"Getting Ahead" classes offer people living in poverty a better future

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Forty percent of middle-class Americans are just one paycheck away from falling into poverty. Often times, those already living in poverty don't exactly know how they can get out of it. January 14, 2020 marks the first day of classes for people enrolled in the "Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-By World" program. The program helps people identify their strengths and build a better future.

The goal of "Getting Ahead" classes is not to end poverty, but it certainly is to help people find new and better solutions for the issue. The class gives people a chance to identify skills they already have, while learning new ones and putting them into action to find success. (SOURCE: KOLN)

The class dives into the reasons someone finds themselves living in poverty. The purpose of the class is to help people face where they are right now and where they'd like to see themselves in the future.

Participants in the class are called "investigators." Single moms make up a big portion of the investigators. Sometimes, these moms are working two to three jobs at a time just to make ends meet. The class offers a way for people to find their own strengths and use them to gain access to the resources they need.

Alynn Sampson is the youth and family programs director for the Food Bank of Lincoln. She tells us, "We know that people in poverty are really great problem solvers because they're surviving every day, and they're coming up with solutions to get through today. What we really want to do is hone in on that skill and say, 'Now, how do we apply that for tomorrow? How do we start thinking about tomorrow?'"

Around 11 percent of Nebraskans are in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In Lincoln, it's more than 14 percent, and there are a number of different types of poverty someone can face, including when it's unexpected or sudden.

To understand how to get out of poverty, sometimes, an individual has to figure out how they ended up there in the first place.

Situational poverty can be caused by a life crisis like a recent divorce, a sudden illness, or by losing your job. Generational poverty happens when at least two generations of families were already born into poverty. In either situation, it's often hard to find the tools you need to get out.

When investigators take these classes, they're given the resources they need in order to reach their full potential in life. They evaluate and learn about things like living wages, their debt to income ratios, and general causes of poverty. Some investigators who complete the class end up coming back, but the next time as facilitators of a new class.

"So as they graduate, they go on to help co-lead another class to say, 'Here is how I did it," and I think those are the real experts and have the most power to say, 'Here's the path that I took, here's how I did it, and you can do it too," Sampson tells 10/11.

Most of the time, people living in poverty are busy working many hours. They don't always have the time and space to think, so the "Getting Ahead" program allows them to do just that.

Even though the goal of "Getting Ahead" classes is not to end poverty, it certainly is to help people find new and better solutions for the issue. The class gives people a chance to identify skills they already have, while learning new ones and putting them into action to find success. Facilitators do what they call "planning backwards" and aim for investigators in the class to find short-term and long-term goals.

Sampson says, "As opposed to setting a goal way off in the future and then trying to make steps towards that, we end with that goal. 'What are things you need to do? So, if you have a goal [for] December 31st, [saying] 'I want to be in this place.' [We say,] 'What needs to happen by December 1st?'"

After completing the "Getting Ahead" classes, some participants have been able to purchase a home and to find a higher-paying job.

Investigators who've graduated from the class say they've been able to positively grow as individuals, learning from their mistakes in the past and how they can strive to not turn back.

"Getting Ahead" classes see about an 85 percent retention rate. Since the Food Bank of Lincoln launched the class in 2016, 150 investigators have successfully completed the program.

Only one person from each household is allowed to participate in the program. You must be able to speak and read English at "C" level or higher.

Investigators who enroll in and take the "Getting Ahead" classes are offered childcare, free meals, and a cash stipend as a reward for finishing the 12-week program.

Classes for this session start on January 14, 2020 and end on March 31, 2020. They'll be held at ConnectioN Point located at 1333 N. 33rd Street.