On May 29, FireLake Arena will be filled with yet another of the area's groups of graduates as Neighboring 101 celebrates the completion of studies for students in its eighth, ninth and 10th Getting Ahead classes.

On May 29, FireLake Arena will be filled with yet another of the area's groups of graduates as Neighboring 101 celebrates the completion of studies for students in its eighth, ninth and 10th Getting Ahead classes.

The mission of the program is to eliminate and prevent poverty.

Coordinator Steve Palmer said the program will now boast 85 alumni –– counting the new grads next week.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, three graduating classes will share a celebratory meal and walk across the stage. From the three classes — Citizen Potawatomi Nation, St. Paul's United Methodist Church and Wesley United Methodist Church — 30 individuals have completed 16-20 weeks of training that empowers them to steer clear of four known causes of poverty: choices; community conditions; exploitation; and policies and economic conditions, Palmer said.

Each class site funded and supported their meetings each week with meals — and also with transportation and/or day care, as needed. St. Paul's had funding help from Emmanuel Episcopal Church, and Wesley received help from Community Health Centers of Oklahoma.

Reaching the finish mark is a praiseworthy achievement, Palmer said.

“This (graduation) celebration will give us a chance to honor them and encourage their continued development,” Palmer said.

The Avedis Foundation, CPN and the City of Shawnee were instrumental in making the event possible, Palmer said, as well as many other sponsors.

Getting Ahead

The book, Bridges Out of Poverty, is a primary tool or framework behind the Neighboring 101 initiative.

Neighboring 101′s Getting Ahead classes work with individuals who are stuck and don’t know how to move forward, Palmer said.

The weekly classes are set up to help students look at life –– like an investigator –– and see why they are where they are and how they got this way, and that it’s up to them to determine where they go from there, he said.

Several of the initial graduates of Neighboring 101′s Getting Ahead classes –– led by 2014 graduate Tiffany Walker –– pioneered a second stage, called Blueprints –– an advanced level of continuing education.

Palmer said while Getting Ahead can propel students forward, Blueprints can help them maintain that purpose-driven path.

“Blueprints can continue the momentum these grads have achieved,” he said. “It's so easy for life to get in the way and for goals to get pushed aside; the advanced level can help keep the attention on those plans.”

Palmer has since added focus to integrating a third phase — the impactful role of giving back.

“They can then become part of the answer — allowing them to be part of that change,” Palmer said.

The goal is the community really working together to make a difference, and create sustainability, he said.

Neighboring 101

Now standing on its own feet, Neighboring 101 initially began in Shawnee under the umbrella of the Salvation Army-Shawnee.

When then-commanding officer of the Salvation Army-Shawnee Capt. Philip Canning, along with his wife, Elaine, transferred to Shawnee in June 2012, they said they could immediately see that Shawnee had a growing poverty problem.

He said that within half an hour of receiving the Bridges Out of Poverty training he knew it was exactly what the community needed.

In 2014, a three-year Avedis grant was secured to bring the plan to the area and Canning chose Palmer to establish and run the program.

Tickets for the event are being pre-sold. For more information about Neighboring 101, at 231 N. Bell St., or to purchase tickets, call Palmer at (405) 481-6313.