The following is from Carol Bradshaw, Forward STEPS manager of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana.

COVID paused the Getting Ahead program for nearly two years, but in 2022 it made a strong comeback. Getting Ahead involves rigorous work done in a safe learning environment with the support of an experienced facilitator and cofacilitator. Participants, called “investigators,” are encouraged to examine their own experience of poverty and explore issues in the community that impact poverty.

Program facilitators guide investigators through an assessment of their own resources and how to build those resources as part of their move to self-sufficiency. Getting Ahead puts the concepts, tools, and relationships in the hands of people in poverty to make a difference in their own lives and in the life of their community.

In 2022 we graduated 16 investigators from two classes. In August 2022, eight amazing investigators graduated after 16 weeks of creating an understanding of the causes of poverty, building resources, and planning for their future. Then again in December 2022, another eight outstanding investigators joined the journey to self-sufficiency by investigating their lives, their communities, and their future story.

 Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World examines the root causes of economic differences and allows investigators to understand how they may have gotten where they are. One example is how different social classes perceive money. People in poverty see money as something to be used and spent, people in middle class see money as something to be managed, and people in wealth see money as something to be conserved and invested.

If you were raised in poverty, then all you have ever seen is money being spent, never managed or invested. How are you to learn this? They don’t teach it in school. When asked what the biggest impact the class had on her, a December graduate said, “I understand the difference in the poverty levels and how people in each level think when it comes to money and how they manage it.”

Investigators often begin the class thinking differently about topics like money. This change in thinking can make a huge change in the trajectory of their life and future story.

“It’s so exciting to see the group connect and share each week. They are leading the class, not me. They bring resources to the class that I didn’t know about, so I’m learning new things about my community. I love it!” said a facilitator.

A December graduated summed up the class by saying, “It’s a group of people, like yourself, trying to survive in poverty. Getting Ahead takes away all the barriers for three hours a week so that you can focus on making a life you can be proud of. If you feel alone, you can reach out to any person for a listening ear.”

The next step for Getting Ahead graduates is Staying Ahead. Staying Ahead is a monthly meeting that nurtures their quest for self-sufficiency by staying connected to each other, developing social capital, and discovering their passion and purpose. Staying Ahead offers investigators the additional resources they need to keep them focused on their future story.

Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana was founded in 1983, and it hasn’t stopped fighting hunger since. As a nonprofit organization funded by philanthropic and community support, it is devoted to feeding the hungry, advocating for those facing food insecurity, and providing nutrition education.

The organization fights hunger by working with partner agencies, local schools, corporate partners, and a wide network of volunteers to serve hundreds of people each week.