By Maria McTarnaghan
The first of sixteen weekly sessions of the Moving Up program began on a cold, dark January evening. So many of the organizers had taken a leap of faith on offering this first- time program based on the national Bridges Out of Poverty model where participants act as investigators as they examine the barriers in their lives that prevent them from being self-sufficient.
The participants arrived slowly, each approaching with trepidation and the fear of the unknown. I watched their faces trying to gauge what they were feeling; some seemed timid and shy, shoulders slumped, avoiding eye contact and conversation. As the session progressed, we learned about each individual’s unique perspective, various background, personal story and sometimes dramatic life experiences. One thing they all had in common was a goal to “move up” – to take steps toward the life they envisioned for themselves. The hard work belonged to them. We provided the mentors, facilitators, childcare, small gift card and dinner.
We explored broad and specific complex concepts. The hard-core lessons ensued and were at times arduous and demanding. They were exposed to new ideas and terminology, gradually learning how to integrate the lessons into their lives. The participants were defining and taking charge of their future stories.
They continued to return each week, a little more curious and a little more determined.
I witnessed friendships start to sprout and grow. Those who had been shy and timid gained confidence from the laughter, camaraderie and genuine affection for one another.
We interviewed the graduates on the night of graduation. One in particular said, “I’m so proud of me!” and another said, “I am happy, I’m looking forward to my future, I can do whatever I set my mind to do.”
You can’t ask for much more than that.
Maria McTarnaghan is the Associate Director of Programs at Loaves & Fishes Community Services. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit loaves-fishes.org.