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St. John Providence, Catholic agencies in Detroit support anti-poverty initiative

August 15, 2016

By NANCY FRAZIER O'BRIEN

Jesse Maybin and LaRenda Lauchié know they've made some wrong turns in life.

Maybin, 37, survived a childhood filled with violence and abuse. He joined a gang at 11, became a father at 13 and by age 17 he was in prison for armed robbery and carjacking. Released late last year after almost 20 years, he is trying to find a path that won't lead him back to jail and might help other young people to avoid his mistakes.


Jackson

Lauchié, 51, said she has spent "the last 35 years of my life in and out of addiction." Her drugs of choice included marijuana, crack cocaine, heroin and cigarettes, she said, adding with a laugh, "I'm still on the cigarettes." Clean for more than a year — "an accomplishment I had never made before" — she has a job and is studying business management with an eye toward working in the hotel or restaurant industry.

The two are among dozens of Detroit residents finding hope for the future through Bridges to HOPE, an acronym for Helping Others Prosper through Empowerment. The program is co-sponsored by St. John Providence Health System, a part of Ascension Health; the Society of St. Vincent de Paul; and Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan.


Alberta Sullivan gestures during a discussion at a Detroit Bridges to HOPE workshop May 17.
(Photo by: Karl Ford/Courtesy of Bridges to HOPE)

Participants in the program are called "investigators," because they are responsible for locating resources in the community that might help with their long-term or short-term goals. These might include a health center, a utility company, a mortgage lender, an income tax preparation service or a wide variety of other local spots.

They report back to their fellow investigators about what they have found in terms of factual information but also on "their experience in terms of dealing in these areas," said Cassandra Jackson, program manager for Detroit Bridges to HOPE. Those who have encountered problems might receive guidance on handling the situation differently or prompt the program leaders, called facilitators, to advocate on their behalf in the community.

The eight-week program is made up of twice-weekly, two-hour sessions that begin with a meal. It is based on the book Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin'-By World: Building Your Resources for a Better Life by Philip E. DeVol.

Participants receive a $25 gift card at each session, although some choose to receive the $400 total as a lump sum at the end of the course, Jackson said.

The goals of Bridges to HOPE, according to program literature, are to "identify and solve problems in a safe and stimulating environment, complete a self-assessment of their own personal re–sources, develop a blueprint to get ahead and gather support to build resources."

In a city where nearly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, participants learn about the "hidden rules" &mdash the unspoken cues and habits — that might be preventing them from moving out of generational poverty, Jackson said.

"We go back to the mental models of poverty and talk about ... the middle class and the wealthy class," she said. "There is a discussion about how basically our community is set up kind of in a middle-class category, and we learn how to navigate in a system that is set up that way."

Each participant sets his or her own short-term and long-term goals; these may include continued sobriety, raising a down payment for a new home, quitting smoking or finding work. They then investigate the specific resources that could help them reach their goals.

But they also learn skills to help cope with what Jackson calls "the tyranny of the moment" — the unexpected obstacles that might delay achieving their goals.


Margo Henderson, far right, addresses other "investigators" during a Detroit Bridges to HOPE workshop May 17.
(Photo by: Karl Ford/Courtesy of Bridges to HOPE)

"We know life happens, and even for those who are motivated, when something happens you have to prioritize," she said. "It's about survival," Jackson said. "We help them to develop skills to get resources even in the midst of that."

Lauchié, who has completed the program and been paired with a mentor for a year of follow-up, and Maybin, who at the time he spoke to Catholic Health World was in the middle of his sessions, had already taken some of the program's lessons to heart.

"I want to start my own business talking to different people and sharing my story," Maybin said. To achieve that goal, "I have to be mature, make positive decisions to not reoffend, communicate with words instead of violence, and build a support system, so that when I need help I can get some advice," he said.

Lauchié, who wants to work in the hospitality industry, has some short-term steps clearly in mind.

"I want to be able to present myself appropriately," she said. In addition to school and a job, she is doing some volunteer work, attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and has "committed myself to the church."

Lauchié said Bridges to HOPE "teaches you to utilize your skills and knowledge and that is priceless. It motivates you to reach for something and to do more."

 

Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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