Bridges out of Poverty plea to Rotary

Keith Phillips, who brought the “Bridges out of Poverty” program to Floyd County last year, enlightens members of Rome Rotary on Thursday about a recently-begun, 18-week group project for those trying to overcome their personal barriers.

When your addicted parents give you heroin at the age of 9, the option of a happy, healthy life seems only a dream reserved for other people.

Until a new perspective — a bridge toward self-discovery and renewal — can finally offer some hope.

That person, now in her 20s, is real.

So is her path out of darkness and poverty.

It’s a new-to-Rome, 18-week personal enrichment workshop known as Getting Ahead While Just Getting By and it’s part of the national Bridges out of Poverty project brought to Floyd County a little over a year ago by Rome’s Keith Phillips.

Phillips, a member of First Baptist Church of Rome who also is involved with Floyd Court Appointed Special Advocates for children in foster care, spoke about the Bridges program at Rome Rotary’s weekly luncheon Thursday and encouraged members to get involved.

Phillips explained to more than 50 Rotarians at Coosa Country Club that the faith-based program based on Ruby Payne’s book by the same name could go a long way toward helping Rome’s residents struggling with a lifetime of personal barriers achieve economic, emotional and mental freedom.

“When you hear the stories, it’s a bit unbelievable,” Phillips told them. “These people are growing up in homes you and I wouldn’t recognize.”

Put together with the help of people like Davies Shelters Director Devon Smyth and LivingProof Recovery’s founder Claudia Hamilton after 14 Getting Ahead facilitators were trained earlier this year, the first group of 10 poverty-stricken “investigators” met for the first time for three hours Dec. 5.

The group focusing on “the tyranny of the moment” consisted of four women from the Ruth & Naomi shelter, three recently-incarcerated women from Hamilton’s Next Door program and three men from the Davies Shelter.

During the session participants didn’t hold back their frustrations about how Floyd County conditions have contributed to their poverty, Phillips said.

“It was a free-for-all,” Phillips said, explaining folks weren’t shy about sharing their thoughts and ideas. “It was like being on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, there were so many things flying around the room.”

In the quieter moments, participants were able to share their own stories and backgrounds with the group.

Phillips said a 19-year-old single mother from the Ruth & Naomi shelter ended up there after escaping a home wrought with drugs and abuse.

“She has plans to be in her own apartment with her 16-month-old child by the end of the year,” he said. “She shared that one of her main challenges is transportation. She leaves the shelter at 7 a.m. to get to her job by 9 a.m. That’s two hours on the transit system and that includes child care drop-off at some point.”

Through involvement in the weekly group sessions that will include workshops on budgeting and financial literacy, Phillips said it will be up to participants to find their own solutions to the barriers holding them back. That’s why they are being referred to as “investigators.”

All workshop investigators are provided with transportation, a meal, child care and a $25 Walmart gift card each week.

Smyth said that first workshop was incredibly raw and inspiring.

“I found it really heartening the way the investigators jumped in to begin the good work,” Smyth said. “And it really is their work. Not ours. We’re just giving them the tools.”

The most awe-inspiring moment was when some participants tried to turn down their “payment” of the $25 gift cards.

“We hadn’t told them the gift cards were part of the deal because we didn’t want them doing it just for that,” Smyth said Thursday. “Some of them told me they didn’t want it, but I told them they deserved it for their hard work in the session and to just think of it as mad money.”

Phillips encouraged the Rotarians to either contribute financially to the cause or give of their time by becoming a facilitator.

Certified facilitators and those interested in hearing more about how they can help will be gathering Saturday at 9:30 a.m. in Daniel Hall at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 101 E. Fourth Ave.

“It’s an informal, bring-your-own-coffee kind of a listening session,” Smyth said. “It’s been really exciting to think about what this program can do for our community.”

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