Capt. Philip Canning, commanding officer of the Salvation Army-Shawnee, is on a mission to rally the community for support when it comes to tackling the issue of poverty. It’s not enough to feed them for a while or give them a temporary place to sleep, he said.

Note: An in-depth look at how a recently adopted community program spurs a new pilot course designed and facilitated by its own first graduates.

Capt. Philip Canning, commanding officer of the Salvation Army-Shawnee, is on a mission to rally the community for support when it comes to tackling the issue of poverty.

It’s not enough to feed them for a while or give them a temporary place to sleep, he said.

Steve Palmer, Neighboring 101 coordinator, said:

The Salvation Army houses, feeds and rescues people. That’s great and important. But, once you rescue them, you must teach them how to swim so they won’t end up drowning again.

Canning and Palmer must be doing something right, because their classes have not only kept afloat those on their watch, but they also have launched those same students to dive even further than the original program was set up to do.

Several of the initial graduates of Neighboring 101’s Getting Ahead classes are pioneering a second stage, called Blueprints –– an advanced level of continuing education that debuts today.

The course is mapped out –– a series of eight lessons over a period of 16 weeks for the 15 Getting Ahead grads who are enrolled.

Blueprints unfolded as Tiffany Walker, one of the August 2014 graduates, realized there would be nothing there for students after the workshop ended.

“You have to meet them where they are at –– not where you want them to be,” she said.

The students had a lot of information thrown at them in a very short time, she said. “I wanted to focus on the grads, so I thought, ‘What if we (fellow grads) meet and make some goals?’,” she said.

They discussed more in depth about what key factors to change in order to have the best success, she said.

From there she began putting together a workbook and lessons.

“We needed a guide for others,” Walker said. “We were in a good position to do this, and it developed from there.”

Walker said the lessons are set up as case scenarios with fictional characters that intermingle –– each having issues, like toxic relationships, for example.

“It can become easier to address once you can see your own story in someone else,” she said.

“As they go through the course, they work on smart goals, like evaluating their relationships, learning not to make excuses and how to avoid u-turns back into old, unhealthy patterns,” she said.

This is a pilot program; we will learn a lot during this phase, she said. It’s been authored, put together and facilitated by graduates. We’re going to make this successful, especially by implementing a support system like Neighboring 101, which is committed to long-term change, she said.

“We hope to continue to work out kinks and build onto the course. Hopefully other communities who start Getting Ahead classes can someday use our course, as well,” she said.

As with Getting Ahead, dinner, transportation and childcare are all offered during our course, Walker said.

“The steering committee also will get to participate in the classes,” she said. “So they can learn and see what barriers are present.”

The mindset too often is, ‘take the class and then turn them loose’, she said, but then students don’t know where to go from there to initiate change.

With Getting Ahead, it’s education, Walker said, Blueprints is action. The phase after that will hopefully become about giving back into the program.

After the Blueprints classes, students also will go through a financial literacy program, Walker said.


How it began

When Canning, along with his wife, Elaine, transferred to Shawnee in June 2012, they could immediately see that Shawnee had a growing poverty problem.

I had to go to a mandatory training in “Bridges Out of Poverty.” I didn’t know anything about it at the time but, within half an hour, I knew this was exactly what our community needed.

It’s a presentation of ideas and ways others have done it –– which was the how-to we needed, he said.

“There was an apparent need to alleviate the situation,” he said. “And we’re here specifically to fight against just that.”

Canning secured a three-year Avedis grant and hired Palmer –– a man on his own mission to help the homeless –– as the new Neighboring 101 coordinator.

Canning said he’s actually excited. It’s bringing hope, he said.

“Bridges out of Poverty ¬¬is the primary tool or framework behind our Neighboring 101 initiative,” Palmer said.

Neighboring 101’s mission statement is to prevent and eliminate poverty.

Bridges out of Poverty is an educational tool –– books and work plans that utilize many perspectives to address the issue of poverty. One of the benefits of Bridges, Palmer said, is that it also serves as a guide, sharing methods communities have discovered to achieve their goals.

He said the initiative works well because of a collaborative effort based on using many perspectives.

It’s a presentation of ideas and ways others have done it –– which was the how-to we needed, Canning said.

Palmer said, “We do things through an economic lens that is based on three groups: poverty, middle class and wealth.

First, we go to the community to work together as a whole to prevent and eliminate poverty, he said.

“To do that, you have to understand where you are in the grand scheme of things.”

The challenge, he said, is that relationships look a lot different in poverty than they do in middle class.

Palmer said the perspective is different in the three groups.

It’s all about environments, he said.

“That’s where the disconnect happens a lot,” he said.

In poverty, the underlying strategy is survival.

“It’s a lot like living in a daily tornado, always scrambling to get on their feet. They are problem solvers; their challenge is to get the basics covered.”

In middle class, their underlying strategy is achievement.

“They have the basics. People in this class are goal-oriented. They look at the resources and get things done. Relationships are important to the achievers.”

In wealth, the underlying strategy is making connections.

“There’s no right or wrong, they’re just different mindsets,” Palmer said.

In the program, the achievers (middle class) and the problem solvers (poverty) create a collaboration –– the perfect blend of those who know what the problems are with those who know how to meet a goal.

It’s more understandable when you can see the different perspectives working, he said.

“A bad thing is that oftentimes the achievers have unknowingly caused some challenges for the people they are actually attempting to help; they don’t understand that they are creating more hurdles because they aren’t coming from a perspective that knows what the issues are,” he said.

A way to bridge that gap is to encourage that collaboration in every way possible.

“We have all three economic groups represented in our steering committee,” Palmer said. “That way, all angles can be researched and addressed from all kinds of perspectives.”

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.

The bridge works both ways, though.

The students also are teachers in the process.

“They are the experts,” he said.

Palmer said they know what isn’t working and they are the city’s best hope at understanding and fixing those problems –– so the community as a whole can work to end the cycle of poverty.

Palmer said the classes have a 60- to 70-percent graduation rate.

For more information, call Palmer at (405) 275-2243.


Tell me your story ideas. You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.