News ID: 198438
Published: 0511 GMT August 12, 2017

Anti-poverty program takes a whole community approach

Anti-poverty program takes a whole community approach

The old adage that people who work harder are people who get ahead does not always apply to those living in poverty.

Treasure McKenzie, director of the Muskogee Bridges Out of Poverty program, addressed a group of about 16 community members in the US interested in finding out more about the program. She said Bridges fits into poverty-level residents’ lives when they realize they need to make changes, but they are not sure of what or how to change, according to

The program offers a path to self-sufficiency. Bridges takes a community overview of addressing poverty issues, McKenzie said.

McKenzieleads a class of community members interested in learning more about the program.

“As a society we tend to think that if you work harder, budget better, make better choices that you’ll eventually dig your way out of poverty,” McKenzie said.

“We tend to judge people who ask for help and consider they’re needy, weak, lazy and not to be trusted — but that’s not always the case.”

People living in poverty are some of the best problem solvers around, McKenzie said.

“They will figure out how to get what they need,” she said. “It may not be the way you would have done it, or the way you think they should have done it, but they will solve their problems.”

And, she said, money is not the only issue contributing to poverty.

“Poverty is not just a money problem, it’s a mindset,” McKenzie said.

About 43.6 million Americans spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing with another 35 percent of their after tax income being spent on food.

McKenzie conducted an informational session at the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce highlighting the philosophy of the program and how it strives to help residents in living in poverty change their mindset to help remove barriers that keep them from getting ahead.

“That doesn’t leave a lot left, does it?” McKenzie said. “We consider success going from an unstable environment to a stable environment.”

It is easier to make positive life changes for people who are in a stable situation, she said.

Contributing factors to Muskogee’s cycle of poverty are approximately 77 percent of families living in poverty are comprised of single-parent households, she said.

Statistics indicate that about 86 percent of students attending Muskogee area schools are on free or reduced meal program because of the high level of poverty, she said.

“The middle class is shrinking, and the working poor class is growing and we have to decide ‘is that a sustainable model for Muskogee'?” McKenzie said.

“Helping one family at a time is the only thing that seems to work and that’s what we’re doing with Bridges.”

She said a driving force in poverty is relationships and building trust.

“Our definition of poverty is the extent to which an individual, an organization or whole community does without or doesn’t have equal access to resources,” McKenzie said.

“But, if you ask a person in poverty, that’s not what they’re going to say. They say it’s a sense of shame, a sense of feeling trapped and a sense of hopelessness.”

Money is not the only issue that contributes to generational cycle of poverty, said McKenzi. The program recently kicked off its fall 20-week "Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin' By World" with enough interest to add an extra session, she said.

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