attend, or simply do not qualify for SSI, which contributes to the Magnolia Center.

This Friday, my sister came to Lexington and volunteered at the Magnolia Center with me.  It was interesting to see how she interacted with the members; it was clear that the members were more comfortable with me than with my sister.  I am excited that I have been able to get to know some of the clients, and I look forward to seeing how those relationships will grow over the course of the semester.

Because I have a difficult time communicating with the clients at the Magnolia Center, next week I plan on asking the employees about the socio-economic backgrounds of the members.  Information about the members will tell me more about the nature of the poverty of the clients; at this point, I understand that all the members are capability poor, but I want to know if they are all capability poor.

Thanks for reading!


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