The following is from Stephanie Romero, Getting Ahead coordinator at Community Progress Council in York, Pennsylvania.

Getting Ahead graduates in York, PennsylvaniaChristine considers her move to York, Pennsylvania, in 2019 as “necessary.”

“If I stay here, I know what the rest of the story looks like,” she remembers thinking. “If I leave, it’s a big, wide-open door.”

In her first week, she walked into the offices of the Community Progress Council and asked about programs offered. When she saw the flyer for Getting Ahead in A Just Gettin’-By-World, she signed up. Over several weeks, she worked with her fellow classmates to investigate how poverty affects their lives, build resources, and begin to develop a vision for the future.

“Pretty much my first support system started because of that class,” Christine says. “I was still finding my confidence, motivating myself to speak up and advocate for myself. The people in that class said, ‘Whatever you need, if you need help, we got you.’”

Christine’s initial goal was finding stable housing and overall financial stability.

Connecting with a coach through Community Progress Council helped Christine to build her resume and connect with free online courses to build up her skills. With a background mostly in retail, she knew she didn’t want to continue that path.

Her coach also helped her connect to childcare, which was important, as Christine was expecting her third child. Shortly after her daughter was born and the COVID-19 pandemic flipped life upside down, Christine found herself worn down from applying to so many jobs.

“I pretty much discovered what I didn’t like,” Christine says. “My coach encouraged me to apply for some positions at Community Progress Council, and that’s how I ended up as a nutrition assistant for WIC [Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children].”

From there, she became “the go-to reference person” in the WIC office. Relying on her natural curiosity, she helped participants connect to community resources. After a year, it felt like a natural fit to apply for a community outreach navigator role within the Community Progress Council and to continue her journey.

Christine’s work with the Community Progress Council over the past five years has helped her and her kids, as well as the people around her, to show it’s possible to step outside of their comfort zone and try new things.

“The dream is still in my head; it’s an ongoing process,” she says. “The steps to get there keep changing. I just knew that in order to give my children a healthier life, we had to not be where we came from.”

Christine is still taking online courses, having just finished a nonprofit leadership management course through Temple University. In April, she’ll start in strengths-based coaching, working toward her bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“I love the way the human mind works,” she says. “That’s the biggest barrier for poverty: the mind. Most of the things people feel are problems are something they learned over time. If we can somehow break that pattern, maybe people would be able to reach self-sufficiency on their own.”

But Christine knows the challenges that lie ahead. Despite the progress she’s made on childcare, affordable housing, and workforce development, some of her public assistance benefits have disappeared as she increases her wage.

“Currently, I’m in this cusp where technically, financially, I don’t qualify for assistance programs,” Christine says. “But, after taxes, I don’t make a large amount of money that allows me to live a comfortable lifestyle. I’m on a tight budget.”

Her work now with her coach is finding a way to bridge that gap and get over that hump. That support is provided in part by Community Progress Council’s Self-Sufficiency Program, which provides resources to bridge the gap between public assistance and stability as participants make progress.

She’s also working with the Community Progress Council’s Housing & Financial Education Program to rework her budget and focus on moving toward home ownership.

“My four-bedroom, two-garage, two-bathroom home,” Christine says. “I write about it, and I talk to God every day about it.”

She dreams about the space for her children to find themselves, to grow, to see where they fit in life. Her sons, one a black belt in karate and the other in a NASA program, and her daughter, the dancer, dreaming of music school.

“I support them in whatever it is they want to do,” she says. “I didn’t have that growing up.”

Christine is quick to share with others that she didn’t know anyone when she first arrived in York. When she signed up for Getting Ahead, she didn’t know what she was going to get out of the class.

“But it didn’t hurt to try,” she says. “You just have to get out of your comfort zone.”

“We all need a support system. We all need help, a hand. No one gets anywhere alone. Just say yes.”

Community Progress Council works with low- and moderate-income people of all ages in York County to empower them to achieve self-sufficiency and live independent of public supports. It does this by serving families through comprehensive, integrated services.

The aha! Process Getting Ahead program engages investigators (participants) in exploring the realities of poverty in their communities and how those realities impact them. They also explore the causes of poverty, the “hidden rules” of economic class, and ways to develop resources and build stable lives. Getting Ahead graduates build relationships across class lines and often join the decision-making tables in their communities.