The Tucson’s Getting Ahead program, based on the Bridges out of Poverty construct, is in its 9th week. Of the initial 15 investigators, 12 are still in the program. The class is mixed. A number of participants are Native Americans. All Investigators are showing a deep gratitude for the support that they receive.
Our role as Vincentians has been so far to provide meals, babysitting and security, plus stipends in the form of supermarket cards and bus passes. We will then all become mentors for the graduates at the end of the program. To respect the privacy of the investigators, we never go into the room where the work takes place, unless invited by the Facilitator.
For instance, the Facilitator invited me to give a brief talk about predatory lending, when they arrived at the pages of the workbook, which explain Exploitation as one of the causes of poverty. I described the issue with a story, recommended that they never go to those businesses, explained how Voice of the Poor advocated in the last few months against the re-introduction of Predatory lending in Arizona (because of the opposition by SVdP and our allies, the proposal was pulled from the legislative agenda, at least for this year). Then, I indicated that they would be much better advocates that any of us could ever be on this issue. They were keen to discuss this last point, which the Facilitator reinforced by stating that it is their right to have a voice. I could not believe how responsive and engaged the Investigators were, recognizing immediately in predatory lending a problem that either themselves or a neighbor encountered, asking very real questions, adding other examples and at the end seeming ready to march with me to the legislature. Overall, I was amazed and edified by their reaction. I can easily see how some of them will become future advocates and leaders in their community.
In another experience, I went on a home visit with another Vincentian, who had been bringing help to an Investigator for a number of months. The Investigator recognized me from the talk on predatory lending. That gave me the opportunity to ask about the program. The response was that, after having gone from emergency to emergency for years, for the first time the Getting Ahead program gave her the ability to examine her situation as if through a window, from the outside looking in. That response confirmed what we hoped for, i.e. that they are able to do some abstract thinking about poverty and their situation.
And, here is an e-mail from an Investigator, participating in Getting Ahead for the second time: “I would love to share how GA has helped me on my path out of poverty. There is a lot of work to do still, but I have learned many things from the GA group. The second time around is even better. I have actually seen how much I have grown and can see the tools that I have learned in the first class and how I have put them to use in my life. I have learned things that have definitively helped me. For one, I learned to advocate for myself and that I AM SOMEBODY and that, no matter what background I may have come from, that I am deserving and that I am just like everyone else, only at a different level.”
We found that rebuilding self-esteem is really something that they need, probably more than anything else is.
Just as the program is changing life for the Investigators, it has begun to change our Council.
Our conferences have the tendency to do their good work on their own. The fact that Vincentians from five conferences are working together to organize the program can only bring more cooperation in the future.
We have briefly presented the Getting Ahead program to several conferences, inviting Vincentians to be part of the effort. We noticed that just mentioning the program creates the opportunity to have a discussion within the conference. I think that the internal debate is healthy for our conferences. We noticed that new members or younger members are the most interested in the program and want to be part of it. We invite conferences to serve a meal to the Investigators at one of the sessions, so that they can get a feel of what is happening. Several have done so. Members of one conference were so impressed with what they saw when they served the meal to the Investigators that they decided to bring two more.