Six years ago, Bridges Out of Poverty was formed under the non-profit Pocono Alliance. Its goal, said Program Director Sarah Jacobi, is to “unleash human potential.”
Bridges Out of Poverty works with residents in Monroe County and connects them with resources to remove barriers so they can work, care for their family, or continue their education. Although the majority of program participants are employed, says Sarah, they’re not earning enough to support themselves and their family without help. “Clients need assistance with services that will allow them to work, like childcare, transportation, or even health insurance when their employer does not offer, or they cannot afford, coverage,” she explained.
Last year, more than 80 volunteers put in over 800 hours of service to the organization, and they helped by preparing and serving meals, providing childcare, giving presentations in their areas of expertise and serving as mentors. “Our mentors work with clients and their families for at least a year, and sometimes longer, to provide a different perspective, offer emotional support, and help problem-solve when there are challenges.” Mentors are also helpful as a sounding board when clients are working on goals.
To be eligible for services, the individual must be a resident of Monroe County with certain income requirements, and must be willing to actively participate to improve their situation. Bridges Out of Poverty is also invested in educating the community about families struggling to manage low incomes with “poverty simulations,” which jump-start the conversation about the realities of poverty. “Participants adopt a new persona and family profile,” explained Sarah. “The outcome of the simulation is unpredictable and demonstrates how strategizing with limited resources can make meeting even the most basic needs very challenging for a family.” Bridges holds up to eight simulations each year for church groups, college students and businesses. “Participants experience the confusing patchwork system of services and have to spend time and money traveling from place to place looking for help that may or may not be available.”
Sarah said that as a large region with rural areas, Monroe County suffers from a lack of affordable housing and accessible transportation, and jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage. “It will take business, government, non-profits, education – all sectors – coming together to work in a coordinated way to develop solutions,” she added. Some successful programs around the country have helped people out of poverty by extending bus routes and operating hours, and providing year-round work with collaborations between seasonal employers. “I am hopeful that we can build momentum to create these types of changes in our community.”
Watch for the annual fundraising event called “Give Poverty the Boot” coming in the spring of 2018, a special wine-tasting evening filled with musical entertainment, appetizers, silent auction, cash bar and friends.
For more information, visit www.poconoalliance.org and click on “Get Help” to find Bridges Out of Poverty.