Helping families walk out of poverty

Currently 15 percent of Augusta families live below the poverty line.  For a family of four this means living on a household income of $24,000 per year or less.
A group of Augustans has been meeting regularly since March to create a program to help local families walk out of poverty.  Bright  Futures Families of Augusta is a new relationship based initiative that is similar to the Circles program in several Kansas counties.
The program helps foster relationships between families in poverty and middle class “friendtors”, who are volunteers that become friends. The focus lies in creating lasting change, rather than short-term assistance.
“This gives ownership in their lives.  We want help them write their own way out and give them the tools to get out.  It’s important to build relationships and trust - and to remove the stigma,” said Heather Plaza, Bright Future Families coordinator and ESSDACK para.
Bright Future family leaders, those working their way out of poverty, meet weekly with their friendtors, complete a 18 week course on anything from budgeting to reaching career goals.  
The weekly meetings include childcare, a meal, programming, and goal setting.
“The course for the family leaders will begin in October and the 6 hour course for the friendtors will be in March.  When the families graduate, they receive a $200 stipend,” advised Plaza.
Plaza explains that its unwise to  judge others’ circumstances and that most are not looking for a handout, but simply a way out of poverty.  Parents in poverty love their children, but are in a constant state of survival mode stressing about food and other basic necessities.
Similar programs in McPherson and Kiowa counties have reported positive results. A number of program graduates have furthered their education,  gained employment, increasing income to 200% above the poverty line, save funds for a used vehicle, paying on debts, and one graduate started her dream  business.  The  majority of graduates have stabilized their financial situations through budgeting and learning to think ahead, which in turn pulls them out of constant crisis mode and inability to pay bills.  It’s a win for the families and the communities.
Volunteers who would like to sign on to be a friendtor to a Bright Future Family leader, are needed. Volunteers are also needed to provide day care and meals at the weekly meetings.
“Perhaps organizations could come on board and commit to helping twice a year with preparation and serving the meals.  Donations for the meals would be helpful, too,” said Plaza.
“Getting out of poverty is hard work.  You have to establish trust.  This is truly a poverty resolution model,” Plaza added, “We are lucky to be associated with Bright Futures in Augusta.  It’s well established and appreciated... Our group will help through the family and maybe with all of us working together, we can provide the tools to break the cycle for many of these families.”
For more information on Bright Futures Families, contact Heather Plaza at 316-619-3157, or find Bright Futures Families of Augusta on Facebook.