Breaking The Cycle Of Generational Poverty

Oct 29, 2015

The first thing you need to know about Lucille Perry is that she has a great laugh. The second thing is that she works…a lot.

“I got here at 7:00 a.m., and I’ll leave at 4:30 p.m. I have to be to my next job at 5:45 p.m., and I’ll probably get off at 10:00 p.m. tonight,” she said.


Perry works three jobs, seven days a week. She cleans houses, baby sits, and she’s also an administrative assistant at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Buckhead, where she spoke to me on her lunch break.

She said that work nets her just over $2,400 a month, before taxes. That’s above the poverty line, but Perry said she barely makes ends meet, and she’s not the only person she’s supporting.

Lucile Perry sharing her story during her lunch break.
Credit Sam Whitehead / GPB


“My mom told me, ‘If you go to work, you’re gonna have to pay bills,’” said Perry’s daughter, Ketta Miles, laughing. “I’m like, ‘I don’t want to do that. I’m a kid still. I guess I’ll go to school and you take care of me for another four years.’”

Miles has a great laugh, like her mother, but there’s one thing both Perry and her daughter hope they don’t end up sharing.

“I always tell her: 'I don’t want you to be like mama, [to] have to work these three or four jobs to make a living.',” Perry said.

“I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be living check to check,” Miles said.

There’s a chance their hopes might come true thanks to help they’ve received from one Atlanta non-profit.

“Our overall mission is to end the cycle of generational poverty one child at a time,” said Nell Benn, Executive Director of the Agape Youth and Family Center, on a recent afternoon.


Nell Benn surveys Agape's Bolton Road center while its children play outside.
Credit Sam Whitehead / GPB

Agape is an outreach arm of Trinity Presbyterian Church, where Lucille Perry works. The center’s mission is to keep kids from falling into the cycle of generational poverty by getting them to graduate from high school and attend college.

“If we can get that child into college, then we begin breaking that cycle,” Benn said.

Agape’s focus is hyper local. The center only serves children in the Bolton Road neighborhood of northwest Atlanta and only children who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

It offers after-school programs for younger kids, in-school support for high schoolers, and help with the college application process, but Benn said the biggest challenge is giving Agape’s children something intangible.

“A lot of our children don’t have hope. They do not realize that college is a possibility for them,” she said.

Ketta Miles was one of those children.

“I never thought about going to college, I can tell you that now,” Miles said. “My dream was , with my niece ,  we were playing [and] talking about working at Waffle House. Oh, God. Don’t know why in the world we wanted to work there.”


Ketta Miles taking a break from studying at Spelman College.
Credit Sam Whitehead / GPB

She started going to Agape in the first grade and stuck with the center through high school. Now, Miles is a junior at Spelman College on her way to a Bachelor’s degree.

“Without Agape and without my mom, I wouldn’t be in the same situation,” she said. “I would probably be…I could have easily fell back into the cycle that my family was going into.”

Miles’ path has become a common one for Agape’s children. Since 2009, 100 percent of the students that have stayed in the center’s programs through their senior year have graduated high school.

Though a degree does not guarantee future success, it does tend to increase a person’s earning potential, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

After our conversation, Miles returned to studying with a friend. She still wasn't sure what she would do once she graduated, but she was optimistic about whatever would be coming next.

“The sky’s not the limit. I don’t know who made that up,” she said.“Mom said, 'You reach beyond the stars: there’s something out there we don’t know. Once you find it, you keep going.'”

Chalk art outside Agape's Bolton Road center.