There’s a lot of talk in this presidential election season about the large numbers of Americans living in poverty these days. We can debate all day long about whose fault that is, and whether government programs really help, but in the meantime, nearly 1 in 7 of us live below poverty levels. They can’t afford for us to wait for the government to find new solutions. The challenge of escaping poverty is complex; overcoming the barriers to economic success without the partnership of those who know the way can be disheartening and extremely difficult. We need new models that address those challenges and offer a way out. “Bridges Out of Poverty,” is a program that does just that.
Bridges Out of Poverty is a national initiative to break the cycle of poverty that has found a home right here in Monroe County. Bridges aims to involve the entire community in the journey out of poverty, changing mindsets and providing the tools needed to overcome the barriers to a better life. Our local Bridges program was brought to life by Pocono Alliance and headed up by Arthur Piancone.
Participating in the two year long Bridges Out of Poverty program is not something to undertake lightly. Families and individuals who participate must be highly motivated to work hard at the process and be willing to make the necessary sacrifices. It’s not as easy as the “just get a job” rhetoric we hear a lot. For many folks living in poverty, getting a job might not be that hard, but getting TO the job may be impossible- to get to work you need reliable transportation, or at least someone you can depend on to take you there. Then there’s child care… it can be a house of cards that easily falls apart. Not to mention that by the time you pay those expenses, you may end up bringing home a lot less than you need to support your family. Folks participating commit to working through those really tough times, to persevere and get to the other side, where things do get easier.
Right now, in the inaugural group, there are 17 families and 3 single adults participating. This is indeed a family based program, and the 37 children that are part of those families are involved as well. The first phase of the program is called Getting Ahead. The Getting Ahead group meets weekly for 19 weeks, going through a curriculum together that addresses topics like work skills, financial skills, and family structure. They start by evaluating themselves on 11 resources necessary for success: financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, integrity and trust, formal register, support systems, relationships and role models, motivation and persistence, and knowledge of hidden rules. Then they set goals to develop the areas where they are weak. While the adults are studying their curriculum, the children have a program of their own. Each evening begins with dinner, provided and served by individual members of our community or volunteers from church groups or organizations.
After completing the Getting Ahead program, participants move on to the Circles phase, where they are paired with two mentors from the community to help fulfill their goals for the future. Goal setting is a vital part of the Bridges program, and the mentors help by providing the social capital and networking resources that those trapped in poverty typically cannot access. The Circles phase lasts for the balance of the two years of the program. It is a long program, and that prolonged commitment on the part of the mentors and participants is a key to the program’s success.
Although this year’s program is already underway, there are still plenty of opportunities to help. Those who want to get involved financially can sponsor a family for one class or more; buy books for a family; or just make a general donation here. Perhaps you’d like to adopt a family for the holidays and provide a dinner or gifts; or even serve as a mentor. Once the Circles phase of the program starts in March, Pocono Alliance will need more folks or groups to provide meals each week and help with childcare as well. Anyone interested in helping can contact Pocono Alliance’s Arthur Piancone at (570) 517-3956.