Inaugural Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World class graduates

Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World was developed as a way for individuals living in or near poverty to write their future story.

Based on Ruby Payne’s research in Bridges Out of Poverty and presented by aha! Process, Philip DeVol created this course to place participants in the seat of experts and investigators of their own life.

Investigators participate in a three-month-long curriculum in which they investigate the realities of conditions in their community and how they impact them, some of the hidden rules for getting ahead, skills that give them confidence to do what it takes to get ahead, how to build resources and make connections at home and at work and ways to deal with change and create stability in their life.

The inaugural Getting Ahead course started in Jackson County in June through a collaboration between Jackson County United Way and Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Pantry.

In the end, a graduation ceremony was conducted at Pewter Hall in Brownstown to celebrate those who completed the new offering in the county.

Jena Hanks, financial stability program manager for Jackson County United Way, said it’s recommended to have between eight and 12 participants in the program. There were 12 at the start, and that was down to eight about halfway through.

Two weeks before the class ended, there were only four left after a good thing happened: A few of the participants found permanent housing. That was out of the county, so they had to leave the program.

“I think this first session was a wonderful success. Each of the participants, even if they were only able to be in there a couple weeks, they now have those tools and resources and they have the book to take with them throughout their life,” Hanks said.

“Also, it has just been so great to see those graduates go through the program and learn and even see some of them from the first couple weeks how they were maybe more closed off to the group and didn’t want to share, and by the end, they were volunteering to read the curriculum and offer up their own opinions and really just open up to the group,” she said.

In the fall of 2021, United Way conducted a Bridges Out of Poverty workshop. That led to the Getting Ahead program being offered this year.

“While that was more catered to educating the general public about what poverty looks like in our community and how to advise and really make a difference in our area, this is the same material. It’s just aimed at people who are struggling financially,” Hanks said. “It’s kind of looking at it from the other end.”

Hanks said United Way received grant funding in 2019 to bring some of this work to the community, but the COVID-19 pandemic put that on pause.

Based on the good work already happening in the county and United Way’s internal programming, she said the workshop and Getting Ahead were the next logical steps.

For the first session, United Way partnered with Anchor House for participant referrals from its community food pantry and homeless shelter residents.

The 10 modules were broken into 12 classes, which were on Tuesday evenings at Anchor House. Individuals and entities in the county volunteered to serve a meal to the participants, and then a guest speaker spoke to the group before one of the five facilitators led the class.

“Throughout the course, the participants take a self-assessment where they grade themselves based on a rubric of about 20 different assets in their life and where they are at,” Hanks said.

For those in the middle class, Hanks said it’s important what voice they use to communicate with other people.

“It could be tempting to use more of a child voice where you’re speaking to somebody in a way that they seem more superior to you or something like that, whereas that’s not how we should communicate with one another,” she said. “Or maybe they utilize a parent voice where they are talking down to people saying, ‘This is what you should do.’”

Class members also investigated the community to determine resources, collaborated with each other to identify a path toward stability and implemented changes into their own lives.

“By the end of it, our participants have actually developed a plan moving forward that they can take with them,” Hanks said. “It’s really building blocks for their next steps of where to go.”

During the graduation, United Way Executive Director Maci Baurle thanked the contributors of the program, including the volunteers who served the meals, businesses and organizations that donated the meals, guest speakers who shared information about their work and resources and facilitators for leading the classes.

She also thanked the Community Foundation of Jackson County, Duke Foundation and Cummins Foundation for providing grant funding for the program.

Anchor House Executive Director Megan Cherry shared what was done in the program and introduced the four graduates and gave them certificates.

Hanks then spoke about the plans for Getting Ahead in the future, which includes making this an annual offering.

“Moving forward, we’d like to offer this as a broader communitywide program and even plug it into some of our existing programming, too, so our Free Income Tax Assistance program, a lot of those folks would benefit from this work or even our Day of Caring clients and those folks or Rock’n Ready,” Hanks said. “There are a lot of places to plug things in and a lot of good direction that the program has.”

The Bridges Out of Poverty curriculum also has a model of a Bridges community, and Hanks said she would like to work toward creating that here.

She also would like to see this program go into different workplaces and facilities across the county, including the work release center and jail.

“It’s an excellent program for creating a plan,” Hanks said. “That’s the next step of where we’re headed is to help make a transition there toward financial stability.”

Learn more 

For information about the Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World course, contact Jackson County United Way Financial Stability Program Manager Jena Hanks at [email protected] or 812-522-5450, ext. 1.