The mood was celebratory last week at Aldersgate United Methodist Church as New Hope Housing staffers prepared for the Out of Poverty program graduation.
Twenty-two graduates of the Out of Poverty program celebrated their achievement last Tuesday night in the church reception hall. The graduates ranged in age and gender. Some were carrying babies, some were not. All of these graduates are New Hope Housing shelter residents who are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.
Focusing on Prosperity
The Out of Poverty program was founded by teacher Larry L. Lambert and social worker Marie Williams in the early 1990s. It is described in the facilitator’s manual as “a program of personal change.”
Out of Poverty was adopted by New Hope Housing in the mid-1990s. According to Executive Director Pam Michell, the director of Residential Services was looking for a motivational program to help shelter residents. She did some research and discovered the Out of Poverty program.
“The goal isn’t only education, it’s trying to connect what you learn in school to real life,” Michell explained.
Out of Poverty is a 14-week program offered twice a year. It is now a requirement for all shelter residents. Volunteers facilitate and co-facilitate each session. It is a “very demanding course,” with homework and assignments. It is also demanding because it addresses the reason why people are homeless, said Michelle Janazzo, New Hope Housing Communications and Development staff member.
“The idea is for them to focus on prosperity in their life,” Janazzo explained. “In Out of Poverty, it’s not necessarily about money. Everyone shares one prosperity they have that day and one poverty. It opens them up to gratitude and seeing life differently.”
A Program That “Sticks”
For some, the Out of Poverty program is the first they’ve completed in a long time. Many former residents still have their Out of Poverty workbooks, and some return to graduation ceremonies to share their experience with new graduates.
“It definitely sticks for a lot of people,” said Michell.
Michell found that people who come out of the shelter and interview to next level housing do better than those who don’t go through the program.
“They’re more confident, they’ve thought through who they are and where they want to go,” she commented.
The first two classes are the hardest because people have to look at their history and find out why they got into poverty. Many people drop out because it is very difficult to do so.
“They come to grips with why they are here. It’s easy to blame other people,” Michell explained. “The first two classes are the hardest. They have to go back and look at their history. People drop out because it’s too intense.”
For those who stay, it is a program that helps them envision where they want to be and empowers residents to take personal responsibility for their choices. Janazzo says the program has a “transformative effect” on residents.
“It’s a very positive experience for a lot of people because it’s the first time they’re looking at why they got to where they are,” Janazzo said.
Dana Murray, New Hope Housing executive assistant and Out of Poverty facilitator, says that many people leave the program with a new outlook and goals, especially those with families.
”Families have to worry about their children. A lot of them balance. They figure out what they need to do, meanwhile they’ve got three kids at home,” Murray explained. “People come in completely negative. By the time class ends, their outlook has completely changed.”
“It’s amazing to see the students, how they don’t want to be there initially, but by the end they want to be there, they want to participate, they want to communicate,” Janazzo said.
To learn more about the Out of Poverty program, visit their website.