By MaryAnn Kromer
PHOTO BY ROB LEDWEDGE
Barb Borton (left) offers comments as Bonnie Apple waits her turn Tuesday during graduation proceedings for “Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-By World.”
Tuesday, a graduation ceremony took place at the YMCA for participants in a 20-week course called "Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-By World."
Funded by the Community Task Force and based on the research of Ruby Payne, the course is intended to help families move out of generational or situational poverty and into the realm of self-support. The instructor is Sharon George, director of the Family and Children First Council.
"These 10 graduates have committed each Tuesday 10 a.m.-noon to come together and learn more . . . about increasing resources to help their families be more successful," George said.
She gestured toward pairs of posters each graduate had created as a "mental model" to help them remember concepts and situations. One poster was done on the first day of class, reflecting frustration, fears and concerns. The second was completed the last day of class to illustrate new skills and information obtained during the course.
The instructor said most participants had begun with few resources in the areas of income, spirituality and a support system. The course informed them about community agencies and churches that could offer assistance. Individuals with limited family support were directed to alternatives, such as community agencies and members of the class, with whom to discuss their situations and find solutions. The tools from the class can give participants more control of their lives and ways to pull their children out of the cycle of poverty.
George used the metaphor of a card game that is played by people of different economic levels. Those coming from a background of poverty may not know what to do except play out their "lousy hand." Middle-income individuals are taught about "hidden values" and choices that are available.
"If I give a couple cards back to the dealer, I may get something better," George explained. "If I don't, I can keep going back to the dealer and increase my odds and my resources until things look more favorable for me."
Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz handed out "diplomas" to the graduates. Members of the Community Task Force also attended, including Gary Fay, Gloria Fraley, the Rev. Donna Van Trees, Rachelle Griffin and Pat De Monte. Each graduate was asked to share something she would take away from the class and use to achieve financial stability and reduce daily stress.
Darla Domich said she started the class "very depressed" but she has made some good changes. As a result, she has improved relationships with her family.
Eating out less frequently was one way Lana Benfer learned to save money. Beyond that, she said the class "helped me come out of my shell" and interact more with her children and others. Changes include finding employment, volunteering at a local food bank and joining the YMCA.
The picture Anita Srang drew the first day featured a leaking boat beset by sea creatures and crashing waves. Now, she says the "leaks are plugged," new challenges have appeared and the sun is shining.
Bonnie Apple sketched a crooked road with confusing signs and a tunnel. She appreciated George's examples and the opportunity to share with her classmates. Setting some realistic goals has put a light at the end of her tunnel.
"I learned I'm not alone in my life struggles . . . I see things differently now." Apple said.
Annette Schock called the class "really enlightening" with new ideas to help solve her problems. During the 20 weeks, she was able to complete her GED, a task she didn't think she could accomplish, until the class convinced her otherwise.
"Frustrated" was the key word for Beth Phillips at the start of the course. The single mother of three had not been able to find employment. Now she has a job and is making plans to go to school. "Getting on paper what you have and don't have, and making a plan to follow" were what she appreciated most.
"This class gives you a lot of strength and courage. The tools are very beneficial." said Amy Blackford, who now has a part-time job. "It's amazing how we all opened up to one other."
With five children at home, Anna Angel was motivated by the class to file for divorce and move her family into a trailer. She reported her financial status is much improved.
"I'm so glad I came," she said.
With her family in turmoil from "life-changing events," Angie Vanderhoff said the class helped her realize what she needed to work on to make improvements. She was asked to speak at Terra State Community College, and she has started volunteering.
Amy Blackford said she had "hit rock bottom" at the time she enrolled in the class. She became emotional when she thanked Connie Macksemetz, wrap-around coordinator, for standing by her through numerous family crises.
Barb Borton said she had signed up for the class to learn how to respond to people she was tutoring and mentoring. The group taught her when to step back and let people do more for themselves. Borton's son, David, had met the George family while delivering newspapers to their home.
"He said, 'Mom, you really need to get to know Sharon because she has a ministry.'" Borton said. "She really is anointed to do what she does."
Borton already knew the value of reaching out to others, but she said the class gave her a better understanding of difficulties some families face. The course also revealed more about her personal strengths and weaknesses. She called it "humbling and helpful."
George expressed appreciation for the YMCA providing space for the classes and child care for participants. She congratulated the graduates for their courage to sign up for the class and see it through to the end.
"You all took that leap of faith. You all didn't know a whole lot about what we were talking about when you came the first time, and then continue to come back 19 times is an incredible commitment," George said.
She encouraged them to keep in touch. Circles is a support group in which graduates are matched with "allies" from the community to give continuing guidance. The group meets monthly.
Another 20-week session of "Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-By World" is to be offered as soon as eight or more people are registered. To learn more, call George at (419) 443-0981.