In the township of Pembroke, the state's most impoverished community, 55 percent of the residents were living beneath the poverty level and 40 percent were living without running water. At the time, the average income was $9,700 a year.
With no opportunity for jobs in the near future, Pembroke had no bank, no drug store, no real medical facility and very few paved roads. The mayor, the Reverend Jon Dyson, says every day is a struggle for survival.
"The people here live in those kind of conditions that the people from the great city of New Orleans have just got faced with," says the Reverend Jon Dyson. "What's really amazing is these people have survived here all this time with little or nothing—third-world conditions in some areas."
They make money by selling duck eggs, and Vanessa grows her own vegetables and raises goats for food. But, the meager income isn't enough to cover the $2,500 to $5,000 it would cost to hook up running water to their home. Every day, Vanessa pumps water into the house to wash dishes, bathe and flush the toilets.
Vanessa says she once dreamed of a big white house with a picket fence, but life in Pembroke is a harsh reality check. However, hope is still alive—Vanessa has a job interview coming up and believes things will improve with a steady paycheck.
"We need at least $20 million to fix the sewer system and the water system," Larry says. "The water is not clean. People come into my office every day complaining: 'This water smells. This water tastes bad. This water…we don't know what's going on with the water.'"
The problem? Pembroke doesn't have its own zip code, so very few tax dollars get funneled into the community. With no money, the town can't afford basic needs like emergency services, trash pickup, tornado warning systems and animal control. Larry says stray animals roam Pembroke in packs.
"You just don't leave the people that love you," Kendell says. "You don't do that."
The Harrison family has a car—but no money for gas. They also have a dried-up well, which has forced them to tap into the water line of a neighbor. Kendell carries buckets back and forth throughout the day. He also helps save precious pennies by being resourceful.
"I take two-ply toilet tissue, and take an empty roll, and roll it off on one to make two rolls out of the toilet tissue so it will last longer," Kendell says.
"I understand poor," Oprah says. "I grew up poor. I grew up poor with no running water. It's just shocking that in 2005 there are people that don't have running water. You're still here."
Oprah visited the Superdome days after Hurricane Katrina hit, but CNN's Anderson Cooper has been reporting from the Gulf Coast since the day before disaster struck—and he says there's still more to say.
"I didn't want to leave," Anderson says. "It felt like the place to be, and I felt privileged to be there among the people who were standing up and surviving—despite being abandoned and despite all that happened to them."
Oprah says Anderson's honest and heartfelt reports from the Gulf Coast inspired her to travel there with the Angel Network team . "You, Anderson, were one of the people that motivated me," Oprah says. "I was watching CNN all the time, and you were saying, 'Nothing is happening here. These people need help. These people need help.'"
What does Anderson think went wrong in New Orleans? "I think [on] the state, the federal [and] the local level there's plenty of blame to go around," Anderson says. "Look, this whole show is about the invisible poor. And I think we're seeing in New Orleans the price of not seeing and not understanding our fellow countrymen and the way they live.
"When the mayor of New Orleans knows that there are 100,000 people in that city who don't have access to a car or can't pay for a gasoline, and yet, he doesn't provide buses or bus drivers to get them out, that is the consequence when you're invisible…you don't get evacuated because no one knows you're there."
Anderson: The people who died—our countrymen, our neighbors, who were left for weeks and weeks and weeks to rot in the streets. I can't get over the people I saw who drowned in their living rooms and who were left there for days and days because there weren't refrigerated trucks to pick them up in. … I saw a woman floating in her backyard a few feet away from a box of MREs (meals ready to eat) and around a corner there was a man laying on top of a car for two weeks at least.
I've worked in Rwanda on the genocide. I've worked elsewhere in Africa, and I've seen people die and left and dissolve into nothingness into the ground. I never thought I would see it in the streets of the United States of America.
When Oprah sent Anderson to Detroit on assignment, he says he saw the failures of the city all around—in abandoned buildings and long unemployment lines. Even beneath the busy highways, there were hidden signs of decline.
Communities of homeless people sleep underneath the highways every night. Anderson spoke to one woman who had been living there for two years. Her two children, who live in Detroit, didn't want her to live on the streets, but she insisted on staying right where she is.
"My family does not like for me to live like this," she says. "But you know what? I don't want to ruin my kids' lives because my life is ruined."
In order to take his children to school each morning, Steve sells his blood plasma, which gives him enough money to gas up the family car. He gets plasma taken twice every week—they'll pay him $20 for the first donation and $25 for the second.
She also believes in her heart that things will eventually get better. "Every night I pray," she says. "I pray that God will help me and my family."
Alexandria: I couldn't even believe I was there, but having the kids with me just kind of made it seem unreal. How could this have happened? I didn't see an end in sight.
Anderson: Did you feel guilty at times?
Alexandria: Every single day. Sometimes I found it hard to even look at them. … These are people I brought into the world, and I'm responsible for them. To feed them, to clothe them, to house them…and I couldn't do that. Now, that's being a failure to me.
Thanks to Mom's Place, a community organization that helps single mothers get back on their feet, Alexandria now lives in her own home. She's working part-time and is back in school.
"Most of them are not addicted to any substance," Candace says. "They are not mentally ill. They lost the house because they lost their job."
For many poor families, all it takes is one missed paycheck or one bad day to send them over the edge.
"You know, lots of people make mistakes in their lives," Oprah says. "They get a break, and you get another chance, and you get another chance. But when you're poor, one strike, and you're out."
"When you don't have money in the bank, and when you don't have a family who loves you or who can care for you, the only place to fall back on is the street," Anderson says. "And the street is pretty damn hard."
Since Candy's husband lost his job as a coal truck mechanic a year ago, the family has been living on food stamps and welfare. "It's hard not being able to buy the kids what they want," says Candy. "They won't even have [new] school clothes and shoes this year because I couldn't buy them. I've got no phone now. I barely can pay the electric [bill] and I'm behind on rent."
Candy says she does not feel poor, though her eyes fill with tears at the question. "I'm proud of my family…I'm proud of what I've got," Candy says. "I feel sad because people out here with money look down on us and talk about us like we're a bunch of dumb hillbillies. Well, we're not."
Barbara and her family now live in a storage trailer without plumbing or electricity. She has to accept handouts for the first time in her life. "Before my husband got sick, we both worked," says Barbara. "We did all right." Now she feeds her family with donations from the local food bank that services more than 6,000 families each year.
Although Barbara has dreams for her children's future, she struggles to find hope for her own. "I always considered myself to be lucky. I had my kids and I had my husband. Truly, that's all I wanted. Now, I kind of feel like the world's beat me up…and I can't get up."
Brenda, a single mom with two kids, says she was on the brink of poverty when her husband died tragically two years ago. Today, Brenda says nothing has changed, despite working two jobs and going to school.
Brenda earns $900 per month, but defines herself as the "working poor" because her income still falls below the official poverty level. "We're right above that level where you get assistance," says Brenda. "[I] don't have any savings account. I have a home but I could lose it very easily. 'Working poor' is me."
Each woman tells a different story of poverty. But they all share one common thread: Family. "I want my children to go to school and be somebody," Brenda says. She hugs her children and says, "We love each other an awful lot."
Supporting herself and her three children on only $224 a week, Merverlyn says she must often make tough choices to survive. "This past Sunday, we didn't have dinner," she says. "We didn't have any food because my paycheck had to go to pay the car payment, which was past due. And I have to pay the car payment because that's the way I get to work."
With a house, job and car, Merverlyn appears to be making ends meet. But she says looks can be deceiving. "Looking at my house … people would think that everything is okay with us," says Merverlyn. "But it's really not. So I feel invisible because most people don't know how I live."
If given the chance, Alexandra says she would have made different choices in her life. "I would finish school, have a job and prepare myself before even thinking of … having kids."
Finding a job has been difficult for Alexandra, but she says she is determined to improve her situation. "I'm going to look out for a job real hard and I'm going to find it," she says. "I love my children—they're my life—and I'm going to live for them and make them happy."
Linda has been drug-free for three years and works as a Laundromat clerk. She still expresses hope for a better future. "[I'm] just trying to raise up and do the best I can," says Linda. "I still have hope to be able to say I'm going to achieve the goals that I want. Get my GED. Get a good job. Clean up my credit. It's not too late."
By "individuals helping individuals," Anderson suggests that the cycle of poverty can begin to be broken. "We think about what big government can do, but it boils down to individuals helping individuals and reaching out."
For Oprah, providing education and hope are critical keys to decreasing poverty. "The greater percentage of my money goes to education and educating kids, because I think education is enormous in opening the door to opportunity for people … We can help people hold on."