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Fremont nonprofit seeks community input to address poverty

March 9, 2019
The Fremont Family Coalition's Shayla Linn, left, and AmeriCorps member Beth Vogt, right, are organizing community meetings meant to allow community members struggling with poverty the opportunity to learn about local resources that can help. (James Farrell/The Tribune via AP)

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — Beth Vogt knows what it’s like to struggle with poverty. And now, she wants to help those who are still struggling.

That’s why Vogt recently took a position as an AmeriCorps member serving with the Fremont Family Coalition. She’s been tasked with organizing a new set of monthly meetings, meant to allow community members struggling with poverty the opportunity to learn about local resources that can help — and to offer suggestions about how to address gaps.

Vogt herself has utilized some of the services available in the community. She remembers taking the Getting Ahead class, which is offered by Lutheran Family Services. The program offers a curriculum that helps individuals going through poverty acquire the tools to better themselves, their families and their community.

“From that point, I knew that I wanted to help people, but I didn’t really know how,” Vogt told the Fremont Tribune.

She started by becoming a facilitator of the Getting Ahead program, but when she saw the opening for the AmeriCorps position with the Fremont Family Coalition, she decided to jump on it. Her experience teaching the Getting Ahead class proved she had the leadership skills to do the job, said Shayla Linn, community impact coordinator for the Fremont Family Coalition.

“Her leadership skills and her personal commitment to our community is what made her the ideal candidate for this position,” Linn said. “We just had the idea for her and said now run with it, and so she’s done all this on her own.”

The monthly meetings that Vogt is organizing began on March 3 in the Keene Memorial Library Annex Building, and she invites community members to come and share their experiences and ideas for improving services. But the meetings are part of a larger mission: the Fremont Family Coalition is hoping to turn Fremont into a “Bridges Out of Poverty” community.

Bridges Out of Poverty is a model provided by the organization aha! Process Inc. According to the aha! Process website, Bridges Out of Poverty is a community support program that “provides a family of concepts, workshops and products to help employers, community organizations, social service agencies and individuals address and reduce poverty in a comprehensive way.”

Part of that, Linn said, is creating dialogues between all members of a community so that everybody knows what resources are available and how to access them — from those in need to those who are hoping to help.

Ideally, someone in need should be able to walk into any place in the community and be referred to the appropriate resource.

“That means, really, everyone is on the same page, using the same language, the same terms, people know of the same resources,” Linn said. “The person that walks into Dollar General asks (someone there) and they would know where to send them to get help. That’s what it means to become a Bridge community: everyone’s on the same page, we know where to send people for help, lessening the stigma of poverty.”

But to make that possible, there needs to be input from everyone — especially those who are dealing with the challenges that poverty brings.

The Fremont Family Coalition aims to create community partnerships that help empower individuals and families to improve their quality of life, Linn said. The group currently has monthly meetings that are open to the public. But while the meetings attract upward of 60 people each month, it’s mostly been geared toward professionals in the community who are working at businesses, nonprofits and churches.

“Of course, we always want to add that family voice, or that community voice, and it can be very intimidating for a person that is being served through an agency to come and sit at the same table as a professional,” Linn said. “So our main goal is to kind of ease some of that fear, get them to know a little bit about FFC through (these monthly meetings) and then get them comfortable to sit at FFC so that we can have a total collaboration of everyone.”

That’s where Vogt’s meetings come in.

The meetings, which will be held under the name of “Community Members of Fremont Family Coalition,” will be geared toward those community and family voices. Vogt hopes people will come to share their experiences with poverty or community services, their struggles and areas where the community could work together to improve: subjects like transportation, childcare, mental health care, housing or counseling — “the whole realm of what it feels like to go through poverty,” Vogt said.

The long-term goal is that the discussions will eventually pave the way for meetings between all sectors of the community.

“They may work through a community assessment and then based off of that choose two or three areas that they want to focus on to find those solutions, or how they can work with FFC or Fremont leaders to change some of those outcomes,” Linn said.

For the first meeting, Vogt hopes to talk logistics — outlining the mission of Fremont Family Coalition, as well as the times, dates and locations of meetings.

“Then I want to have a group discussion about what people are currently struggling with: gaps, how they feel they can get a solution out of a problem, what they think the community is not doing that they could be doing to help fill that gap,” Vogt said.

Vogt, meanwhile, will also still be teaching the Getting Ahead class with Lutheran Family Services. The next class will be held on March 14.

The Getting Ahead class is also a concept provided by the aha! Process.

“I just thought it was an amazing class that everybody needs to hear about, and every time that I’ve facilitated it, I have learned more,” Vogt said.


Information from: Fremont Tribune, http://www.fremontneb.com

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