Recently, the Neighboring 101 program celebrated its 11th graduating class. Some of the Getting Ahead students shared their stories of struggle and determination.

Recently, the Neighboring 101 program celebrated its 11th graduating class. At the latest round of Getting Ahead students were honored with plaques in front of their families, friends and supporters; several boldly took to the podium to pay-it-forward — sharing their stories of struggle and determination.

Karen Scott

Karen Scott's experience with the Neighboring 101 program helped her promote sides of herself often neglected by others.

She said she has been known as many things — a mother, a writer, artist, photographer, and a wife. Those are important pieces of what make Scott who she is, though a lot of strangers don't want to hear about that side of her, she said.

“They want to hear about Karen the abuse victim; Karen who was an addict; the Karen who has PTSD and was diagnosed with depression,” she said, “and Karen, who has a violent felony on her record.”

There was a time when she though she had it all together, she said.

Scott said she, her husband and their three children created their own little word.

“We didn't need anybody else,” she explained. “We had each other and that's all we needed in the world.”

At the beginning of 2018, Scott said that little world fell apart.

Her family split up.

She said everything that she had worked for was violated and it was taken away from her.

“All it took was one bad day,” she said.

It seemed like every step the couple took to push forward ended in being driven back two more, she said.

Scott said Neighboring 101 CEO Steve Palmer surprised her during the interviewing process for the classes.

“He wanted to know more about me,” she said. “And all that trauma, all that pain, and all those bad days that I thought were separating me — the things I thought were holding me back — he asked me how I wanted to use those gifts (being a mom, artist, etc.).”

She said Palmer talked to her like he saw so much potential.

Going into the classes Scott said she had some idea of what she thought they would be like.

“It turned out to be something very, very different,” she said. “

Even though many times things got uncomfortable, Scott said she found herself looking forward to every three-hour discussion.

No so, for some.

“It happens when you get a lot of people with very big personalities, and you start talking,” she said. “I watched our class shrink week after week.”

Scott said, for her, the class gave her the faith and the confidence to face the things she didn't like.

She learned she wasn't the only kid raised and abused by a drug dealer, she said.

“It's important to know you're not alone,” she said. “And that was a really special thing to me; I met some very amazing people.”

She said she has learned that her personal story is something people need to hear.

“No one is successful alone,” she said. “We need each other — not in spite of our bad days, but because of them.”

Those bad days are what made her and her classmates advocates for abuse victims, creative problem solvers and warriors for the innocent.

“Yes, I am a felon,” she said. “But there's so much more to me.”

Scott said, looking to the future, she's afraid of people watching her; judging her — who won't see more than that felon.

“But my goal is to be a member of my community,” she said. “Speaking for the people in the city I love.”

Melissa Camp

Melissa Camp's interview process was much the same a Scott's, Camp said.

“(Palmer) asked a lot of good questions I hadn't really been asked or thought about,” she said. “That was something I wanted to explore.”

She said she thought just maybe she could learn a few things that could help her.

“I was in the middle of just being stuck,” she said.

The program empowered her to get ahead, she said, and not be comfortable with staying where she was.

Camp said during her childhood her father was a manager, which caused her family to move around often.

“When I was 13 my parents divorced,” she said. “My mom had no skill set; she worked two or three jobs trying to put food on the table.”

She was gone all the time trying to make money for the rent, Camp said.

“I remember she always told me two things she wanted me to do — not depend on a man (she wanted me to be independent) and take care of my brothers and sisters.” she said.

Camp got through school and college, had a daughter and trained to be a nurse.

“I was a registered nurse for almost 20 years,” she said. “During that time my parents passed away and I had several surgeries.”

She said she became addicted to pain medication.

“As a registered nurse — a director of nursing at a nursing home — all the medications would come to me to be destroyed.”

Though she loved her job, that wasn't going to work because instead of being destroyed she would take the meds, she said.

“This was about the last four years,” she said. “I went through a peer program, which is like a drug court for nurses, and I didn't have a job.”

Eventually Camp became a director of nursing again, she said.

“But before it was all over with I quit nursing,” she said.

“I think the stress and addiction and everything was too much.”

At that point Camp decided to take a whole different career path, she said.

Camp began working at a hotel.

“It was kind of like real estate nursing; I would sell them a room and then take care of them while they're there.”

She then worked her way up, becoming an office manager.

“The last two years I've had two side surgeries,” she said. “Which reintroduced me to pain medication — and a dependency on it.”

Camp said poverty isn't just the physical side of it.

When she saw the program's 11 resources information, she said she immediately could relate to some of the items on the list. She was seeing deficiencies in other areas.

“I had to take an honest look at myself,” she said.

She said the temptation was there to try to make herself look more stable on the outside, but being truthful with herself, she knew she wasn't.

“I had to be very honest,” she said. “I wanted to make myself look good all around, but I'm not.”

She said, she does have some strengths though.

“And I have my weaknesses, just like everybody,” she said.

Camp said her physical resource is probably the lowest in her life.

“I rarely exercise; my food/fluid intake is not healthy at all; I've had health issues for the last 15 to 20 years,” she said. “And I'm a recovering addict.”

Camp said she took part in a medication-assisted program at Gateway to Prevention and Recovery.

“I learned a lot of things about myself,” she said.

Camp also said she has been taught how to make goals.

“Small changes turn into big changes in the end,” she said.

Angela Edwards

Single mom Angela Edwards grew up in a small town in Texas.

“As far as I knew, we were middle class,” she said.

Being the only girl, with three brothers, she said she became the punching bag, the maid — the black sheep of the family.

“I had to fix supper and clean house from the time I was seven,” she said. “If supper wasn't done right or I didn't do something right I would get hit in the head.”

Sometimes a cattle prod would be used on her, she said.

“I learned at a young age not to trust people or let people get close to me,” she said. “And I became independent.”

Edwards said she started drinking at a young age.

She said her breaking point came one day in the summer of her junior year.

“I was working as a manager at a swimming pool,” she said.

She knew her family was out so she went home to make a sandwich.

They arrived home while she was there and wanted to know why supper wasn't ready.

“They all kind of waylaid into me; usually I would just hunker down and take it, but this time I don't know what came over me,” she said.

She grabbed a nearby knife.

“I didn't do it to hurt anybody,” she explained. “But they left me alone.”

Right then she said she knew something had to change.

“Either I was going to hurt them or myself,” she said. “I put myself in Girls Town.”

She found out years later that she had scholarships to play on at that time, but her parents hadn't told her.

“I still wish I had gotten to compete in school,” she said. “But there's consequences to choices you make.”

Edwards said students and graduates of the Getting Ahead classes are not looking for pity.

“What we are looking for are opportunities to not be looked down upon, and opportunities to not look down on ourselves,” she said.

Edwards said her and her fellow grads are looking for opportunities like not living paycheck to paycheck, having college funds for their kids, saving a nest egg and living the American dream.

Edwards said in the class she learned students were stuck in a block of cement.

“We're not moving forward, we're stuck,” she said. “There are many things you have to do to get out.”

She said she has to get out in the community, ask questions, meet people and let people in.

“I had to rewire my way of thinking,” she said.

Edwards said she wants to be a positive role model for her daughters.

“Not for being independent and just getting by,” she said. “For being independent and getting ahead.”

Hopefully, she said, the grads have learned a lot from each other to make their lives stronger, and to make the community stronger and better than it is today.

Neighboring 101

Palmer said the program is now into its sixth year — the past five 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.

Getting Ahead

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

Learn more

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