Chad Klimack, Reporter
Mental Health America of Licking County is expanding its Bridges Out of Poverty program to include Pataskala, starting Sept. 30. Program seeks to help people find jobs, escape poverty
PATASKALA — Mental Health America of Licking County’s Bridges Out of Poverty program attempts to live up to its name by building bridges for Licking County residents to break the cycle of poverty.
The program has been a success in Newark, not only helping people find jobs but helping people make positive changes in their lives.
“A lot of times when they come to the program their self-esteem is non-existent and I work on empowering them,” said Donna Gibson, the program coordinator.
That work sometimes includes helping people get their high school diplomas or GEDs or preparing them for job interviews or building resumes.
The formula, which Gibson said is based on “creating bridges from difficult situations to better situations,” will be on display in Pataskala in the near future.
Starting Wednesday, Sept. 30, Mental Health America of Licking County is bringing the program to western Licking County.
On that date and each Wednesday after it, residents will be able to enroll in classes that will run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Pataskala Grace Brethren Church, 3517 Headleys Mill Road.
The classes are free, as is dinner, childcare and transportation.
There is one caveat, Gibson said: Class sizes are limited, so people should call and sign up before coming to the church.
As for what attendees should expect, Gibson referenced the current Bridges out of Poverty classes she is teaching once a week at Mental Health America of Licking County and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, both in Newark. She also teaches a class at the Licking County Justice Center.
The program seeks to provide participants with whatever tools they need to escape poverty.
Classes touch on topics ranging from financial literacy to proper budgeting, communication between different economic classes, building community and personal resources and increasing social networking, among other subjects.
“The exciting thing about this is the program is working,” Gibson said. “We have 87 to 90 percent in school getting training or in college or working.”
Gibson does not use a one-size-fits-all approach to the program.
While participants may share the same goal of escaping poverty, their backgrounds often are different.
Some may have a childhood trauma in their past, Gibson said. Others may have abused drugs or alcohol or been victims of domestic violence. Still others may have come from families with longstanding poverty issues.
Whatever their background, Gibson individually works with participants to help them escape poverty.
“It’s about treating the whole person,” she said. “You can’t be mentally healthy unless you’re physically healthy and you can’t be physically healthy unless you’re mentally healthy.”
Aside from working with the participants, Gibson reaches out to area businesses and organizations, seeking job leads and potential partnerships.
“This is how our communities stay strong,” she said. “Our communities are only as strong as our people. If some of us are sinking, the entire community is going to sink.”
The program served 379 people in 2014, and Gibson expects that figure to rise to closer to 400 in 2015.
As for adding Pataskala, Gibson said, “I think there is a need there. It may take a little bit (to get going), but as people get to know me, we’ll (accomplish) some positive things out there.”
The Bridges Out of Poverty program is funded through the Mental Health America of Licking County, the United Way and The Lindorf Family Foundation.
Bridges Out of Poverty
Mental Health America of Licking County is offering the classes in Pataskala from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. each Wednesday, starting Sept. 30, at Pataskala Grace Brethren Church, 3517 Headleys Mill Road.
Class sizes are limited, so people should call 740-788-0300 to sign up.