Bonnie-BazataBy Bonnie Bazata, St. Joseph County Bridges Out of Poverty Initiative

Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World is sometimes hard to describe to people unfamiliar with it.  It is a facilitated process of discovery where information, concepts, and analytical tools are shared with people over 15-20 sessions where they explore the impact of poverty in their lives and the dynamics of economic class.  It is not presented as “the truth,” but rather as hypotheses.  The concepts are based on examining patterns and with every pattern there are exceptions.  Each person is supported in discussing, interrogating, refuting and expanding the ideas based on their own life experiences and understandings. We call people “investigators,” elevating their role beyond just a participant.

It is a powerful process and often an emotional one as participants examine their own experience of economic class. Getting Ahead brings new language and tools to this important but often overlooked conversation.  It takes a gifted facilitator and co-facilitator (usually a graduate of the class) to guide the conversation and discovery process.  People in poverty are rarely given the time, space, and support to have this conversation even though it can be life-changing and liberating.

Philip DeVol built the curriculum on his ideas and many of the theories of adult education, which understands that each student has tremendous assets and agency for change.  Bridges Out of Poverty trainings for professionals and others not in poverty are based on the same concepts with the goal of having a “rosetta stone” that allows us to inquire more deeply into economic class together so we can find a better response to addressing poverty. A core principal of Bridges is that it will take all economic classes at the table to solve poverty and this process makes this a more viable possibility.

So what is Getting Ahead?  It is not a life skills class, a financial management class, or an employment support class – though these are often important next steps.  People are rightfully treated as the experts on their own lives, rather than expected to passively soak up information professionals deem as necessary for improvement.  What makes Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World unique is as much about what is not there, as what is there.  It is an empowering, experiential, facilitated journey of discovery into a future previously seen as impossible.

And we believe it is a key (and previously missing) piece in not just supporting people in their transition out of poverty, but in how to build a table broad enough to bring all economic classes into the conversation on how we break the cycle of generational poverty.