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My Turn, Hope Oliphant: Support for United Way helps ensure strong community

By Hope Oliphant

Many that visit Marketplace and Meeting Place have experienced a life filled with barriers, vanishing opportunities, and setbacks.

So often, many have spent part of their life — or most of their life — struggling to get by in the world. The idea of actually getting ahead for them, making a living wage and living a stable life might seem out of reach. However, even if one’s story has been filled with various situations that keep them from climbing the economic ladder, the Getting Ahead class and our community can foster real lasting change together. Yes, these individuals have to write their own future story, but they don’t have to do it alone.

Hope Oliphant

In a safe, facilitated group setting, our Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World curriculum takes an individual step-by-step through a discovery of self like no other. It’s not just about the here and now. It’s also about stepping outside of day-to-day crises and living to think about and build a more sustainable life. At times, when living in financial stress, one can only think about surviving for that day. Getting Ahead provides a different atmosphere in which participants are the investigators of their own lives and their own future story. The group is given the opportunity to create friendships with individuals that understand their struggles and grow through conversations, gain healthier relationships and acquire new resources. The group is facilitated by a Marketplace and Meeting Place staff member that mentors and guides participants along with a co-facilitator that is a successful graduate from one of the previous classes.

Our Getting Ahead class allows someone over a period of 15 weeks to begin to think about and re-write a new story. Each class begins with a time for engaging around the table through a hot meal provided for the participants. Each participant has access to transportation, if needed; free childcare; and a stipend upon completion of the class. The stipend allows us, as an organization, to use what is learned from our participants to better inform and shape our future story as well.

Currently, Main Street Market and Meeting Place offers two sessions per year of our Getting Ahead program. We now have over 100 graduates from our program (2014-2020). Of those graduates, 35% no longer need any food assistance and are able to provide for themselves. In addition, 58% of graduates now live and rent or own a home that is safe and secure. On average, 68% of our graduates are employed full- or part-time, and 92% now say they have medium to high social support following the completion of the program.

Most recently, through United Way Grant funding (in addition to our traditional Getting Ahead class) we are now offering a Spanish version of the class as well as one tailored for those returning from recently being incarcerated. Allowing us to reach a very prevalent demographic in our community, the additions will only further our ability to really make a lasting impact in our community.

Now more than ever, your support ensures we build a healthy, thriving and equitable community. As a community change agent, you and your gift to Rowan County United Way will improve individuals’ and families’ lives by making a positive impact in our community.

Hope Oliphant is executive director of China Grove-based Main Street Marketplace and Meeting Place, which was formerly known as Main Street Mission.

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