Peterborough’s Bridging Poverty Teams
Year One Pilot
July 2017 to June 2018
Bridging Poverty Team Goals & Intentions
- Build Team with food, fun, and stories.
- Support each Poverty Expert’s journey to a stable lifestyle.
- Learn together about poverty and its systemic barriers to grow access to our Community’s network of assets
- Use Development Evaluation to track lessons for replication.
- Contribute to the growth of Bridges Out of Poverty network in Peterborough, Ontario, and North America.
Describe Bridging Teams in one sentence:
Five individuals living in poverty in Peterborough (who named themselves “the Awesome People”) journey with mentors towards a more stable life.
What is the goal of this project?
Bridging Poverty 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 happens in a Bridging Poverty Team ?
Five individuals living in poverty (we call them the Poverty Experts) in Peterborough journey with mentors towards a more stable life. Using the “Bridges Out of Poverty”* framework, we orient two separate learning streams with the Poverty Experts and middle class Mentors.
Then, the two groups come together to meet weekly for three hours in a Bridging Team to cross cultural barriers, build community, and fight poverty.
Once the whole team has built trust and bonded – using our formula of food, fun, and storytelling – support circles are formed. Two Mentors are “matched” with each of the Poverty Experts.
The Team is organized into three task groups that slowly take on the tasks of the staff facilitators (Hospitality, Programming, & Evaluation-chaplaincy).
Key to the process is the leadership of the Poverty Experts. They meet with staff facilitators monthly to design the month’s process. If interested, these Poverty Experts are trained in an Internship program to become co-facilitators of future groups.
The Team was facilitated by staff for the first nine months of weekly meetings.
Using creative adult education practices, the Bridging Poverty Team has:
- Developed critical consciousness among all participants.
- Developed social skills and knowledge across socio-economic divisions.
- Raised public awareness and opened opportunities for advocacy among members.
- Demonstrated a methodology for people to identify solutions to their problems.
What are the next steps?
Members of the pilot Bridging Poverty Team has agreed to continue working together into the future – without staff facilitation – led by three of the Awesome People training to be co-facilitators with support from Peterborough’s United Way.
Bedford House staff have recruited the next group of Poverty Experts and Mentors to be hosted at The Mount Community Centre. The model will be tested and documented for replication by congregations, community groups, and agencies across the city.
We are now preparing to officially launch the “Teams” approach in Peterborough. In order to accomplish this, we are seeking funding to develop the tools and resources we need, including a sustainability plan, marketing tools, workbooks and Guides, and a partnership plan.
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.
As we plan to replicate this process, we will draw from the lessons documented in Year One. We expect that every group will be different according to the participants. Some changes will include:
- More intentional use of the “Eleven Essential Resources” as a tool for both Mentors and Poverty participants.
- More ongoing Mentor training in the Hidden Rules of Class as developed in the Getting Ahead Encouraging mentors to apply these theories to their experience in the group.
- More time for participants to track lessons as they go – reflecting not only on today’s session – but on bigger picture systemic analysis questions – allowing for individuals, and the group to reflect on what it is to live a “stable life”. (Clue: it’s not just about income.)
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.”
How has the project fallen short of expectations? Why?
Change moves at the speed of relationship. Changes are often incremental and difficult to track.
What outcomes do you anticipate in the long term (three years or more) as the result of your project?
We expect that this “model” for cross-socio-economic network development will be taken up by congregations, agencies, and neighbourhood groups. Bedford House staff will train co-facilitators to start their own Teams.
We have engaged a Strategic Planning professional to design a five-year sustainability plan. A network of founding agencies will support the implementation of a Communications Strategy, Volunteer and Donor recruitment, and Team Replication process.
How did you track progress and learn as the project progressed? What formal evaluation did you use?
The Awesome people met at the beginning of each month to evaluate progress and plan the month’s process. Participant’s filled out evaluation sheets weekly which were used by Facilitators to adapt plans.
Todd Barr & Associates created several developmental evaluation tools with the group to assess their experience and identity learnings.
- Participation rates of 75 – 100%. One mentor drop-out due to family issues.
- Reduced isolation: 272 new relationships (17×16)
- Five people have made progress on select resource measures to move out of poverty
- Future leadership roles: Three Awesome People have signed on to an Internship Program. They will join the Bedford House staff team, attend weekly meetings, receive on-line training, and learn from the hands-on opportunities to co-facilitate each stage of the process.
- Fifteen new advocates working to reduce community barriers to prosperity.
- Social enterprises and collaboratives: Two mentors are part of a community effort to encourage social enterprise development. One awesome person began a small handyman enterprise as a goal.
A summary of participant’s comments is available upon request.
What else was key to the process?
A Reconciliation process was integrated into the group’s formation. An indigenous facilitator used traditional teachings, and trust-building action-learning, during the initial three month group formation to aid in overcoming the cultural barriers between socio-economic groups. This was an invaluable part of the process.
Additional staff time was required to:
- develop a Mentor orientation and screening process to prepare volunteers to be co-learners rather than “fixers”.
- develop a 3-phase process for transferring leadership of the Team from staff facilitators to volunteer team members. Three sub-groups organize monthly Hospitality, Programming, & Evaluations.
- develop a “Leadership Internship” process for low-income participants to lead the second year of the pilot Bridging Team, co-facilitate Bedford House’s first Getting Ahead program, and join in public speaking / recruitment efforts for future Mentors.
What resources have supported this project?
A collection of church and foundation grants have funded the pilot. Mentors share in food prep and the Awesome people receive weekly honorariums to honour their contribution to the collective effort and reduce their barriers to participation. Space has been donated and a student intern has helped document the pilot.
More of the same is required to test the model with a 2nd group, document the process, and promote its successes in the community.
Was the project completed on budget?
|United Church M&S Fund||5,000|
|Seeds of Hope Foundation||20,000|
|Lutheran Deaconess Foundation||7,322|
|Catherine Donnelly Foundation||25,000|
|Community Foundation Greater Peterborough||5,000|
|Peterborough Community Foundation||6,900|
|City of Peterborough||200|
|UCC Reconciliation Fund||7,000|
|J.P. Bickell Foundation||8,415|
We have been honoured to be a part of this exciting work. While it seems innovative in 2018, this project recalls a time when neighbours were able to cross class and cultural barriers in order to share stories and support one another.
In our modern day when people from all walks of life suffer from social isolation, excess consumerism, and a growing gap between rich and poor, our communities cry out for ways to reclaim what it is to be a Neighbour.
Many thanks to our Supporters and Contributors:
City of Peterborough, Peterborough Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough, Catherine Donnelly Foundation, Trinity United Church, Lutheran Deaconess Foundation, Individual donations, and; United Church of Canada sources: Shining Waters Presbytery, Bay of QUinte Conference, Mission & Service Fund, Reconciliation Fund, Seeds of Hope/Ann Baker Fund for Innovative Senior’s Ministry