Inaugural program graduates three

Three graduates of the “Getting Ahead” program offered by YOU! EMPOWER initiative in Jacksonville celebrate the conclusion of the eight-week program in August. With them are YOU! EMPOWER founder and program facilitator Sandra Fry (far left), fellow facilitator Jackie Session (second right) and Cheryl Adamson (far right). The initiative plants “seeds of encouragement and hope,” allowing participants to seize opportunities for change and growth “to live a thriving life rather than 'just surviving,' ” Fry said.

Plant a seed, nurture it with care, then watch it bloom.

YOU! EMPOWER, a nonprofit organization located at 205 E. Commerce St. in Jacksonville, is borrowing this concept and adopting it on a socio-economic level to help folks discover their ability to create success in different areas of their lives.

“The most powerful seed sown is that of discovering the power within the person though investigating poverty, middle class and wealth within their communities,” and providing the tools to help achieve success, said Sandra Fry, YOU! EMPOWER founder and executive director. She, along with Jackie Session, was a facilitator of the group's inaugural Getting Ahead program.

“We planted seeds of encouragement and hope – we want women and families living in impoverished or unstable social or financial circumstances to know that there is an opportunity for change and growth, and to live a thriving life rather than 'just surviving,' ” she said.

An invitation to explore the Getting Ahead program yielded a number of inquiries, with a total of five people enrolling in the eight-week program that met twice a week. Of these, three – all women from Cherokee County – completed the program, participating in an Aug. 5 graduation ceremony in Jacksonville.

They described the impact of the program on their lives.

“We didn't care about all this stuff, because we didn't know to care,” said participant Erika, adding that the program has inspired her. “I am going to complete all the programs.”

Her fellow classmate, Lily, said “I have never finished anything. I kept coming because I was learning, and I wanted to finish. Look at me now – I finished!”

Minnie, another participant described how she has “overcome many challenges in life,” and that she is “blessed and thankful to be a college student. Now, I have completed Getting Ahead and that's a good thing. I am determined to complete my college degree too." 

The Getting Ahead program is based on one developed by Dr. Ruby Payne and Phil Devol – “Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin'-by-World” – with a goal “to create an environment that allows participants to investigate their personal and community circumstances,” Fry explained.

“Our graduates researched and interviewed community stakeholders, asking questions and gathering information to better under the economic, social and physical environment that they live in,” she said. “Additional goals are for investigators to establish personal income, become facilitators, and to be advocates and mentors for helping others learn GA's for thriving.”

The women will employ their knowledge, “working toward 'Staying Ahead,' as each one accomplishes the goals in their future plan,” Fry said, describing how they attended a recent Cherokee County Human Needs Network meeting, “which was a great opportunity to build social bridges and a necessary networking tool for thriving. (These women) will serve as volunteers and enroll in additional programs in preparation for job opportunities.”

Additionally, the women will be active with the organization's advisory council, serve on community committees and serve as program ambassadors, she added.

“We chose to implement Getting Ahead first because the curriculum compliments the in-depth training and development offered through Christian Women's Job Corps (of Cherokee County),” with applications now being accepted for the 12-week CWJC program, which kicks off Monday, Sept. 9, Fry said.

It is “an interfaith, Christian-centered holistic program, which exists to empower women to experience spiritual, personal and professional success,” according to a YOU! EMPOWER brochure. “This program offers job skills training, including computer training, life skills and Bible Study.”

Meanwhile, Fry said the next program to be offered – in Spring of 2020 – is the “Lead to Learn” program, a four- to six-week program “designed to take job skills, life skills or knowledge gained from investigating personal/community social and economic environment to the next level,” according to a program flyer. “Participants are provided with information, tools and resources to empower themselves on becoming entrepreneurs or small business owners.”

Rounding out the slate of programs is “EM-Food-POWER,” which the brochure describes as “an ongoing food production program designed to teach and assist participants with growing food. We believe that when participants have the knowledge and skills to supplement their household food purchases, through food production, they increase their overall buying power and income stability.”

No date has been set yet for this final program.

While Fry said the programs are operating “on less than a shoe-string budget,” the results have been encouraging.

“The moment of truth, for me, was when one GA graduate said, 'I have never finished anything. I kept coming because I was learning, and I wanted to finish.' Such a powerful and authentic statement! What if we had not conducted the classes? That moment was such a breakthrough for her,” she said, adding that it has been “exciting and rewarding to see the expressions of amazement and boost in confidence of the (Getting Ahead) graduates, as they discovered the hidden rules, the importance and contrast between casual and formal language, understood The Theory of Change according to Getting Ahead, which involves operating outside the concrete – where all the problems, crisis, and everyday challenges exist. 

“To move into a thriving lifestyle, GA graduates learned that everyone must operate in the abstract – (this) consists of being able to detach from the problem, being objective, incorporate new information and ideas, analyze circumstances, critical thinking, education, planning and developing support systems,” she said.

YOU! EMPOWER held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday at its 205 E. Commerce St. office in Jacksonville, and invited the community to partner with them as their program develops.

“We expect to collaborate in the future with other nonprofits, churches, businesses, etc., to ensure all eligible individuals in our service areas and beyond have an opportunity to enroll in a Getting Ahead class. Additionally, future planning will include working with incarcerated women,” Fry said.

The organization's mission statement reads: “Our mission and commitment is to equip disadvantaged women, families and individuals to thrive and lead self-sustainable lifestyles. We are passionate about helping the disadvantaged and the communities that we serve.”

Community volunteers are welcome to participate, while tax deductible contributions may be sent to YOU! EMPOWER, 205 E. Commerce Street, Suite 209, Jacksonville, TX 75766.

To learn more about programs and enrollment, contact YOU! EMPOWER founder and executive director Sandra Fry at 903-339-8605.

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