Program Aims To End Poverty In Oklahoma By Teaching self sufficiency

Wednesday, August 31st 2011, 7:02 pm
By: News On 6

BARTISVILLE, Oklahoma -- Poverty is a tough issue to tackle in any community, but a national campaign is working to end poverty. It's spearheaded by Building Bridges in Bartlesville.

The program is called Circles. Its leaders say more than 400,000 kids are raised in poverty in Oklahoma, costing the state more than $14-billion a year.

Circles is hoping to shrink those numbers by teaching people how to help themselves. The stories of how they got here are different.

James Brown found himself young, divorced, and depressed, selling things to pawn shops to get by. Joetta Benjamin went from a foster parent, to a mother of six and then to a widow.

Brian and Alicia Gallamore became a single income family with a pile medical bills and ultimately bankruptcy.

Their story of getting out of poverty is the same.

"They walk side by side. They befriend them. They are literally there to support the Circle Leader in any way they need support," said Gina Elias, Executive Director of Building Bridges.

Building Bridges teamed up with Circles to launch the "Getting Ahead" class in April 2010. It's a 20 week program that partners Circles Leaders with Allies.

The Allies come from middle to upper class incomes. They are there for support. Ally Kevin Bennett says the program opened his eyes and his perspective on people in poverty changed.

"It became very inspiring to me too. Then I started looking at my life. And I said what am I doing? To hold myself back?" Bennett said.

"The participants who graduate from the program have an opportunity to control the future of their life. It's not a quick fix. We're giving them the tools they need to really manage their future and be an active part of the community," said Oklahoma State Senator John Ford.

Tools like how to fill out college applications, prepare for job interviews, or plan a budget.

"We've got a light at the end of the tunnel. We've got a long way to go to get some things paid off. But we know what we want, we know how we want and we know how we are going to get there," Gallamore said.

Participants in the program told News On 6 they simply just didn't know how to change their situation but they do now.