How the Other Half Lives: "Walk a Mile" dares welfare policymakers and welfare recipients to swap lives
How's this for a devastatingly simple solution to an age-old social problem? While Natasha Grossman was studying social work and interning at a welfare-reform lobbying organization in Washington state, she saw first-hand the cultural gap that existed between welfare policy-makers and welfare recipients.
"Why can't members of each group spend time together learning about how the other works and lives?" Grossman asked. After participating in one of Landmark's community-focused programs, Grossman answered her own question by forming the "Walk a Mile" program, which is now used in the U.S. Congress as well as 25 states.
During the month-long program, welfare policymakers agree to feed their families on a typical food-stamp budget. They also chat with welfare recipients twice a week on the phone about recent challenges. Lawmakers learn the effects of their legislation on people's lives, and welfare recipients experience the difficult work of crafting new social policy. "Walk a Mile" has graduated many proponents, including legislators who testify to being more informed about the adversities poor people face and recipients who can claim better, more appropriate services, as well as a newfound political voice.
"I'm not the sort of person who does things like this, really," Grossman concedes. "I'm not an expert on welfare. I have never been a welfare recipient. Had it not been for the coaching, project management skills, and confidence I learned through Landmark's program, "Walk a Mile" would have remained a good idea, nothing more. I'm just someone who got passionate and took action."