She wondered “How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?”.
We were having breakfast with a friend of Bedford House. Catching up and pondering the future.
This friend is an older person like us. Unlike us, she’s planned for her retirement years and has a sense of economic security for her future. She’s been led to now “invest” in her community instead of growing a bigger and bigger nest-egg for herself.
She has arranged for pre-authorized monthly contributions to support the work of other Bedford House friends living with inadequately low-incomes. We pay a consultant’s fee to low- income participants for the teaching they provide us “over-resourced” Bridging Team members.
As we ponder over eggs & coffee the question of “how do we get from here to there?” we remind ourselves of recent scientific studies about the wealth redistribution system of Beech forests.
Lynn bought me “The Hidden Life of Trees” for Christmas. Peter Wohlleben reports his research, telling us a story about how a Beech forest will redistribute energy to the weaker, or less-able forest members – old and young – so that every leaf in the forest shows an equal ability to photosynthesize. This is accomplished by a complex underground system of roots and fungi that ensure each tree receives all it needs to grow into the best tree it can be.
“a tree can only be as strong as the forest thatsurrounds it” pg 17
Forests replanted in rows of single species monoculture don’t have this ability. Only diverse eco-systems perform in this way.
Our current economic belief story is challenged by these new discoveries. Darwin’s scientific observations of the last century – the survival-of-the-fittest hypothesis – has underscored an economic justification for might-is-right as “nature’s way”. With hubris we see ourselves as individual trees instead of simply leaves of a forest.
Our forest kin have reminded us of another economy that folks used for thousands of years to sustain their villages. Taking care of old and young, differently-abled and diseased members of the eco-system reflects the naturally cooperative nature of our species. Somewhere we forgot how to do this naturally.
How do we get from here to there? Can we begin to understand ourselves as leaves in a forest. Each of us photosynthesizing what we need – not only for ourselves – or even our own branches – but for the health of the whole eco-system/economy?
What is the coinage of this new realm?
My neighbour, after years of being sidelined from the economy by workplace injuries, has found a new purpose. He’s a talented bike mechanic. We share stories across balconies where he’s spied a retractable awning that I bought on sale and never installed. He’s also done work on my old bike and knows it needs an overhaul. He offers me a trade. A reconditioned bike for my awning he could use this summer to work outside under at Green City bikes.
Instead of calculating dollars and dimes, we calculate the value of our neighbours’ quality of life. How might my abundance contribute to my neighbour’s well-being? How might my neighbour’s talents contribute to my well-being.
How might we translate this kind of coinage systemically? Surely with our advanced communication systems where funds are redistributed at lightning speed, we can figure out how to redistribute abundance? Why haven’t we?
Trees send energy impulses to one another at the speed of an inch every three seconds. A- thousand-and-one, a-thousand-and-two, a-thousand-and-three – is slower than any Tai Chi master might move. Perhaps our community redistribution
networks need to grow at the speed of relationships.
Taking the time to create spaces where Hospitality, Curiosity, and Dignity nurture mutual relationships is what Bridging Teams are all about.
We’ve had an
outbreak of a social dis-ease here in Peterborough.
could be my cousins or yours – are without
shelter in this July
And as in any
crisis, generous folks are responding to meet the immediate needs with tents,
bottled water, and other necessities.
social dis-ease has simply come to the surface with the closing of the Warming
Room overnight shelter that usually keeps our cousins out of sight. The dis-ease
however lurks much deeper within the bowels our society.
How is it in
a G20 country of advanced technology, bureaucracies, and human rights
legislations, that we can’t figure out how to trickle down enough wealth to
meet the needs of our neighbours?
We blame the victims.
We blame the politicians who won’t
raise taxes for fear of losing their seat for such an unpopular cause.
We blame the system that’s overwhelmed
with needs too many to sustain.
But what if
we changed the conversation?
What if we chose to talk instead about
our failure to redistribute wealth effectively?
What if the problem has very little to
do with “the poor”?
What if the problem is actually those
of us who enjoy privilege and wealth?
the problems of the poor is a great way to distract the conversation. From
heart-warming success stories of those who’ve escaped poverty’s clutches to
heart-breaking stories of those who are drowning in our midst while we shake
our heads or throw them a leaky inner tube.
the conversation to talk instead about me and mine, you and yours.
Is there really a lack of resources?
(let’s count wealth statistics instead of poverty stats)
How much is enough wealth? (we know
what the basic minimum income is – but what is the most that anyone needs? Is
there such a thing as too much?)
What harm does wealth create? (we know
the social ills of poverty – what are the social ills of wealth?)
Who deserves to be wealthy? (if the
poor are undeserving – what are the merits that make greed acceptable?)
Why is greed celebrated more than
simple generosity? (cheating on our taxes is a socially acceptable sport –
while choosing to be charitable is optional)
Help me out
here will you? Send me your thoughts about the question above that most irks
you. The stats you have. The reasons why you deserve the privileges you enjoy.
I’d love to
have this conversation for a change. Let’s find a new diagnosis for our
We gathered for food, fun, and storytelling. The story of
the day was about the graduation of a new batch of Getting Ahead investigators
Bedford House board
members, reps from Greenwood and Trinity churches, and members of our pilot
Bridging Team were in attendance to celebrate this new group of folks
journeying onto the “bridge out of poverty”.
Five participants hosted the weekly study group at the Mount
where they live. They were joined by a group of ten Mentors about a third of
the way into the Getting Ahead study. This group is now ready to become a
The Getting Ahead
study process involves sixteen sessions where participants engage in group
discussions and self-reflection exercises. It offers a systemic view of
poverty’s four causes (personal, social, corporate-exploitive, and
political-policies). The study also grounds us in basic concepts such as – the
11 Essential Resources for a stable life – and the Hidden Rules of class.
Wednesday’s party involved the usual uproarious doses of
laughter and heart-felt sentiments shared. The potluck table was overflowing
and there was lots of time for meeting new friends. This gathering represents
the first time folks from different teams have come together for the
cross-fertilization of relationships.
It was an inauguration of what we’re calling the Neighbour
Graduates were handed a certificate by facilitators Kat and
Todd. These two led the study after experiencing the pilot Bridging Team in
2018 – and wanted to share the process with new folks.
“It’s contagious…” says Kat. “the sharing, the learning, the
laughter, and the deepening of relationships – all as part of a global social
movement to end poverty – you just want more!”
When I was first employed in the Poverty
Business, an industry that employs tens of thousands of Canadians, I was told
that it was my goal to work myself out of a job.
The idea was that if I was effective in my
work, I would eliminate the need.
Eliminating Poverty however, I soon
realized, would mean those tens of thousands of poverty workers would be
unemployed. I had to wonder “Is it really in their best interests to solve the
To treat the root causes of poverty,
instead of its symptoms, would unplug the great social-service machine that is
fueled by people’s neediness. Addressing what causes that neediness is not in
the interest of the wheels of government, or those at the levers of a labour
market that benefit from keeping “the wolf at the door” of a workforce.
The Poverty Industry Machine continues to
run – employing me – and so many others. Taxpayer’s dollars – not unlike the
ten billion our government poured into GM to keep Canadians working – continue
to feed this dinosaur-industry of another era.
What if those
taxpayers became personally involved in creating an alternative to the poverty
What if poverty’s
“clients” became leaders instead in the growing of an organic model of shared
What if people
from all walks of life came together as neighbours to imagine how a local
economy could fully employ every person in meeting needs currently unmet?
It is Citizens that could take this
scenario from some academic dream theory into reality. It is ordinary people
whose interests would be served.
If you ask “Who
wants poverty?” you also need to ask “Who benefits from poverty?”
But if you ask “Who wants prosperity for
everyone?” then we might also ask “In who’s interests would this make sense?”
In an upper room of a downtown Peterborough
church there’s a small social experiment growing solutions – one relationship
at a time.
Seeded by church and foundation dollars,
started by church workers – based on an educational construct developed by
academics – ordinary people are creating something that has the potential – if
not to replace the poverty machine – to transform our relationship with it.
Peterborough’s Bridging Poverty Teams bring
together under-resourced people living in poverty with volunteer mentors who
have resources to share. On one level you might say it’s a system of resource
re-distribution. But beneath that surface, there’s something much more radical
Lynn and I were invited to join the Team
for their pre-holyday seasonal lunch and celebration. It’d been six months since we’d finished our
work with the Team as the paid staff animators of the Team.
About 18 months earlier we’d invited this
group of strangers into the experiment. What might happen if people from
different walks of life came together weekly to share a meal, tell stories,
have fun, study poverty and chip away at the work of stabilizing the lives of
the under-resourced people in the team?
Key to the experiment was that the
participants who were living in poverty were considered the lead
problem-solvers. With staff support, they planned the sessions. They chose the
curriculum. They evaluated the groups’ progress. And they determined the pace.
Staff offered both streams of participants
training. Under-resourced folks in poverty were given tools of social analysis
and critical awareness. Mentors were given lessons in asking questions instead
of offering advice (Can you teach old dogs new tricks?) The Mentor training we
called “From Mentor to Ally Training”.
Early in our research we attended a session
at the Nogojiwanong Friendship Centre. A young indigenous leader told us that
no one can claim to be an Ally. “It’s a title that has to be given to you by
those you seek to work with.” she explained. “No one can call themselves an
Elder – the community names its elders.”
So we invite Mentors to join a journey of
discovery – to learn from those who solve poverty’s problems every day of their
lives. And to learn how ask good questions (before offering the good advice
that’s worked for them – starting from a place of privilege).
Once the two training
streams finish and the two groups come together, we spend a lot of time
building trust and learning. Over food, stories, and fun we get to see into
each others’ lives. It’s a slow process and patience is required. Mentors ask
“when do we get to start “helping?” (The
need for patience is why seniors tend be our mentors).
Gradually through the trust-building we all
begin to see how “change” is a product of relationship. And we see how all of
us need help with the “change” we envision for ourselves and for our
Over the nine months the group gradually
begins taking on the various roles and responsibilities to keep the team going.
Circles of Support are created to work with each under-resourced participants
goals. Teams are created to look after the essentials of Hospitality, Learning,
and Evaluating. Then the paid staff pull out.
And the team keeps meeting.
Staff continued to meet weekly in a
parallel Internship program with three of the under-resourced Leaders. These
three had chosen to become trained as Bridging Team facilitators. As part of
their training they took on the leadership of the first group (supported by a
Steering Cmte. of Mentors who conduct monthly evaluation and planning
So, when Lynn and I, as the staff who had
started the experiment, were invited back to join the Team for their
pre-holyday seasonal lunch and celebration – I couldn’t help but give them an
evaluation task before the celebrations began…
The group was asked to each
write down a sentence to complete this statement: “We are a group of people who….”
“Who believe People in poverty are
“Who Believe By building resources there
is a way out of poverty.”
“Would love to help people get out of
poverty and stabilize their lives”
“Who have grown together, removed
“class” barriers, love and support each other!”
“We are a group of leaders, learning,
sharing and spreading our wings, soaring to new heights.”
“We are a group of people who love
community building, love meeting others who have different yet same in most
“Who believe social capital needs to be
built and expanded”
“Have learned from and taught each other
about our differences and our similarities – basically the same but unique.”
“We’re a group of people who became
family and friends”
“Support one another in mutuality,
mutual caring, sharing, learning, laughing, loving, and eating with each
“We are a group of teachers and
“A group that goes beyond a room and a
meeting place. We are friends!”
“We are family.”
“Who believe people have unlimited
talent that sometimes just needs to be set free.”
“Friends who meet often to eat each
other’s delicious food and share our resources with one another.”
more than three decades working in the poverty business – I’ve experienced
something new. For the first time – I
felt like I’d worked myself out of a job.
Five individuals living in poverty in Peterborough (who’ve named themselves “the Awesome People”) journey with mentors towards a more stable life.
What is the goal of this project?
Bridging Teams address the 11 Essential Resources required to overcome Poverty’s Tyranny of day-to-day crises. By creating a social network of middle-class mentors, the Awesome people have expanded their resources and supports to deal with poverty’s complex challenges.
What strategies does the project use?
Using the “Bridges Out of Poverty”* framework, two separate learning streams orient under-resourced Leaders and middle class Mentors.
Then, the five Awesome People and ten Mentors come together to meet weekly for three hours in a Bridging Team to cross cultural barriers, build community, and fight poverty.
Once the team has built trust and bonded, support circles for each of the Awesome people are formed. Two mentors were assigned to walk with each of the Awesome participants.
The Team was facilitated by staff for the first nine months of weekly meetings.
Describe the most positive aspects of the project and anything that you would do differently if you did it again.
By far the most positive aspect of the work was the success in creating a safe, non-judgmental, space for mutual learning among people from different socio-economic cultures (or classes). Our focus on Team-building included three key elements:
Food: every session included a meal first provided by staff, then shifting to a pot-luck sharing.
Fun: The use of trust-building, adventure-based, activities created a common ground and bonded the team.
Storytelling: Midway evaluations scored storytelling from each participant as a highlight. Every person answered five interview questions. The group passed a talking stick reflecting on what they valued in each person’s story.
Each of the fifteen participants has created 18 new relationships including staff (15 x 18 = 270 new relationships). This new social network has the potential of affecting the lives of every participant in significant ways. For the Awesome People, they now have positive relationships with retired teachers, lawyers, therapists, journalists, social workers, parenting experts, and clergy. In addition, they will benefit in all kinds of ways from a new access into the social networks of these new intentional friendships.
Here is a sample of what the Awesome participants had to say:
“…allowed me to find a career direction after many years of uncertainty. Now I can move toward a new goal”
“…wonderful sense of belonging”
“…feeling very good about myself and my life”
“…helped me see the strength in myself…more self-confidence with speaking in pubic, self-esteem, leadership roles, and having fun”
Mentors were challenged to learn (through training and extensive practice) how to become allies beyond their habitual desires to help/fix/advise:
“…greater awareness of real-life challenges of people in poverty”
“…the possibility of a world where everyone is heard, everyone is part of what we’re creating, and no one is left out”
“…one of the best processes I’ve ever encountered for building solidarity across economic class”
“I am less judgmental, and I am in awe of how resourceful these awesome people are.”
“…helped me build deep connections and trust relationships across class lines”
“Bedford House is uniquely suited as a catalyst to engage, train, and equip diverse groups of people.”
What has made this project a success?
Community support for this slow, costly process has been outstanding. The Awesome participant’s dedication and energy drives us forward to believe “Whatever the problem – Community is the answer.”
The weeping place is where I go when I lose my way.
In deepest sorrow shared there comes a knowing – that there is a greater deeper wider timeless power that holds all suffering within its breadth and depth and is not diminished.
The suffering mixes like compost – what is lost – into the rich procreative soil of what is,
the rain of doubt washes away ego’s vain attempts to claim control or credit,
the winds bring seeds of hope from unexpected places,
and the joy of the sun’s warmth urges tickles of laughter out into the open.
To recall the everflowing spinal fluid of creation’s gifting,
to gather the opposites of left and right hemispheres to meet in those sweet spots of possibilities emerging
is to do the work of pushing through disbelief, disorder, discouragements I carry from past failures (that were really only good tries – waiting for a friend’s help to try again).
I can be my own best friend. When honesty demands a good look in the mirror. When the list of inadequacies, mistakes and miscues grows as long as the longest night. I am the one who can say to the dark “Yes – but.”
The “Yes” is the invitation for those ugly thoughts to come and dance. And as they come and dance around the sacred fire I’ve built for this ceremony – they lose the fearful shadowed power I give them when I push them away into dark corners. In the firelight of the dance I ask them “what gift do you bring to offer?”
So the “but” becomes the private joke I make – learning to laugh at this trickster’s attempt to turn my most awful shames into impassable boulders on the path – when they really are painful pebbles in my shoes.
In this dance of serious hilarious humility I grow large – so much larger than those pebbled boulders. Standing on the shoulders of ancestor’s work I see what really matters. Stretching my arms wide enough to embrace both past and future i bring it all into the here of today’s to dos. Spinning with the earth’s turning the divine imagination infuses what I offer with the knowing that this same green growing tall energy in me is within the canopy of a jungle forest ecosystem where I am rooted and never – no never – alone.
You know you are on the way – on the path that you were invited to walk when born – when these days of doubt arrive.
Distracted, disordered, discombobulated – I go to the weeping place. In good company I sit with those who endure the worst. Listening I discover what it takes to stand tall once more in the company of great-grandparents gone – who wait for us on the way.