Sustainable Change at the Grassroots Level

by Corallina Breuer, Ohio Campus Compact VISTA

VISTAs are agents of change, but we can only be so by working in tandem with community partners. It is important to recognize these partnerships and highlight organizations that have moved beyond VISTA and built capacity to sustain and thrive. A shining example of this can be found in Newark, OH with the Licking County Bridges Out of Poverty (BOP) initiative*.

Madelynn May and Fatina Evans are key players in the leadership team that is re-writing program curriculum, developing means of greater support for Getting Ahead* participants and graduates, and they have built a foundation for their own economic stability. It is important to note that they are graduates of BOP’s Getting Ahead program and have been trained facilitators for the past few years. They know the program inside and out and have brought to their role a drive to empower themselves and others. As Evans said, “If I can’t be the one [to make it out of poverty], I at least want to witness it in my lifetime.”

Madelynn May shares a story of how her life was positively impacted by BOP concepts at a 5K fundraiser event

The significance of having these particular women as a part of the leadership team is described by Judith Allee, former BOP director; “They get why people are so stuck. They’re able to bring a reality to the challenges.” They also know what helps people get unstuck. It starts with the Getting Ahead curriculum, which they are re-writing to include a strengthened focus on civic engagement and more engaging lessons. They’re focusing on including more media, bringing in speakers, and using Licking County data and statistics. “Things are more hands-on, people are more engaged in the community. There is a higher social responsibility written into the new book,” said May.

May wants to bring in a chef to talk about “healthy meals on the cheap that kids eat” and also plans to have the next GA class help start a “taxables pantry,” a pantry that will stock nonfood items not offered at a food pantry such as toilet paper, shampoo, and other household items.

Evans’ goal is to create an apprentice program for GA grads in which they would research small businesses and then apprentice to local owners to learn the trade so they will have the hands-on experience to become entrepreneurs and the connections to be successful.

May and Evans have both experienced poverty and still struggle to make ends meet, but they believe in the transformative power of education and are dedicated to this initiative. They are women to keep an eye on in the next few years because we foresee great ideas coming out of Licking County.

*Getting Ahead (GA) is a 15-session program that examines the impact that poverty has on individuals, families, and their communities. It was originally created by aha! Process.

* Bridges Out of Poverty (BOP) is a book and an approach that helps employers, community organizations, social-service agencies, and individuals address poverty in a comprehensive way. People from all economic classes come together to improve job retention rates, build resources, improve outcomes, and support those who are moving out of poverty.

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