MOUNT VERNON — First responders of all kinds gathered together Thursday for a workshop focused on “tactical communication” between individuals of different socioeconomic backgrounds.
The workshop was sponsored by the adult probation department of the Mount Vernon Municipal Court along with multiple area agencies that work with the probation department. Dan Humphrey, founder of workshop co-sponsor TouchPointe Marriage & Family Resources, explained that the workshop was aimed at bringing awareness to the different ways that individuals of a different socioeconomic status communicate.
Jodi Pfarr, an author and consultant, was the featured speaker at the workshop. Pfarr’s book, the basis of the workshop, “Tactical Communications” was based on the work done in “Bridges Out of Poverty” by Dr. Ruby Payne and Philip DeVol. Pfarr took the information and personalized it for first responders who are constantly working with people in a range of socioeconmic backgrounds. Her goal, she said, is to help first responders “understand what they are seeing so they can be successful.”
“First responders have to work with everybody in the community — from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich,” Pfarr said. “Class effects how people receive services and how we view each other — class impacts us. I’ve seen very talented first responders, very caring and very giving, go to a call or have a situation in front of them that doesn’t go well. It wasn’t for lack of trying. It was for lack of not knowing that you have two different people viewing things very differently based on two different classes.”
The workshop covered topics including mental models of poverty, middle class and wealth — which looked at the different motivators and status symbols — relationships, achievement and connection respectively — that each class strives for. The workshop also covered the hidden rules of each of the classes, the importance of language, understanding that resources are more than money and planning and next steps for the community.
Angela Romich a nurse and nursing instructor at Marion Technical College said she was driven to attend the workshop to further her understanding of why “different classes make the choices that they make.” Romich explained that she was walking away from the workshop with a better understanding of the individuals in poverty that she serves.
“The main thing is — like you wonder why people make the choices they do, like buying cigarettes, having more kids when you can’t afford to do that and [Pfarr] made that really clear. [It’s] because [people in poverty] are present focused, relationship focused and that’s like how they achieve their status — in relationships with people. I kind of always judged — not judged but you know — kind of judged and that really shined a light on that for me.”
Julie Fisher, an adult probation officer with the Mount Vernon Municipal Court, like Romich, said that she also gained a better understanding of individuals in poverty and will be more likely to pass “less judgment” because of her new perspective on the way others, who aren’t middle class, make decisions and navigate the world.
Pfarr explained that while class is one continuous line, individuals have a tendency to identify with one of the three classes, poverty, middle class and wealth and to “normalize” the behaviors that that class is known for. This can lead to thinking that the way one class thinks is the “right way of being” and makes the other class behaviors seem “abnormal” or “wrong,” which especially in the case of first responders, where communication is key, can lead to misunderstandings and issues, according to Pfarr.
Sergeant Andy Burns with the MVPD, who helped start the Mount Vernon Association of Police Chaplains, said that his group for the workshop, made up of chaplains and religious leaders in the community, had a lot of good discussion during the workshop about “ways that ministry, especially, can bridge between agencies, wrap around services and people in need in the community.” Chaplains, Burns said, can serve as a bridge for the “connections,” “networking” and “collaboration” that Pfarr spoke about during the workshop.
The workshop also gave him some ideas for ways to make the community feel more comfortable with the police department by creating a more comfortable atmosphere, such as painting the walls a different color than white to remove the perception of a “sterile” environment for visitors.
“Relationships are critical,” Burns said. “… I think there’s the tactical consideration, but building those relationships really makes our job easier. Our officers do a really nice job communicating — you know not always, there’s always the exception to the rule, there’s always that circumstance where communication just won’t work — but it is your first tool, probably, to bring out of the tool box — to be able to talk to people.”