National Initiative Seeks to Build Bridges out of Poverty Locally Part One – 2011-01-07

By: Katie Sobiech

Yvette McMillan knows what it’s like to grow up in poverty. She is no stranger to falling asleep wondering whether or not the rent would be paid, and hoping for a better tomorrow.

Though difficult, experiencing poverty first hand is what gave her a heart for finding financial freedom for herself and others.

Today McMillan is a certified trainer for Bridges out of Poverty (B.O.P.), and works to help others escape the tangled web. B.O.P. is a holistic approach to ending poverty in our communities. Much research and many minds have come together to formulate this targeted approach to decrease poverty.

“There are many poverty alleviation plans and approaches out there, but this is one that I have made a commitment to because I believe it works,” McMillan said.

McMillan began incorporating B.O.P. strategies at the Harvest Home while working with homeless women. It was there that she came across obstacles when working with the poor, but also discovered solutions through B.O.P. She now teaches others about this revolutionary concept that has the potential to help them become financially stable.

Community Action

“Among a lot of good hearted, caring people there is a consensus that people shouldn’t have to live in poverty. A lot of people want to get out of poverty. Bridges out of Poverty identifies solutions,” Doug Denton, Certified B.O.P. Trainer, said.

The problems that tag along with poverty affect us all.

Problems that are triggered and intensified by poverty include crime, drug abuse, child abuse and disease, which greatly impact our cities. Mental health and addiction problems are also extremely prevalent in families with low resources (www.movethemountain.org). Since these issues affect entire communities, entire communities should be part of the solution.

B.O.P.’s Overall Concept

“Bridges out of Poverty is a holistic approach to addressing the issue of poverty within a community,” McMillan said.

B.O.P. helps communities understand poverty’s impact on people and their communities, it reduces poverty rates, creates employment opportunities and reduces homelessness.

It all began in the 1990’s, when Dr. Ruby Payne, Phil DeVol, and Terie Dreussi Smith collaborated and wrote the book Bridges out of Poverty to promote this idea and educate individuals concerning poverty and the hidden rules of social class. This team of individuals gathered to teach communities new mental models regarding poverty.

Dr. Ruby Payne got her start in the 1980’s when noticing that different traits could be identified in children from different economic classes. She used this information in creating an awareness of the hidden rules of social classes in society as a whole. She described rules of each class: the poor, middle class and wealthy, which led to the development of her poverty framework and first book, that help people who want to escape the cycle of generational poverty.

Collaboration and the Creation of Circles

In 2006 Dr. Payne’s company, aha! Process, Inc. formed a partnership with Move the Mountain. Move the Mountain (M.T.M.) is an organization that was founded in order to inspire and equip communities to focus on helping people get out of poverty completely, rather than just helping in part.

Together M.T.M. and aha! Process launched the Circles Campaign in early 2007 in order to build long-term relationships among those of different income lines to help people in poverty get out. Those of middle or upper income became “allies”. The allies meet with poverty stricken families to follow through on a plan to secure their basic needs, such as food, housing, transportation, energy and childcare.

Training must take place before entering a circle. This provides a background and an education on how each different social class works.

After receiving their training, those from poverty and the working class are brought together. “Circles” are formed, in which 3-4 people are matched up with one person in poverty. The person in poverty is the “lead” person who establishes a plan. The others are the supporters, there to support the implementation of the plan. The allies must make an 18 month commitment to stick by the person in need.

The Circles Campaign is designed to reach a total of 1,000 communities within the next decade through a network of training centers across the country (www.movethemountain.org).

The “Hidden Rules”

“The hidden rules of economic classes affect how we view our world,” McMillan said.

Many mental barriers have been engrained in those in poverty for generations that even they are not aware of. The 15-week training sessions are designed to educate and create an “Aha!” moment for these individuals , where they identify the problems that have been holding them back for so long, realize “That is me!”, and come up with some solutions.

One “hidden rule” for those living in poverty is often reckless ways in which they spend their money.

“Many people in poverty really don’t know what’s going to happen a week from now, so if they get a little bit of money they are apt to spend it right away. They live for the moment and celebrate for the moment,” Denton said.

The training gets them to look at their values in regards to how they spend money and how their culture affects them negatively.

“It’s really an education and awareness approach first,” McMillan said, “Making them aware of the different norms and values in each economic class, and making them familiar with the rules that they operate.”

Making a Change

“The policies that are made on Capitol Hill affect people on the streets of Akron. We need to take a look at those large systems and confront and change them,” Denton said.

Meetings to create change in Akron have already been taking place.

“For the past year, many of us in the community have been working at building a Steering Committee to approach all of this in a collaborative and comprehensive manner,” Denton said.

Those currently on the committee are from social service and faith-based organizations, but their hope is to also bring in business people, political leaders and others to expand the vision.

The Steering Committee is open to the public and meets the last Tuesday of every month at Open M, a non-profit that serves the poor in their community.

Action in Summit County

Twenty-five individuals have graduated from the Getting Ahead class at Open M so far.

Right now, the Harvest Home, a shelter for homeless women and children has mentors assigned to each graduate of the B.O.P. training. The Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority is on the same track.

“Park United Methodist church is just finishing up with its first Getting Ahead class and has been lining up partners,” Denton said.

A social worker at Open M is currently following up with graduates as well. She will begin a new Getting Ahead class in January. Over 20 people were already signed up a month ago.

The Circles Campaign has not yet begun in Summit County. Akron/Summit Community Action is pursuing a contract with Move the Mountain so that they can. It will be several months before it takes place.

The Need

“We’re trying to get more volunteers to partner or become allies with people who want to get out of poverty,” Denton shared, “Our focus at Open M will be to reach out to congregations because we feel there is a heart and sentiment for that. I think congregations are the best resource.”

Individuals of middle or upper income levels are needed in the community to attend sessions and provide ongoing support. Those interested will be expected to attend a B.O.P. workshop. They must also have an interest in working with a family striving to get out of poverty and be willing to take training as to how to become a partner and ally, and develop a relationship with the person over the course of 18 months.

The hope is to increase staffing at Open M, and initiate more B.O.P. workshops with the purpose of recruiting more volunteers to become allies or partners that help people who want to escape from the cycle of generational poverty.

“We have a Steering Committee made up of representatives from the community, primarily social service agencies. Within the next 6 months we hope to enlarge that group or expand the involvement of people at the Steering Committee level to bring in some business people and some people from other segments of the community to create a larger board,” Denton said.

For more information please contact Open M at 330-434-0110

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