By STEVEN NALLEY
Starkville Bridges Out of Poverty will hold its second “Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-By World” class starting June 5, and this time it will offer a parallel “Building Bridges For Kids” program for children of the main class’s students.
Tequilla Manning, SBOP operations administrator, said the first “Getting Ahead” class, held last year, graduated 12 participants. She said the program teaches participants the truth surrounding poverty, its causes, the hidden rules of the middle class and how to build the social, emotional and financial resources to escape poverty.
“The Bridges Out of Poverty model teaches that if you are living in the middle class, work and achievement are your key goals,” Manning said. “If you’re living in poverty, relationships (are) very essential, relationships and survival. (We are) looking at the different mental models of the two classes and helping them understand what is important for people in the middle class and how people get into the middle class.
“For example, a lot of people don’t realize how important networking is,” Manning added. “When you know someone, that is part of a resource that you have, so (we are) helping them identify the resources that they currently have and helping them to build more resources.”
Shirley Ross, a graduate of the first “Getting Ahead” class, said the program helped her learn to live without items she could not afford and begin to address her debt issues.
“I had more bills than income that I was receiving,” Ross said. “I didn’t realize until I took this class how bad of a shape I was really in. I have worked to pay my washer and dryer off. I’m about to pay my TV off and also pay my computer bills off. Once I get those smaller bills out of the way, I can focus on those big bills.”
Ross said it also helped to meet with others facing similar situations on a regular basis.
“It let me know that I’m not in this world alone having financial problems,” Ross said.
Manning said SBOP is coordinating with Mississippi State University’s Maroon Volunteer Center and the Starkville Mayor’s Youth Council to gather volunteers for the children’s program. While childcare provided by MVC volunteers was part of the program last year, this year the SBOP steering committee has created a subcommittee to develop a structured workbook program for children.
“This year, we’ll still have volunteers from (MVC), but they (will) have lesson plans (which are) age appropriate for the children,” Manning said.
Part of this subcommittee is Meggan Franks, program coordinator at the MSU Office of Student Leadership and Community Engagement. Franks said the MVC volunteers were already serving as mentors last year, and this year will take it a step further.
“We had different group activities planned (last year) ... fun and games, journaling activities, varying things like that,” Franks said. “The children we worked with really enjoyed it and the mentors we had also said it was an amazing experience. What I talked to the board about was actually creating a children’s piece to this puzzle, that we could plug in our student volunteers and also reach out to different children. We’re reaching out to the parents, but reaching out to the children is also important. If you’re looking at the impact to the entire family, I think putting this different spin on it is extremely important.”
Franks said the children’s program elements mirror those of “Getting Ahead,” but it is geared toward their age group. The activities involve creativity, journalizing, reading material and a variety of other engagement modes, she said.
“(The goal is) just teaching them about themselves, who they are,” Franks said. “Giving them a forward focus is a lot of it. (We want to) help them kind of build confidence for the future.”
Franks said she hopes the children will also build relationships with mentors from MVC and MYC. “Getting Ahead” students’ children come in a wide age range, she said, so it will be useful to have MYC high school students to match up with younger students and MVC college students to match up with younger ones.
Manning said SBOP is also training its facilitators for “Getting Ahead,” and she will attend a trainer certification seminar in Salt Lake City April 2-4. She said Bridges Out of Poverty is based on a book by Ruby K. Payne, Philip DeVol and Terie Dreussi Smith, which has spawned similar programs across the country.