Claremore Daily Progress

Community News

June 18, 2014

Rogers County Getting Ahead begins efforts to combat area poverty

CLAREMORE — The Rogers County Getting Ahead and Bridges Out of Poverty steering committee held a community informational workshop Tuesday in an effort to reduce area poverty. Interested patrons received an outline of the team initiatives, and were able to ask questions while they began to generate ideas for solutions.

Bridges Out of Poverty is a nationwide initiative that opens and embraces conversation in sectors related to poverty.

“The goal is to bring people of all classes together to look at obstacles that create or sustain poverty in our community,” said Diane Forst of the Rogers County Getting Ahead steering committee. “(Bridges Out of Poverty) is being used throughout the U.S. with excellent results. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services and Oklahoma Salvation Army will work together and use the initiative to combat poverty across other areas of Oklahoma.”

Forst said BOP classes have been presented to Claremore residents at least twice in the past, and each time received a positive response.

The classes offer tools for people struggling to transition from lower class to middle class.

“Some people raised in low income families never receive the support they need, and so they grow up with a different set of rules. Knowing how to interact within the middle or upper class can be difficult for them,” said Forst. “Through Bridges Out of Poverty, we teach how to network and develop resources.”

She said there is a percentage of people living in poverty who are lazy and do not want to work, however, it is very small.

“Most of these folks work two to three jobs at a time, and are still not making ends meet,” said Forst. “We want to change the public’s mindset of those living in poverty. That is when we will truly be able to make a difference.”

The second part of the initiative, Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World, is a curriculum that engages people who are living in poverty, in groups of 10-12 with a facilitator. Together, the groups investigate the impact poverty has had on them and their community.

Forst said the curriculum is not a quick shotgun approach, but a 16 to  20 week process in which by the end graduates will have evaluated their personal situation, assessed their resources and developed a self-directed plan to achieve economic stability.

The third part of the process is matching Getting Ahead graduates with middle and upper-class mentors who will encourage and support the graduates throughout their efforts.

For the first two months, mentors will volunteer their time meeting with participants at least once a week and in time bulid a relationship with them.

“Mentoring is key, and sometimes the solutions are fairly simple if the person has someone to listen and help make sense out of life.”

According to U.S. Census data, nearly 10 percent of Rogers County residents live below poverty level, and although the percentage has remained about the same over the past few years, it has not decreased.

“We understand that poverty is not just a problem for those living through it, but a problem for the community as well. When a community falls below a certain level of resourcefulness, then it begins to deteriorate causing lower levels of education and training, criminal activity, harmful addictions, lack of employment opportunities, family violence and breakups,” said Forst.

For the first time ever, four women, including Forst, are spearheading Getting Ahead and Bridges Out of Poverty in Rogers County.

“All four of us have received facilitator training for the curriculum, and three of us attended a four-day Bridges Out of Poverty conference in Indianapolis, Ind.,” she said. “There, we received our certified trainer certifications as well as further training in the Getting Ahead curriculum. We are now at the point of reaching out to community members interested in teaming up.”

Forst said the target date for the first Getting Ahead class is Aug. 29. Classes will be held weekly at the First United Methodist Church.

“We’ll probably shoot for one class of 15 participants to begin with as we get our feet wet,” said Forst. “Depending on how many people want to participate, we plan to eventually train others to become facilitators.”

The Rogers County Getting Ahead committee has begun to prepare applications for residents who would like to enroll in the program. Applications  will be distributed to DHS, area churches and agencies that may be able to refer struggling residents to the Getting Ahead program.

Because it is offered free of charge, Rogers County Getting Ahead committee members are now accepting financial donations.

Donations can be dropped off at the First United Methodist Church of Claremore, or mailed to Claremore FUMC at 1615 Oklahoma 88 Claremore, OK 74017. Supporters are asked to make checks out to FUMC and should include “Rogers County Getting Ahead” on the memo line.

For more information about Rogers County Getting Ahead and Bridges Out of Poverty, visit GettingAheadRogersCounty.blogspot.com. To learn how to become a mentor, call (918) 231-7786.

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