The fourth graduating class of Norman, Oklahoma’s Getting Ahead program pose with their certificates.

Bridge the Gap Initiative Builds Healthy Families, Communities in AOK

By: Cindy Fuller

The Arkansas-Oklahoma division is working with different communities on a Bridge The Gap initiative.    Bridge The Gap is designed to help build healthy, sustainable communities by addressing poverty at the individual, institutional, community and policy levels.   A local Bridge The Gap initiative includes community conversation, Bridges Out of Poverty training, formation of a local steering committee, ongoing community engagement, promotion and facilitation of the Getting Ahead class, identification and removal of barriers to success, recruitment of allies (resource partners), coordination of post-graduation coaching and planning of supplemental learning opportunities.

The Bridges Out of Poverty training reaches out to service providers and businesses who interact daily with people in poverty.   Bridges training increases understanding and includes case studies, specific solutions, techniques, etc. to be used with clients for improved outcomes.

The Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World class is a “getting ahead” process for people in poverty to investigate the impact poverty has had on their lives and surroundings.  The process does not provide answers on how to establish financial stability nor does it make the argument for change.  Instead, participants explore economic realities, the hidden rules of class, and more to improve their future.  Upon graduating from the 20-week course, participants have a plan of their own based on the knowledge acquired through the investigative process.  Participants must interview for acceptance into the class.

Bridges initiatives and/or the Getting Ahead class are occurring through The Salvation Army in Altus, Bartlesville, Enid, Lawton, Norman, and Stillwater, Oklahoma and have been coordinated within 11 additional communities.  In some cases, The Salvation Army is the lead agency and facilitates the class.  In others, The Salvation Army is a community partner.

In Lawton, Captain Claudia Roseno stated at a recent graduation, “The Salvation Army and Getting Ahead Steering Committee connects students with community leaders who will support them for the next six months to pursue their life goals.” Recently, Captain Claudia Roseno shared how Bridges out of Poverty paved the way for poverty to become one of the county’s top five health priorities. Thus, the Lawton Salvation Army became the lead agency in structuring a Poverty Task force to create and implement poverty reduction strategies with key leaders from all sectors of the community. They are currently developing a strategic plan for the correctional facility with outcomes, timetables, etc.  Nathan Newell, Social Services Director for Enid, stated “We build a community whereas everyone is supportive of each other.  Together we discover which tools are needed and the realities of life in our local community.” Captain Patrishia Knott of Stillwater notes, “The Getting Ahead program is a transformational program that truly makes a difference in a person’s life and their family for generations.” Altus has its first Getting Ahead underway and Norman just had its’ fourth graduation for students in the Getting Ahead in a Just Getting’ By World classes.