Program Helps Citizens in Poverty Move from Just Getting By to Getting Ahead

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Poverty and low wages impact how we live. According to the Census Bureau 2015 Quick Facts for Talbot County, 11.7 percent of the county’s population are “persons in poverty.” A new collaborative program of the Talbot County Department of Social Services (TCDSS) and Talbot Family Network (TFN), “Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’- By World,” is designed to help its participants understand the mental models of generational poverty, along with the mental models of the middle and the upper classes. This program allows participants to explore the impact that poverty and low wages have and what it takes to move from just getting by, to getting ahead and realizing the future that they really want.

When Mary of Easton needed temporary rental assistance for six months to pay her bills, she didn’t see herself living in poverty, even though she fit the poverty guidelines for the program which had helped her. Although she was once a government employee with a good job, after a failed relationship and a move to Easton, she could not find full-time work, which caused her financial situation to deteriorate rapidly.  She comments, “I was working two jobs and helping family members with their expenses. I couldn’t get ahead.”

Photo: Pictured left to right Melissa Micriotti, Director of Administration and Finance and Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World Facilitator, Chesapeake Mulitcultural Resource Center; James Carter, Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World Facilitator; Paris Quillet, Special Projects Coordinator, TCDSS; Katie Sevon, Executive Director, Talbot Family Network; Jazmine Gibson, a Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World Facilitator from Talbot Mentors; Tracy Donaghue, Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World Facilitator, TCDSS; and Estela Vianey Ramirez, Hispanic Outreach Coordinator and Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World Facilitator, Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center.

Falling further and further behind, Mary was then laid off from one of the jobs and it took a long time to find another job and then she became unemployed. She adds, “I was forced into an early retirement, but was not ready financially to retire.”

After receiving rental assistance, Mary was asked if she wanted to participate in the new “Getting Ahead in a Just- Gettin’-By World” program. She comments, “When I think of poverty, I think of people who are unable to locate resources.”

She adds, “I knew I needed the right full-time job with benefits. I needed someone to give me a chance.”

Among the information Mary has learned in the program are the “hidden rules” of each economic class; the resources she already has; and how to formulate a personal plan for success. The resources are financial, emotional, language, mental/cognitive, social capital/connections, physical, spiritual, motivation/persistence, integrity/trust, and relationships/role models.

According to Paris Quillet, Special Projects Coordinator, TCDSS, “Group participants are able to identify the resources they have, versus the resources they need, to formulate personal plans for the future based on their goals. Among the benchmarks for the program are evaluating whether participants’ income, housing, education/training, transportation, childcare, and language proficiency have improved as a result of their participation.”

Among the eye-opening sessions for Mary was learning about legal resources, such as the service agencies who could help her, versus the illegal resources, such as black market goods and services. In addition, she learned that she wasted a lot of time in working toward accomplishing her goals each day. Time management exercises have helped her to improve in this area.

According to Tracy Donaghue, Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World Facilitator with TCDSS, “Our participants are really vested in the program and freely provide insights from their own personal lives. The goal of the program is to help participants become more financially stable and to advance their careers.”

Participants in the program are known as “investigators.” The Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World Facilitator guides the group and together, with the group, investigates and helps group members solve problems. Co-investigation is the foundation for theGetting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World program.

According to Katie Sevon, Executive Director of Talbot Family Network, “This spring’s inaugural session provided childcare and transportation, if needed, and group members were also paid a weekly stipend. This helps ensure continuity of the group and remove barriers that would prevent participation.” She adds, “A lot of thought-provoking discussion and ideas have come out of the group so far. We are very excited about this new initiative and the positive impact it will have for our community.”

For Mary, despite her setbacks and personal crises, she states, “I have always had hope. This program is helping me see the things I can do to get ahead – making better use of my time and resources to do it. There is always something you can gain from a course like this.”

Persons interested in participating in this program as an investigator or as a referral source can contact Paris Quillet, Special Projects Coordinator, TCDSS, at 410-770-5870 or email paris.quillet@maryland.gov.

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