Dozens people from a cross-section of the Albany community came together Thursday in an informal dinner kickoff event for “Strive2Thrive”, the anti-poverty initiative being spearheaded by the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce that is set to gain momentum.
The seating plan for the dinner symbolized the design format of the program. At the tables spread across the floor of the activities center at Albany’s First United Methodist Church, the dinner guests were assembled in a mix of economic levels and ethnic groups. The set-up helped illustrate the statement made by chamber of commerce president/CEO Catherine Glover in an interview televised later in the evening on WALB-TV: “It all has to do with community integration, involvement with one another, social connectivity, and helping folks in poverty meet folks they might not usually meet, therefore helping them get to the next level.”
The purpose of Strive2Thrive, as stated by the chamber, “is to use every available resource to move Albany-Dougherty County families into self-sufficiency by providing incentives, coaching, training, and technical assistance. This can be achieved by linking impoverished families with ‘allies,’ who will offer direction on guideposts they must pass on their way to success.”
The decision to implement Strive2Thrive was made after the noted business publication Forbes.com rated Albany as one of the nation’s “Most Impoverished Cities” (a dubious distinction previously reported in The Albany Journal). Only one other city in Georgia, Macon, was included in the designation.
Families living in poverty affect the entire community economically, according to Harriett Hollis, the chamber’s director of workforce development and education and the person designated to coordinate the Strive2Thrive program.
Hollis said in a media interview earlier this year, “Business owners need to understand how they are affected by our poverty level. When businesses come to scout out Albany, the first thing they look is our graduation rate. Then they want to ride around town and see what the city actually looks like, they want to go into neighborhoods, and if we can raise the standard of living in our neighborhoods and raise the graduation rate… don’t get me wrong, it’s gone up from 55 percent to 75 percent over the last five years, so we’re moving in the right direction, but it’s a slow process. We didn’t get impoverished families overnight. It’s a process that all of us can be involved in helping to combat. Everyone can do something, everyone has a part to play.”
As the dinner catered by Club 230 progressed, guests at the tables journeyed further into the process of getting to know each other. After dinner, Hollis led the group in a couple of exercises designed to further Strive2Thrive’s mission. Going around the room, everyone was first asked to report to the gathering something good and something new in their lives and then paired off with another person at their table to talk for two minutes, uninterrupted by their partner, about the completion of the sentence “The most beautiful thing I have ever seen is ____.” The evening concluded with two people from each table coming forward and taking the microphone to recount something they appreciated.
Families and allies will be matched up and are expected to start working together in mid-May. Initially, 10 families will be chosen to participate in the program, which is slated to last 15 weeks.
An initial Strive2Thrive training session was held February 2 at Albany State University, with some 70 volunteers in attendance. Included in the training were under-standing poverty’s impact on people and communities, reducing poverty rates, reducing staff burnout, cynicism, and absenteeism, creating employment opportunities, improving economic development, and community sustainability, reducing homelessness, and starting a Circles (Trademark) Initiative.
“The family is surrounded by caring individuals who have resources,” Hollis said in the earlier interview, “who have knowledge, skills, and abilities and can help that family raise themselves up. We’re not about giving a hand-out. We’re about giving hand up, and that’s what Strive2Thrive is all about.”
Written by David Shivers