Bridges out of poverty

Community workshop to focus on how to reduce poverty levels in Bennington

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BENNINGTON — Next week Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services will host a day-long workshop, "Bridges Out of Poverty," that will center around how we think and communicate about poverty and provide tools for making a positive difference.

The workshop will take place on Friday, June 22, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Sacred Heart St. Francis Parish Center, on 238 Main Street in Bennington. The cost to attend is $30, which includes a catered lunch, but can be waived for those unable to pay. The deadline for registering is June 18. For those interested in learning more about the event or registering, visit benningtoncares.org or call 802-379-0149.

GBICS Executive Director Sue Andrews said that her organization works with people in poverty through its various initiatives, including the Bennington Free Clinic and the Kitchen Cupboard food pantry. "I think we have an epidemic of poverty in Bennington," she said. Using eligibility for free and reduced lunch as a proxy measurement of poverty, Andrews pointed out 87 percent of Bennington Elementary students live in poverty, as do 78 percent of Molly Stark Elementary students and 51 percent of Monument Elementary students. This compares to the statewide total of 32 percent.

When poverty levels get that high, she said, it can create a negative feedback loop, in which middle and upper class people leave the area or decide not to move in, exacerbating the issue.

Andrews said that she hopes people from all income levels and walks of life in Bennington will attend the workshop and help become part of the solution to a fundamental question: "What can we do in Bennington to improve things?"

"Bridges Out of Poverty is a model that provides a deeper understanding and common language of the culture of poverty," wrote Andrews in an announcement about the event. "It generates a deeper knowledge of economic class, hidden rules, and mental models that exist within each class. It also provides a platform for action and tools for change that can lead to lowering poverty rates in a community. In our workshop, we will look at the impact of generational poverty on families and communities, why we must respond, and how we can use an understanding of economic diversity to build a sustainable Bennington."

"Economic diversity is not an easy conversation," she said. "Let's gather to challenge ourselves to rethink our own mental models about economic diversity — and to help our community move from tolerance to acceptance. Relationships have the power to change and design a new world!"

The name Bridges Out of Poverty comes from the 2000 book of the same name by Ruby K. Payne, Philip E. DeVol, and Terie Dreussi-Smith, which was itself based on work done by Payne in her earlier book, "A Framework For Understanding Poverty."

"It's a training that's extremely eye-opening," said Andrews, who said that it has been over 10 years since a Bridges Out of Poverty program was available in Bennington.

"If you didn't grow up in poverty, you may be unaware of the 'hidden rules' that govern many aspects of life for the poor," reads the synopsis for "Bridges Out of Poverty." "People in poverty are often in survival mode, and support systems taken for granted in middle class and wealth are largely nonexistent. If your business, agency, or organization works with people from poverty, a deeper understanding of their challenges — and strengths — helps you partner with them to create opportunities for success."

"Ruby's model isn't about blaming the victim, it's about finding ways to work together systematically to solve the problem," said Andrews.

The keynote speaker for the event will be Prudence Pease, a judge and community coordinator from Tunbridge who speaks at Bridges Out of Poverty workshops as part of Payne's organization, aha! Process Inc.

"I attended my first Bridges presentation in 2005 while serving as a judicial officer," said Pease. "I came away speechless from the number of aha! moments I had experienced. In the months that followed, I saw Bridges concepts in my courtroom, in my community, and in my family. I began training Bridges for the Vermont Agency of Human Services in 2007. I trained across the state, zigzagging between regional offices. I officially joined the aha! Process team in June 2011. Today I see the world through a Bridges 'lens,' and the aha! moments just keep coming."

Andrews, who has heard Pease speak before, described her as a powerful speaker. "She tells a terrific story," she said.

"Aha! Process is an award-winning training and publishing company providing workshops, publications, and consulting services to help improve lives and build sustainable success in communities, schools, and higher education," reads the organization's website, www.ahaprocess.com. "We do this by creating an understanding of the dynamics that cause and maintain poverty from the individual to systems level."

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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