Feb. 16, a group of 14 citizens met for their final class and had lunch together before receiving certificates for completing the 19 weeks of coursework for Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World. The group was formed in October and met every Tuesday at the YMCA to learn strategies for gaining financial stability. A few dozen guests also attended the luncheon.
Instructor Sharon George gave a brief overview of the program and explained she had matched each participant with a mentor who had a similar personality and interests. The mentor agreed to make himself or herself available to the person to give advice and support. Most of the class members were able to meet their mentors at the ceremony.
After awarding the diplomas, Mayor James Boroff spoke about how the Getting Ahead program was introduced about a year ago when he met with Pat DeMonte of Tiffin-Seneca United Way. With Tiffin hard-hit by the economic slump, they wanted to introduce "tools" that could help area residents weather the financial storm.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Pat DeMonte of Tiffin-Seneca United Way (left), checks the program at the Getting Ahead graduation Feb. 16. Next to her are graduates Carol and Della.
"Sharon couldn't say enough about this program," Boroff said. "Today is just the beginning. ... Keep those tools sharpened."
He encouraged the group to contact the agencies and organizations they had learned about and to feel free to contact him personally. Once the certificates were given and photographs were taken, George asked each graduate to offer brief comments about their experiences in the class (see accompanying story). Many emotions surfaced as they spoke.
George also thanked Bridge Builders, Nancy Weaver and the Seneca Friends, who provided snacks for the class and cards to give to the graduates. The instructor said she was encouraged at the changes she saw in the members of the class. Some who had registered mostly to obtain the savings account soon changed their point of view. She singled out the two men in the class who had not been willing students at the beginning.
What the graduates had to say
* Myndi said, "I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a couple years ago, so it's been really hard." After 10 years at the same job she found herself unemployed. She said the class has helped her "put a plan into effect."
* Michelle said she was able to open up about her needs. She called the class an "eye opener" that helped her to realize how many people are available to offer support.
* Catherine was relieved to find out she was not the only person struggling with finances. "There's a lot of single mothers having trouble finding a job and transportation," she said.
* Carol said the class helped her to put aside her stress and treat her children more kindly. "I don't want it to end," she said.
* Diane said she was surprised at how many steps she needed to take to achieve stability. "I loved all the speakers, but the main one that really helped me was Brandon. ... Every time I think I'm not going to make it, I think of him."
* Holly, a mother of two, said she learned a lot of things about herself. "I learned to create my own path," she concluded.
* Sierra, a victim of situational poverty and medical problems, had been finding it "hard to get back on track," but she was "setting goals and making plans," including classes at Terra Community College and Heidelberg University.
* Karen had been diagnosed with cancer several years ago. "This class has done an awful lot for me that I didn't think it could. I didn't think I would ever be able to do anything with my life again. Now, I know I can," she said.
* Danette confessed she was motivated to take the class for the money, but her attitude soon changed. "Last week I was so upset the class was canceled because I look forward to it. One thing I've learned, I came into the program angry. Angry at myself for being in this situation, angry at society, but I learned you cannot move forward if you're angry," she observed. "My mother wants the book when I'm done with it."
* Della, who grew up in a middle-class family, also signed up for the savings account she would receive. "I was in situational poverty because of the choices I had made." Now she is enrolled in college classes.
* Greg called himself the "black sheep" in a middle-class family. "I have been building lots of walls. This class helped me bring them down," he said.
* Katherine described poverty as "wholistic." She said "I feel like I have a foot in both worlds, in poverty and the middle class ... I found myself in situational poverty and didn't know how to get out." During the discussion about living in crisis mode, she saw herself in that position, but she said the class taught her how to reassess her goals. One of them is to improve her physical health and possibly become a facilitator for the Getting Ahead program.
* Angela said she also was inspired by Brandon Amory's presentation. She and her four children had been living with relatives, but now they have a mobile home of their own.
* Chad had been able to find employment during the months he was enrolled in the course. He had been unsure what avenues to take when he started, but he said his new knowledge about community resources will help him take better care of his family. "I didn't know there was that much support in Seneca County or in the state of Ohio. Now I know," he said.
"When we talked about how long after coming into the class you transitioned to it not being about the money - and it being about what you were learning about yourself - was almost immediate," George said. "It was not long before I could see the difference."
"As I look around this class, everybody has already made great strides. We heard of several people going back to school. Three have obtained new jobs," George said. "Three people were homeless and now have stable housing for themselves and their families. One person is working to quit smoking."
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