Family Promise of Bradley County offers the opportunity for local residents to join the Just Neighbors program to learn more about poverty in the United States.
A particular emphasis will be placed on Cleveland and Bradley County.
Family Promise VISTA Cindy Lawson explained the weekly exercises allow participants to take a step outside of themselves.
“Some people take it for granted that they have a savings account,” she said. “If they were out for a week because they are sick, they would be fine because they have savings.
“Most of these families are just barely paying the bills, barely keeping their heads above the water. One little problem, one little glitch can put them under.”
Lawson will host an hourlong class every Tuesday night in the Cleveland Family YMCA’s facilities through July 27. Participants of all ages are welcome to join.
Class topics are meant to explore how people in poverty live and struggle from week to week.
Lawson added the classes paint a picture of “How one little instance, whether a medical bill, the loss of a job or sickness in the family, can change their life.”
Personal stories rest at the heart of the program. Participants gain a handle on poverty through these stories and activities. One such story and activity is a flip book.
The book’s main character is a mother caught in the cycle of poverty. Class members read a scenario, make a decision for the mother and turn the page to the corresponding choice. Her struggles continue with each flip of the page.
Lawson explained there is no right decision in the activity.
“I think a lot of people just don’t understand. I hear this a lot, ‘Why don’t they just get a job? Or, a second job? Or, a third job,’” she said. “In this program, you see how it affects the family.”
This is one such scenario faced by the mother. If she gets a second or third job, what are the ripple effects? Participants weigh the outcomes. On one hand, one or two paychecks may not meet the family’s needs. On the other, one of her children may fall into the wrong crowd or suffer in school due to decreased parental involvement.
“No matter what decision this mother made in this scenario, there just was not a good answer [or] course of action,” Lawson said.
“In this scenario, there was no help for her. If she could have found a program like Family Promise, everything could have been different for her.”
She explained families who come to Family Promise are to the point where they have nowhere to live. The nonprofit steps in to provide the family with food and shelter. A number of other local nonprofits offer aid through their specialized services as well.
Lawson believes the nonprofit’s “love and concern” can make all the difference for a family in need.
“Our churches and our organization help them, which gives them the opportunity to relax and get back on their feet to cut that cycle,” she said. “Most of the children in our program are under the age of 5. If you can stop that issue, then maybe they won’t have the same issues when they grow up.”
She hopes the participants in the program will respond to information in the program through volunteerism.
Those interested in the program can attend every Tuesday at 6 p.m., free of charge. However, Lawson said it is not necessary to attend every course.
“Every week is going to be something new,” she said. “It is going to be a new scenario, a new activity. We are going to start out simple and then they are going to build each week.
“I understand people are not going to be able to attend the entire nine weeks, but if they want to attend one session or two or the entire nine, they are going to get a lot out of it.”