Addressing Poverty One Individual at a Time
BY SHERRY THOMPSON
The Women’s Center for Advancement is helping break the cycle of generational poverty one individual at a time with its Bridges to Opportunity Program.
“The idea for our program is to help people address all of those barriers to success in their lives,” says A.R. Tulani Grundy Meadows, Bridges to Opportunity director.
The program isn’t for everyone, and the WCA accepts no more than 30 participants annually based on applications and interviews. “We want to make sure everyone is a real fit,” Meadows says. “We want people who are underemployed or unemployed who desire change and are highly motivated.”
A self-sufficiency matrix assessment takes a look at all aspects of a participant’s life to determine where they are and what gaps exist in education, housing, child care and other areas. Each is rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with a 1 meaning the person really needs help and a 5 meaning they are thriving.
“What we discovered is, when we sit down with people at the beginning of the program, we are seeing 1s, 2s and maybe a few 3s,” Meadows says. The program’s goal is to move them up as much as possible, and the assessment is done every six months to track progress.
Each Bridges participant is paired with a self-sufficiency coach who meets with them on a weekly basis to set up an action plan. “They knock out barriers one at a time,” Meadows says.
Participation in the 16-week Bridges Out of Poverty’s “Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-By World” is mandatory, and it helps people assess their situation and come up with strategies for breaking their own cycle of poverty. “They leave feeling empowered with their choices,” Meadows says. Other workshops focus on topics such as financial literacy and career development.
“When you are working with people who have only known poverty, it’s important for them to see realities,” Meadows says. Field trips are part of the program and might include attending Jazz on the Green, taking a yoga class or visiting the Joslyn Art Museum.
Partnerships with other agencies are an integral part of the program. “We like to partner with other organizations that specialize in different aspects of self-sufficiency,” Meadows says. Metropolitan Community College, for instance, comes to the WCA for testing and helps clients schedule classes.
“When we talk about breaking the cycle of generational poverty, it’s really key to reach folks young,” she says. The program expanded last summer to include a Bridges for Leadership Academy for Girls ages 10 to 14. “The key is really exposing and providing girls with the support they need to be successful.”
Poverty is not simple to address, and it’s important to look at systemic issues while also focusing on employability. “It’s about shifting one’s world view,” Meadows says. “If all you have known is poverty, your world view is so myopic. We want clients to think about what is going to happen tomorrow and next week and a year from now.”