South Central Community Action Programs, Inc. is the community action agency for Adams and Franklin Counties in Pennsylvania. We serve approximately 30,000 individuals through various programs. We use Bridges Out of Poverty, Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’-By-World, and the Bridges constructs in several ways for reducing poverty. We use the Bridges training for our own staff, as well as for our community partner. We also use it for training all of our volunteers for the Circles Initiative (a community engagement initiative that assists families in moving out of poverty while educating the community on the barriers that keep families stuck ). We use the Getting Ahead curriculum with our Circles families, as well as families in our homeless shelters and work-ready programming. This allows us to have a shared language and to be comfortable working together as we create intentional relationships across class and race lines.
The constructs in these books, and our experience working with them, have changed the way we do business and are helping us work to change our communities. That has occurred in several ways. First, in Getting Ahead, you learn from families about poverty in your community—so simple and yet so life changing. You think you know—and yet in some ways you have no idea. The things we have learned from each group that goes through Getting Ahead have helped us reframe our thinking. They remind us that families must be at the table as we look for effective solutions and that they have amazing ideas on how to fix broken systems. Through the process families are empowered to share their stories, which has a significant impact on our community. Through the process we created the “Wage Gap” video after following the life experiences of Cara, one of the family members who went through Getting Ahead and Circles and is now completely self-sufficient; her success was hard won and is a reminder that we as communities have to find innovative solutions to support families on their journeys out of poverty. As we saw her experiences—how as she worked harder and lost benefits but was not earning enough to pay for those losses in services—it became clear that there was no real path out of poverty and that we had to build one. The video showing her experience can be found at http://www.circlesadamscounty.org/wagegapvideo.html
The Bridges constructs help us understand the logic behind the thinking of our families. Frequently middle class staff members and volunteers can’t understand why our families make the choices they do—we sometimes assume there is no logic behind the decisions. How tragic. The Bridges constructs help us not only to see the logic, but also to understand that it is valid. That understanding is transformational; it allows us to build mutual respect. It helps us design programming that motivates our families and builds in supports that assist them in being successful. It reminds us that the plans have to come from the family; we are all much more successful when we are our own change agents. The combination of Bridges training for staff and community partners with Getting Ahead for families helps all of us work toward helping families reach their potential.
Using these materials, and better understanding not only families but also how broken systems are, has helped us bring the problems to the community. We provide Bridges trainings and poverty simulations in which families share their stories, and suddenly we find that people are engaged to help us find solutions. It is bringing everyone to the table to use what we are learning in effective ways!
Since we began this journey, a number of community solutions have begun:
- The Adams County Gleaning Network provides thousands of fresh fruits and vegetables to needy families.
- Campus Kitchen at Gettysburg College is modeled after DC Central Kitchen: It rescues tons of good food that would be discarded and then repackages it for families.
- Our farmers’ market obtained EBT machines, allowing families on SNAP benefits (and credit cards) to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and other farm-fresh staples.
- The farmers’ market provides double dollars to all SNAP beneficiaries, doubling the amount of staples that can be purchased by low-income individuals and families.
- The Fair Share Project began, which provides 40 families stuck in the wage gap with $40 per month to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables.
- We established the first local Food Policy Council in Adams County to deal with food related issues. See http://www.adamsfoodpolicy.org/ for more information.
It isn’t that we are running more programs; it is that the community is engaged in joining us in this important work of reducing poverty. And we find that together we can do so much more!
Megan Shreve worked as a program director in community action for nearly 14 years before taking a four-year venture into the private sector doing training, implementation and business process analysis for a large consulting firm. She returned to the non-profit world in 2005 as the executive director of South Central Community Action Programs, Inc. (SCCAP), a community based program serving 30,000 low income individuals. She is a Certified Trainer for Bridges Out of Poverty.