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Chamber to facilitate Strive2Thrive training

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY -- The Albany Area Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a training day for individuals who are interested in volunteering for the chamber's Strive2Thrive initiative to eradicate poverty in the community.

Catherine Glover, chamber president and CEO, announced Friday that 100 individuals have signed up for the training session that will be held at the HPER Gym at Albany State University on Feb. 2.

"We need a lot of help and feet on the street," she said Friday during a news conference.

Cynthia George, a co-leader of the initiative, said they hope to have more individuals who are interested in volunteering. "We have a 100 people coming, but we would love to have twice that much," she said.

George said community support for the program has been overwhelming since the initiative's kick-off in December at a summit that more than 200 people attended.

"During the day I had been told that people would be leaving after lunch because of prior obligations," she said of the December summit. "As the day went on, we didn't lose people."

George said the training session next Tuesday will be an important step towards eradicating poverty in Dougherty County.

"We are doing it so that we can get the volunteers ready to start working," she said. "This is about changing the lives of thousands of people in our community and we want to be ready."

Glover said chamber board members have also shown additional support for the project after the successful December kick-off summit.

"We have since gone to the next level and have signed a five year agreement with Move the Mountain," she said.

Move the Mountain is a national anti-poverty organization that provides transformational leadership and planning programs to align leaders and their organizations to high impact strategies that can reduce and eventually end poverty.

Glover said the board has also appointed Harriet Hollis as the full-time coordinator of the project.

"Our board has adopted to use the chamber foundation and Imagine Albany campaign (funds) to hire a full-time staff member," she said.

Harriet Hollis said she was excited to be part of the Strive2Thrive iniative. "It is a community endeavor," she said. "We have to change the way we look at poverty. If one person in Dougherty County is impoverished, then we all are."

George said the Move the Mountain program is community-driven.

"It's about working with families that are facing poverty," she said. "They (the families) are not going to be out there waiting for our help. They are going to be at the table working with us."

Glover said families that participate in the program will be paired with upper- and middle-class volunteers who will work with the families to become stable.

"We are providing social capital," she said. "This whole thing is a circle that continue to progress outwards."

Glover said family leaders in impoverished families will be required to participate in a 15-week program that teaches life skills such as budgeting and social networking.

"Then those families will go on to mentor and lead other families," she said.

George said the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce is the only organization in the state to take on this initiative. Glover said the Albany chamber is also the only chamber of commerce in the nation to have such a program.

"A lot of service organizations have something like this in place, but no other chambers," she said.

Glover said the chamber decided to support the Strive2Thrive initiative because ending poverty in the community would create and maintain a successful economic climate.

The most recent poverty-related figures from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate the seriousness of the problem in Dougherty County. According the the bureau's 2008 estimates, 9,120 Dougherty County residents under the age of 18 -- 35.9 percent -- were living in poverty. For children ages 5-17, 5,843 -- 33.2 percent -- were in families in poverty in 2008.

Glover said the program has been successful in other communities like Albany.

"They did the program in Tupelo, Mississippi and it transformed the community," she said.

Glover said Tupelo and Albany have many similarities with each other.

"It is almost eerie how much we are alike," she said.

Dr. Vaughn Gresham, Jr., author of "Tupelo:the Evolution of the Community" will be a keynote speaker at the training session on Tuesday to discuss how Tupelo rose out of poverty.

In Tupelo, Miss., a city of 70,000 people, over a span of 60 years leaders managed to turn a city that was once considered one of the poorest cities in one of the poorest states into one that -- for the last 18 years straight -- had generated 1,000 manufacturing jobs per year.

Charlise Noble-Jones, a Strive2Thrive Community Coordinator, said she has seen similar success oversees in Africa.

Noble-Jones said on a trip to South Africa in 2009 she witnessed a program in which children from poverty-stricken villages were sent to school to learn valuable skills.

"They were sent to be educated but they were required to come back and share their knowledge with the community," she said. "It was part of the agreement."

Noble-Jones said she believes that many young students from Albany leave for college and become integrated in other communities and never return to their hometown.

"We never give back to the community," she said. "Having that commitment is important. We need an educated youth to come back and help create growth here."

Noble-Jones said she plans to connect with service organizations in the community to ensure that Strive2Thrive is not duplicating any services already offered.

"We want to see how we can connect with those resources to fight poverty," she said. "It will truly be a team effort to help these families."

Hollis said registration for the training will be on site at the Hyper Gym at Albany State University Tuesday and will begin at 8:30 a.m. and continue until 9 a.m.

A $20 registration fee can also be paid at the ASU gym and the fee will include a book, a workbook and lunch.