Kimberly Griffin, left, winner of the Strive2Thrive Ally of the Year award, hugs Jeanetta Miles, Jane Willson Family of the Year winner, after Miles told attendees of her impoverished childhood and her positive experiences in Strive2Thrive.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Strive2Thrive, a poverty-fighting arm of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, was the focus of the Chamber's Rise N Shine Breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn Wednesday.
Cynthia George, co-founder of the Strive2Thrive initiative, said the purpose of the breakfast meeting was to present to the community and to Chamber members progress of the program and to recognize those who have contributed or made the greatest strides.
Early in her address, George reported that the program was "going like gang busters" with two new programs starting in Columbus and LaGrange. In addition, George said she'd recently received a call from Atlanta, representing "a ton of groups" working together to end poverty there and asking for help to develop their own program."
"We're leading the charge," George said.
George's original founding partner in Strive2Thrive, John Culbreath, took the podium to describe his impoverished youth, raised in a single-parent home. Early on, Culbreath said, he recognized the relationship between education and success. In his adult life, Culbreath has taken it upon himself to try and make a difference.
"I recently decided that I'm a village keeper," Culbreath said. "I'm one of the many people who will do anything possible, give my time and a little bit of treasure to make sure that Albany becomes the real good life city. Part of being a village keeper is to make sure that Strive2Thrive thrives."
According to Culbreath, many people can't get out of poverty because they don't know all the help that may be available to them.
"I've seen a lot of ships launched in Albany over the past 17 years," Culbreath said, "and a lot of those ships are at the bottom of the Flint River. This ship has set on a course for helping eliminate poverty, and with your help that's what we're going to do."
Ausha Jackson, director of Strive2Thrive, said that since 2010 hundreds of families have applied for acceptance in the program for one reason or another, with about 150 of those families given the opportunity to "learn to fish." Jackson said when she was unwilling to accept the 80 percent retention rate of participants in the program, a study was launched to determine how to raise the percentage.
It was discovered, Jackson said, that some of the barriers faced by families fell beyond the scope of "allies" to help. The barriers included drugs and alcohol addiction and mental disabilities. According to Jackson, this year the program staff has been expanded to include a special program coordinator to develop and implement a plan for case management and collaboration of multiple service providers for participants with special needs.
Jackson said that after six months in the program and completion of the 16-week course, "Getting Ahead in a Just Getting-by World," the overall increase in income was 11 percent. After twelve months participation, the increase was 21 percent and spiked to 74 percent after 18 months in the program. Enrollment in various educational programs increased by 86 percent after 18 months involvement, Jackson said.
Jeanette Miles, winner of the Strive2Thrive Jane Willson Family of the Year award, spoke to attendees of the event, saying when she was growing up she wore the same pair of shoes from sixth through ninth grade and was told she would never amount to anything. Thanks to Strive2Thrive, Miles said, she's been able to improve herself and has paid off half her debt.
"Thank you, Jesus," Miles said. "I once needed help and now I have a chance to help someone. I'm glad, and I thank God for this opportunity. There is hope for our community. We can do it one day at time. We need your support."
The Strive2Thrive award for Most Improved was given to Ishmachelle Starling; the Helpful Hands award for volunteers went to Natasha Bridges and Kimberly Griffin received the Ally of the Year award.
A special tribute was made to Ashley Moore, who died this week, for her service as co-chair of Strive2Thrive's income and education program. Moore was also helping to organize a book club. Jackson said the club will be named in her memory.