ALBANY, Ga. -- As Strive2Thrive prepares to graduate the first nine families in its pilot program, co-founders Cynthia George and John Culbreath reflected on the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce anti-poverty initiative's first few months during a Rise 'n' Shine breakfast Wednesday at Doublegate Country Club.
"We think if we can improve the quality of life for families in our community, it will have a positive effect on our business community," George said. "If we connect all the dots, eliminating poverty will improve education, reduce crime and lift our entire community."
Strive2Thrive focuses on poverty-stricken families and is based on a model called "Circles" developed by Scott Miller, a co-founder and CEO of Move The Mountain, a national anti-poverty organization.
According to Strive2Thrive, six of the nine families in its pilot program have found employment, four have gotten their GEDs and have enrolled at Albany Technical College, and four of the families, formerly homeless, have secured housing.
Rico Harrell, one of the program's participants, will graduate next week. He says the 17-week program has changed his life.
"This is really going to help me have a better life," Harrell said. "I feel like I have a future now. It's helped me set a goal of having my own business."
Culbreath did not hesitate when asked what he thought was Strive2Thrive's biggest challenge in the community.
"Credibility; we have to maintain our credibility," the former Dougherty County School System superintendent answered. "I say that because so many other initiatives have been launched here and did not accomplish what they set out to do. That's why we have to be good stewards of the community's money and we must make this work.
"We can bring a significant number of families out of poverty."
Strive2Thrive is unique because of the involvement of the local chamber of commerce.
"Albany is the only program in the country that uses its business community," Miller said. "The key is breaking what I call 'The Tyranny of the Moment.' It is the biggest problem of poverty. People are so anxious that they'll be evicted or that the power will be turned off or they will lose their vehicle that they can't think long-range.
"They are in survival mode."
George says she thinks the biggest challenge facing the program is sustainability.
"This is an unusual program in that it doesn't take a lot of money to operate," she said. "What makes it work is human capital. We're counting on people to maintain the level of enthusiasm they have now.
"We're a unique organization. Having the Chamber involved is a dream come true ... everyone is going to be looking at us."
Chamber President/CEO Catherine Glover told the crowd, "This program is not a handout. It is a hand up. We are all part of this community.
"This thing will not die and go away. John and Cynthia would not be here otherwise. We would not be here otherwise if we did not believe in (Strive2Thrive)."