On Friday evening Neighboring 101 celebrated the graduation of students from its latest round of Getting Ahead classes — No. 11 — for the program.

On Friday evening Neighboring 101 celebrated the graduation of students from its latest round of Getting Ahead classes — No. 11 — for the program.

At a dinner catered by One Way Ministries, the several graduates were honored with plaques in front of their families, friends and supporters; some took to the podium to share their stories.

Coordinator Steve Palmer said the program, doing well, is now into its sixth year — the past five of which have been led by him.

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

“Poverty is a misunderstood topic. It’s much more than just a lack of money,” he said. “It’s the extent to which an individual does without resources of any kind.”

Palmer said that poverty also means lack financially, emotionally, spiritually, physically or in support, relationships, role models, knowledge of hidden rules, coping strategies, etc.

That means there are many more elements of poverty to battle, but in order to address any of them, cooperation has to come first.

“One aspect of helping people of poverty is you want to create a situation where the people can merge. It’s not an ‘us and them’ scenario,” he said. ”We want a ‘we’ thing to build a better situation for all of us.”

“It’s all about community,” Palmer said.

“It’s a resource for people to partner with others to help the community end poverty as a group,” he said.

Individuals and organizations from all sectors of the community are joining forces.

“There are some players coming together; it’s gaining momentum and is already bigger than anything I can do myself. It’s really exciting,” Palmer said.

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

It’s a non-biased objective –– there are no divisions among race, gender or anything else.

The program is two-pronged.

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

“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.”

The second prong of the initiative is training.

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.

“If we don’t change our mindset, then it’s just another program –– and we don’t need another program,” Palmer said.

Getting Ahead

The Bridges book 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 (typically 16 to 20) 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.

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

Several of the initial graduates of Neighboring 101’s Getting Ahead classes –– led by 2014 graduate Tiffany Walker –– pioneered a second stage, a 12-week course called Blueprints, which serves as an advanced level of continuing education.

Neighboring 101

When Capt. Philip Canning, then-commanding officer of the Salvation Army-Shawnee, 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.

By late 2012 to early spring 2013 all was going very well, Canning said. People were very supportive.

Then the May tornadoes hit.

The Salvation Army had to switch gears to address the crisis at hand, he said.

“The initiative died for a little bit,” he said. “It wasn’t until late fall 2013 we were able to get a steering committee together to get up and moving again.”

In 2014, Canning worked to secure a three-year Avedis grant to bring the plan to the area and chose Palmer to establish and run the program, under the umbrella of the Salvation Army's mission.

Graduating Class of August 2019

Palmer said support for the 20-week course was a collaborative effort, mainly through a partnership between two local churches — St. Paul's United Methodist Church and Emmanuel Episcopal Church — along with facilitator Corey Jobson from Wesley United Methodist Church, as well the efforts of many others.

Learn more

For more information about Neighboring 101, call Palmer at (405) 481-6313 or email him at bridgeshawnee@gmail.com.

Also, in future editions of The Shawnee News-Star, read stories from several graduates about how they became involved in the program and how it has impacted them.