Getting Ahead (in a “Just Gettin’ By World”)

By Kim Whisenhunt, Operations Manager

Part 3 of a 3-part series

During our last fiscal year, Tri-Lakes Cares served 490 households. We helped 88 households with utilities and 58 households with rent or mortgage. Tri-Lakes Cares helps with emergency, relief and self-sufficiency programs. In the past, we have been heavy on the relief and emergency programs but in the last five years we have concentrated on our self-sufficiency programming. We are aware we cannot solve poverty for most but we do know it is important to offer programs to help someone who is ready to make that change and move forward.

Tri-Lakes Cares runs a self-sufficiency program called Getting Ahead (In a Just Getting’ By World) created by Philip DeVol. This 12 to 15 week program studies poverty and near poverty through the lens of economic classes to better understand how society and those economic classes work: poverty, middle class and upper class. The participants work as a group to investigate the impact that poverty and low wages have on all of us and what it takes to move from a just-getting-by world to a getting-ahead world.  The classes are not “taught” but rather run by a facilitator who helps with group discussions and investigations of the participants’ community. The attendees are considered investigators because they are investigating their community and what in their community are barriers to becoming self-sufficient.

Each chapter of the Getting Ahead workbook addresses different aspects of poverty.

Module 1 -“My Life Now”: If you are going to do something about poverty, you should know an accurate, specific and complete picture of poverty and instability in your community. The investigators create a mental model of poverty addressing what their day-to-day concerns are when living in poverty. Having to delicately balance all of these concerns on a daily basis causes one to live in the “tyranny of the moment.”

To the left is a Mental Model of Poverty. These are the concerns a person in poverty must juggle every day. Imagine the difficulty you would have when your resources do not match your needs.  People in poverty are constantly living in the “tyranny of the moment”, putting out fire after fire.

Module 2 – “Theory of Change”: When daily life is unpredictable and unstable, people can become caught in solving problems all day long. Breaking out of that trap can lead to a new future story. It is important for the investigators to know that the stages of change they will go through almost never occur in a straight line and that relapse is normal. The point is that when there is a relapse, we don’t have to start all over but can go back to the preparation or action stage. In the book DeVol states, “the difference between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ fuels the motivation needed to actualize personal growth.

Module 3 -“The Rich/Poor Gap and Research on Causes of Poverty”: Until we explore and understand  all of the causes of poverty, we won’t be able to build communities where everyone can live well. There are many causes of poverty, a couple of examples are individual behaviors and circumstances, community conditions, and the list goes on.

Module 4 – “Hidden Rules of Economic Class”: Understanding the hidden rules of class can increase understanding, reduce judgmental attitudes, and help people come together across class lines to solve problems. You may ask, what are hidden rules? Hidden rules are the unspoken cues and habits of a group. If you know the rules you belong, if you do not, you do not. Phil DeVol essentially says, we grow up learning how to survive in our environment by watching how our parents survive the environment. We did not have to be taught the rules directly. Hidden rules come from the environment we were raised in whether it is poverty, middle class or wealth.

Module 5 – “The Importance of Language”: Language skills can help us learn, solve problems and create relationships of mutual respect. Understanding which register of language to use can be the difference in getting a job and being passed over for a position. There are many registers we use in everyday conversations. For example, when we speak to our friends, we have often use word choice that is general and not specific, a smaller vocabulary because of the comfort in the relationship. When we are at work and school, we tend to use a more formal register with complete sentences and specific word choice.

Module 6 – “Eleven Resources”: Ruby Payne defines poverty as “the extent to which an individual does without resources.” Poverty is not just about lack of money. Often people living in poverty are lacking in the important resources that can help them cross the barrier from poverty to self-sufficiency. Our community can do something about poverty by building individual, institutional and community resources. Four of the key resources the Getting Ahead class addresses are Financial, Emotional, Social Capital, and Motivation and Persistence.

Module 7 – “Self Assessment of Resources”: During this module, each investigator assesses their own resources.

Module 8 – “Community Assessment”: In this module, the investigators look at a community assessment. In Getting Ahead, there are two main story lines: the individual and the community. In the last few modules, they assess themselves and in this module, they assess the community. The group investigates the community’s ability to provide a high quality life for everyone, including people in or near poverty. They identify community assets that help the group build resources.

Module 9 – “Building Resources”: In this module, the group analyzes the difference between resources that are for “getting by” and resources that are for “getting ahead”. There are organizations in a community that provide getting-by resources such as food, clothing cash and so on; then there are resources that can help one get-ahead, one would be this Getting Ahead course. Getting Ahead investigators make their own argument for change, create a future story, and plan to build resources.

Module 10 – “Personal and Community Plan”: This module is a wrap-up of what was learned and discovered, and includes working on Personal and Community Plans. The investigators create a future story for themselves and a mental model for community prosperity.

Tri-Lakes Cares is extremely proud of the 48 clients that have graduated from this program. We have seen a reduction in needed financial services from many graduates and we have witnessed the hope that the graduates feel about their future. They can see that there is a way out and Tri-Lakes Cares in there to support them on their journey.

Therefore, when you wonder who is a Tri-Lakes Cares client, you can see a diverse group of hard working people who may have been raised in poverty; or someone in a short-term situation that has thrust them into situational poverty. From what we see on a daily basis, no one wants to live in poverty and Tri-Lakes Cares is there to offer resources and support for all in need in our community.



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