At the United Church of Canada Foundation, we are honoured and inspired to hear how our partners use Foundation grant resources to change lives.
In Peterborough, Ontario, a small group of dedicated people are heading into year two of a Building Bridges Out of Poverty project. This fall, five individuals living in poverty (who’ve named themselves “the Awesome People”) will continue to journey with mentors towards a more stable life. As project co-coordinator Rev. Lynn Smith-Reeve shares, all participants are being challenged to grow and learn in community:
“[We have learned that] change moves at the speed of relationship.
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, 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.
[Our Bridging Teams project] addresses 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.
Brenda Steele, one of the Awesome People, says ‘The Middle-class doesn’t seem to understand people living in poverty – they understand a little – but not fully. We had to help them understand what poverty really is and how we live in poverty.’
This past year, the five Awesome People and ten Mentors came together to meet weekly for three hours in a Bridging Team.
By far, the most positive aspect of the work is our success in creating a safe non-judgmental space for mutual learning among people from different socio-economic cultures or classes. Our focus includes three key elements of food, fun, and storytelling.
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.
Mentors were challenged to learn, through training and extensive practice, how to become allies beyond their habitual desires to help/fix/advise. Some things they shared:
‘…greater awareness of real-life challenges of people in poverty.’
‘I am less judgmental, and I am in awe of how resourceful these awesome people are.’
Here is a sample of what the Awesome participants said:
‘…allowed me to find a career direction after many years of uncertainty. Now I can move toward a new goal.’
‘…wonderful sense of belonging.’
‘…helped me see the strength in myself…more self-confidence with speaking in pubic, self-esteem, leadership roles, and having fun.’”
This autumn a 2nd Bridging Team will be based at The Mount Peterborough, an innovative Hub of affordable housing, community gardens, and social enterprises. Their long-term vision is to see Bridging Teams hosted by congregations, agencies, and neighbourhood groups all across the city.
Learn more about how United Church Foundation resources could animate significant change in your community!