CONWAY — Jay Burnham said he’s learned skills in a class offered by The Salvation Army in Conway that will help him get out of poverty and stay there.
The inaugural class, Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’ -By World, is being taught by Capt. Patrishia Knott, corps officer at The Salvation Army in Conway. The class started in October, and a graduation is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 25
at the church, 950 Carson Cove in Conway.
“It’s under the Bridges Out Of Poverty umbrella,” Knott said. She taught a class at The Salvation Army in Oklahoma based on the book Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities, by Ruby K. Payne, Philip E. DeVol and Terie Dreussi Smith.
“To come up with real solutions for poverty, it needs everyone to come to the table — somebody in poverty, somebody in the middle class, someone in wealth. You need policy-makers, those running social services and those who are going to be impacted,” Knott said.
“It’s one of those things — to me, it’s been the missing puzzle piece of social services,” Knott said of helping people get out of poverty.
“We spend the first 10 weeks just looking at poverty … what some of the causes are … what keeps us in poverty … and shift to individuals looking at their personal situations,” she said.
Knott said most people think, “If I just made more money,” it would solve everything.
“It might not just be making more money; maybe they are lacking in education or training,” she said. “They may actually be lacking in the skill set needed.”
One woman in the class had a college degree, but her health failed.
“She realized she couldn’t walk the length of the building without having to sit down,” Knott said. “She said, ‘How can I hold a job, much less do anything else?’”
Burnham has a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in addiction studies from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, where he lives.
Despite that, he is struggling financially and decided to take the class.
“Basically, I needed help getting my life together, and this class is teaching me some skills that are going to help me get out of poverty and stay out of poverty,” he said.
Knott said Burnham is not the first educated person she’s seen who lives in poverty.
“That’s one of the things about this class that has surprised me. We tend to think of those in or near poverty as those who are illiterate,” she said. “Most of the time they are educated. It’s just life experiences.”
Burnham said the class has helped him with several skills.
“I’ve learned ways to motivate myself to do better, what it takes to get out of poverty and stay out, skills like dealing with agencies that you have to deal with when you’re in poverty and stuff like that,” he said.
He said he is motivating himself by setting goals, “and finding out what I really want and being able to take steps to achieve those goals.”
First, he needs to save money to get his driver’s license so he can get a better-paying job instead of temporary, low-paying jobs. He rang a bell for The Salvation Army during the Christmas season, for example.
“You do what you have to do,” he said. “I have degrees, but in order to work with those degrees, it seems like you have to have a driver’s license for all those jobs. I’m saving for that.”
Burnham said he had a wreck and ended up losing his driver’s license as a result.
Knott said the class helps students learn to focus on what they need to address first.
“Look at where are you lowest, and what do you need to build on?” she said.
Also, Knott said, many people need “social capital.”
“They don’t know who to call or who can answer their questions,” she said, so that issue is addressed in the class.
“So when your car breaks down, you know what mechanic to call,” Knott said. “When you have legal issues, you know that process of how to get in touch with a lawyer.”
Knott said that although her parents and others’ taught them these common-sense skills, not everyone was fortunate enough to have parents like that.
The class started with 11 members; now there are nine.
“One lady had a panic attack the first night; she wasn’t ready,” Knott said. “One of the kids, I didn’t think he was ready, but he begged me to give him a chance. He came the first week and did great, but he never came back. In his living condition, he didn’t have that support.”
Debbie Hendrix, social services director at The Salvation Army Conway Corps, said she learned better communication skills through the class.
Knott asked Hendrix to participate on behalf of the Conway Corps.
“We’re excited,” Knott said. “We try to have some kind of agency person in the class because they get a whole new view of a person coming in [to the office] in poverty sitting across the desk, where they’re coming from. It helps you navigate differently.”
Hendrix said it was a worthwhile class.
“I think the biggest thing I learned is how to use language because communications skills are my weakest area,” she said. “I’m a hands-on person. I learned how to think about my language before I speak. With my clients, I can talk all day long — it’s middle class and wealthy that I have trouble with. I’m learning how to be persuasive in different areas.”
Knott said a positive aspect of the program is that the students will continue to receive support because successful people have “that cheerleader” for them.
“We’ll have someone touching base on their goals,” she said. “That’s my next step, trying to connect people together. Until I get that, I’ll meet with them once a month to see how everybody’s doing on their goals. … We call that staying ahead.”
Burnham said the class has made a difference in his life.
“It’s helping me find a pathway forward,” he said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.