Dawn Cole, left, stands along with Urban Mission workers outside of the mission during a recent mask giveaway. Sarah Hilyer, right, is a past graduate of the Mission’s “Getting Ahead” program, which she will help lead when the latest program starts up on Tuesday. Emil Lippe/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits have gotten creative with how they are moving forward and continuing to offer services to those who need them most.

The Urban Mission has decided to take its “Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World” program to the web for the time being, allowing participants to work on building the resources for a better life while stuck at home.

Based on the work of “Bridges out of Poverty,” Getting Ahead is a 16-week workshop designed to encourage individuals to take a deeply personal journey of self-discovery to better understand how the poverty mindset influences decision-making.

Getting Ahead participants, referred to as investigators, also examine poverty within their own communities, completing assessments of conditions across a number of domains.

“Not knowing how long it will be before we can bring together groups of people in the same room, once this virtual workshop launches, based on the feedback that we get, we’ll gear up to launch another one,” said Dawn Cole, executive director of the Urban Mission. “We’re kind of groundbreaking. We’re not the first to do it, but we’re pretty excited about doing it and kind of getting our momentum back that we’ve lost for a while.”

The first workshop launched here in the north country was in 2017, with Mike Larrabee as one of the first graduates of the program in this area. He and Sarah Hilyer, who graduated in 2018, will lead this virtual program, which is set to begin via Zoom on Tuesday with 12 participants.

Since the program began, there have been a total of 12 workshops, a vast majority of which were paid for with Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) funds until the money had all been spent. Once this funding dried up, the Urban Mission applied for a grant through the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, which made it possible to launch a new project entitled “Getting Ahead and Staying Ahead in the North Country,” which includes facilitating Getting Ahead workshops and providing ongoing support to graduates of the program.

“I guess everybody signs up for totally different reasons, but the experience was great for me on a lot of different levels,” Mr. Larrabee said. “I think this got me to recognize how emotionally lacking and socially lacking I was, a single dad raising my child after her mother left, I was in a situation where we were stuck in the tyranny of the moment, we were homeless for a short period of time. I was just focused on these basic needs and then this program helped me think more abstract and think of the future.”

The network now has 104 local graduates of the program, according Ms. Cole, with four now working at the mission.

According to Mr. Larrabee, a lot of the graduates, like himself, have continued to participate in the Staying Ahead portion of the program where they connect with each other about once a month, seeing where everyone is and encouraging them to continue with their future stories.

“We have people talk about their future stories and some people, they don’t even have that when they first start the workshop and some people are working on it,” Ms. Hilyer said. “I was kind of already working on mine. I was going through school; working on my bachelors through Keuka College, so I was bringing some of the concepts from Getting Ahead and discussing it in my class too because I was going for social work. Social capital was one of my favorite tools and I met a lot of people through it. I have this job today because I met Dawn through it; now I’m doing this job and I get to help people help themselves.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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