By Nancy Price
More than 20 percent of Johnson County families find their living costs exceed what they earn.
More than 7 percent of households are in poverty, and 21.5 percent are A.L.I.C.E. households, according to Mark Kramer, board president of Bridges Alliance of Johnson County (BAJC). “A.L.I.C.E. is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. It represents the growing number of individuals and families who are working but are unable to afford the basic necessities of housing, childcare, food, transportation, health care and technology,” he said. “There has never been more of a need to help those that are impacted by situational poverty.”
Kramer, a Center Grove resident, has been involved with BAJC since August of 2016, when he was part of the original steering committee. The organization began as an initial partnership between KIC-IT, a Franklin-based social service organization that assists with housing needs for homeless youth in Johnson County, and Home Bank, which brought the author of Bridges to Sustainable Communities: A Systemwide, Cradle-to-Grave Approach to Ending Poverty in America, Phil DeVol, to Johnson County two months previously.
A COMMUNITY COLLABORATION
“The group adopted a mission that fosters collaboration among businesses, agencies, churches and individual residents of Johnson County to end poverty by providing proven tools, resources, support and relationships to break the cycle of poverty,” Kramer said. “In addition, we work to address systemic community issues that are barriers to those in poverty.”
BAJC, which became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation in November of 2018, partners with the Bridges Out of Poverty community support program, founded by Dr. Ruby Payne, which provides concepts, workshops and products to help individuals understand, address and reduce poverty in a comprehensive way, with Circles® USA, which creates an environment that educates, empowers and equips members to move up and out of poverty successfully.
Leslie Daugherty of Center Grove joined the board of BAJC in January of 2018 as a Circles coordinator. “I did not know how much I would learn about what it is like to live in poverty and the systems we have in place that make it really hard for people to get out,” she said. “I was excited to be a part of creating a program that would benefit my community.”
BREAKING OUT OF POVERTY
The 12-week “Surviving to Thriving” training class includes a self-assessment of resources, goal setting, budgeting, job readiness, understanding the hidden rules of economic classes and poverty and its underlying clauses.
“This prepares the individuals for relationship building and matched pairing with allies who serve as intentional friends as they navigate toward their goals over the next 18 months or more,” said Kramer. “Frequently, goals include education, vocational training and job search. Individuals need to be willing to make a long-term commitment as change does not happen overnight. People experiencing poverty are more equipped to achieve long-term financial stability when surrounded by people who have landed and kept jobs, managed credit card debt and know others in the community who can help with car repairs, banking, tutoring and so forth.”
“Our Circles coordinator and resource teams network in the community with various agencies to ensure additional support for our families,” Kramer continued. “The bulk of our support is relationship based as the allies and circle leaders meet almost weekly to discuss the leader’s goals and concerns, gain knowledge to help them meet their goals and work together to learn about obstacles to people in poverty in their area. The Circle leaders are the experts and are called upon to communicate with community leaders, alongside circles volunteers, discussing ways to improve the situation. Areas we have focused on include transportation and attainable housing.”
“Ally volunteers have told us how their eyes have been open to what difficulties families and individuals face in poverty,” he said. “They value the friendships they have made and truly enjoy the Circles community. We continue to build relationships with groups in the county working to better our community, including Aspire, LJC, Franklin College and others.”
Kramer said that past participants have described the training program as life changing. “Sixty percent of individuals in our program have become employed or obtained better jobs,” he said. “Fifty percent have gotten housing or improved their living situation. Twenty percent have increased their level of education.”
BRIDGES ALLIANCE OF JOHNSON COUNTY
Matching Fundraising Campaign
Through the end of July, BAJC is hosting its first online matching fundraising campaign.
A donor has pledged to match the first $5,000 raised. Funds will go toward adding a part-time position to provide support for relationship building between allies and leaders, build and maintain connections with human service agencies and other community support structures and educate the Circles community on mental health areas, including trauma and its relationship to poverty. For more information or to donate, go to bridgesalliancejc.org.