Toccoa Hosts Workshop on Poverty

Community leaders from Stephens and surrounding counties gather to learn more about the issue of poverty.

Thursday, they gathered at the Gate Cottage on the campus of Toccoa Falls College for the “Bridges Out of Poverty” workshop.

Travis Blackwell is a certified “Bridges out of Poverty” trainer and he led the program on Thursday.

He said the program is based off a book of the same name and encourages people to look at poverty in a different way.

“It asks us to look differently at the poverty environment and people who live in the poverty environment, to become more self-aware of our own norms, values, and judgments and how we may be imposing those on folks who we are trying to serve,” said Blackwell.  “That is a lot of what today is about is really getting more self-awareness (and) more understanding so we can be more effective and impactful in our jobs.”

During the program, which includes small group work as well as presentations, those in attendance learned concepts of the poverty issue, reviewed research, and looked at poverty in relation to hidden rules of class, resources, family structure, and language.

Blackwell said his goal is for those who attended to become more aware of themselves and of the issue in general.

“I really hope that they take away a better self-understanding that they are able to let go of some judgments about people from other backgrounds that they may have had before, that they are able to better establish relationships with people from different backgrounds and be more effective in their work,” said Blackwell.

Family Connections and Communities in Schools of Stephens County organized the program.

That group’s executive director, Toni Childress, said she also hopes people who attended will see the issue in a different light.

“I think there is a lot of shame and a lot of blame for folks that live in poverty, that people will learn to lay that down,” said Childress.  “I think we will never move forward until we let go of that and build some new relationships so that we really can help our community grow and (help) families move out of poverty.”

She went on to say having the program was important because poverty is a huge issue in the state, the region, and Stephens County.

“In the United States, 1 out of 6 children live in poverty,” said Childress.  “In Georgia, 1 out of 4 (children live in poverty).  In Stephens County, 1 out of 3 children live in poverty, so it kind of surprises people when they hear those statistics, but we know.  We work with our families every day.  We know that families are struggling.  It is not only a generational problem.  It is people that have lost their jobs, people that have lost their homes.”

Childress said she hopes that they will be able to build off Thursday’s workshop moving forward.