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Albany Area Chamber of Commerce hosts Strive2Thrive breakfast

Cynthia George and John Culbreath, co-founders of Strive2Thrive, give remarks regarding the vision of the program at an Albany Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Tuesday morning. Strive2Thrive was founded in 2009 as a way to combat poverty in the area. (Jennifer Parks)

Cynthia George and John Culbreath, co-founders of Strive2Thrive, give remarks regarding the vision of the program at an Albany Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Tuesday morning. Strive2Thrive was founded in 2009 as a way to combat poverty in the area. (Jennifer Parks)

ALBANY — Four years after being instituted, Strive2Thrive continues to make strides in helping to eliminate poverty in the Albany area.

Some of the accomplishments of the program, as well as its graduates, were acknowledged at the most recent Albany Area Chamber of Commerce Rise n’ Shine breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn on Tuesday.

The program was founded in 2009 — at least in part — due to Albany’s standings in Forbes Magazine at the time as one of the poorest metro areas in the country with the purpose of pulling area families out of poverty, which has been done with the help of officials from dozens of businesses and institutions as well as roughly 100 “allies” who have worked directly with the program’s enrollees to help give them a hand-up.

“We can’t give up,” said Cynthia George, one of program’s co-founders. “Poverty is a huge issue, a bigger issue that some of us want to realize. We can all talk about the things we don’t like (about Albany), but if we work together, great things can happen — and great things are happening.”

John Culbreath, another one of the program’s co-founders, spoke on the perspective of the barriers many people face in coming out of poverty — especially those from families who have been in that state for generations.

“Some are in poverty because they don’t know how to get out,” he said. “We are here to help them unlock that.”

The first class of families to complete the program in its entirety just recently graduated. Some of Strive2Thrive’s success stories were shared, which have included homeless and single parents who have now gone on to earn advanced degrees and find gainful employment.

Among those included Jeanetta Miles, one of the first to enroll in the program in 2010. A former gang member who was once told she would not amount to anything, she is now a self-sufficient mother of two and the 2011 recipient of the Jane Willson Family of the Year Award.

Now enrolled at Albany Technical College, where she works as an instructor’s assistant, she has been offered a paid internship at an architectural firm that will eventually lead to full-time employment. She has paid off most of her debt, and has combated what was once one of her biggest hurdles — transportation.

“I always had to rely on others to help me get my kids to and from school,” she said in a video presentation at the breakfast. “Through a savings plan, I was able to make a cash payment on a 2010 Chevy Tahoe.”

At the end of the breakfast, the 2013 Jane Willson Family of the Year Award was presented to Sharon Davis, another of the program’s enrollees.

Davis, the 49-year-old widow of two adult children, lost her job in 2010 — forcing her to live off of her 401K and lose her health benefits when she was an insulin-dependent diabetic. Not long after that, her son died.

“I knew I had to pull myself out of that dark place,” she said. “In 2012, I enrolled in the Strive2Thrive program.”

Now, Davis is working at the Albany Area YMCA and is studying business administration. Thanks to the help of grief and exercise programs, she is now able to go back into her son’s bedroom after two years and was able to lose 25 pounds. She is no longer dependent on insulin and is off pain medication.

“Over the next year, I look forward to continuing in the program, gain full-time employment and be an entrepreneur,” she said.

Ausha Jackson, director of Strive2 Thrive, said that families who have been in the program for 18-24 months have seen a nearly 70 percent boost in their income. Over time, their transportation and reliable housing problems are improved by 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

“These numbers are remarkable and reflect a desire to get ahead,” Jackson said.