Bridges out of poverty comes to Joliet, empowers participants through grass roots collaborative


Last updated 11/20/2019 at 5:16pm

When JTHS Bridge Builder and Troy Board of Education Member Sabrina Price attended a school board conference in 2017, she was inspired by the Key Note Speaker, Dr. Ruby Payne, and her unique and practical approach to breaking the cycle of generational poverty. Price, who at the time was also serving as Chairman of Church of the Good Shepherd, immediately knew she needed to bring Dr. Payne's teachings to Joliet and she began to put the wheels in motion in 2017 by forming a small group of local leaders.

Working side-by-side, community and school leaders began the work to bring a Bridges Out of Poverty Program to Will County. The group, comprised of JTHS Board President Dr. Tracy Spesia, retired JTHS Superintendent Dr. Cheryl McCarthy, Troy 30-C Superintendent Dr. Todd Koehl, Troy 30-C Board President Mark Griglione, Harvey Brooks Executive Director Cathy Wells, Joliet 86 Superintendent Teresa Rouse, United Way of Will County's President & CEO Mike Hennessy and their Community Impact Manager Loren Yaksich, delved into the teaching of Dr. Payne. In 2018, the group expanded to include Captain Wendy Faundez of the Joliet Salvation Army and Kris White of the Will County Center for Community Concerns. Together, they began to lay the groundwork for a Bridges Out of Poverty Community Model that would educate area leaders and volunteers, bring the community together, and provide an opportunity for local individuals in unstable living situations to investigate the impact of poverty in our community. Through the Getting Ahead small group cohorts, participants would examine their own experience of poverty and explore issues in the community that impact poverty such as banking, housing, jobs, transportation, the hidden rules of society, and more. Participants would be able to create their own goals and action steps to create opportunities for success for themselves and the community.

In November of 2018, with support from the Joliet Rotary and the United Way of Will County, the idea of bringing the Bridges Out of Poverty Concepts to Will County became a reality. Price and her team gathered over 150 community leaders to attend a full-day Bridges Out of Poverty workshop held at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Workshop participants gained knowledge of the Bridges of Out of Poverty Concepts and received a call to action to make changes in their own organizations, become a Getting Ahead Group Facilitator, and/or advocate for the initiative. In December of 2018, four volunteers from the full-day workshop were trained to be Getting Ahead Group facilitators. At the same time, nominations were received for the first Getting Ahead Group participants.

The Getting Ahead Program is comprised of 16-week focus groups that bring together a small group of individuals experienced with living in or near poverty. To remove the stigma associated with poverty, participants are titled "Investigators," and are considered experts on dealing with poverty in the local context and are compensated for their time each week with a gift card. These investigator participants are given the opportunity to reflect on their own situations and set personal goals. While the group meets, the JTHS Student Ambassadors and community volunteers provide childcare.

Since program implementation in 2019, one Getting Ahead Group has already been completed with four graduates. Another two groups at the Joliet Salvation Army are nearing completion with as many as four more beginning in January 2020. With support from local organizations, including the United Way of Will County, the Will County Center for Community Concerns, the Community Foundation of Will County, and many others, the Will County Bridges Out of Poverty Initiative continues to expand by hosting community workshops for individuals and organizations, leading more Getting Ahead Groups, and continuing to strengthen bonds and connections within the community to break the cycle of generational poverty.

"The Bridges concepts help people from all economic classes better understand the perspective of others and work together to improve individual lives and the community as a whole," said Price. "The passionate testimonies shared by the investigators and facilitators of the impact the Getting Ahead Group has had fuel a desire to touch more lives."

One Getting Out of Poverty graduate felt so grateful and empowered that she has set a goal to collect 100 or more sleeping bags by December 1. "As we go about our day, we see the homeless on the street," said the Getting Ahead Graduate, who is now enrolled in college and pursuing a career as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor. "Some of them stay in the shelters here in Joliet, but there are so many that do not for one reason or another. I also experienced homelessness. The need I am hoping to fulfill is to provide the homeless sleeping outside with sleeping bags, protecting them from the elements so that they can rest, stay dry, and warm." Donations are being collected at Salvation Army on 300 3rd Avenue in Joliet. Larger donations can be picked up by the Salvation Army. Please call 815-726-4834 for arrangements.

Price expressed her gratitude to those that came together to support the program. "The Will County Bridges Out of Poverty Initiative is a community collaborative," said Price. "The interest and involvement in our community has been widespread and heartfelt and includes school districts, community groups, businesses, churches, service organizations, and individuals. Significant impact on lives and the community as a whole are possible with this kind of support. We are truly grateful for all that are involved and have brought this initiative to where it is today."

To contribute to the Getting Ahead Program, including nominating someone to be a part of an upcoming Getting Ahead Group, making a donation, or volunteering to help with childcare, transportation, or facilitating, please email [email protected].


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