When Ruth Perez signed up for Common Heart’s Getting Ahead focus group it was during a very stressful time. Her Mom was in the hospital with COVID, she was working toward her GED, and her family had been without water for three months because they couldn’t pay the bill. She was nervous about sharing her story of living in poverty but also because she had never used Zoom before and had to seek help from her daughter-in-law to be able to attend.
Ruth, 45, was one of 10 people who recently celebrated the completion of Getting Ahead with a graduation ceremony. It was the biggest graduation class to date for this Common Heart program. Among those graduates was her daughter-in-law, Johanna Delgado, who also earned her GED the same week as Ruth. They were doing this together, she said, to overcome challenges as a family.
Based on a theory of change that has proven to be effective in studies and in the experience of thousands of individuals nationwide, this 17-session workgroup provides an opportunity for investigators to learn and develop skills needed to rise out of poverty. What makes Getting Ahead unique is that it values the experiences of its participants and hires them as investigators looking into economic class and poverty in our community.
Common Heart is part of a national network facilitating Bridges Out of Poverty and Getting Ahead, with data showing 38% of graduates increased monthly income, 75% decreased total debt, 62% decreased benefits received, and 52% decreased monthly debt.
“I would tell others that are considering Getting Ahead never to be afraid of any challenge,” Ruth said “It would have been so easy for me to just give up and walk away. But I started discovering things about my community and about myself. Never give up on a challenge, it will lead you to a better future.”
For Ruth, that better future includes building credit, buying a house, choosing to eat healthier and spending more time with her family and less time on social media. Ruth became a single Mom at 19 but now with five sons and three grandchildren she’s confident Getting Ahead has helped put her on the right path toward stability. With experience in property management and auto insurance, Ruth is currently on the job hunt and said she found a lot of encouragement during Getting Ahead.
“Sometimes we go through life and we struggle and think there’s no hope … and we give up. We don’t continue our education or other opportunities,” she said during the graduation ceremony. “When I became a single parent I thought doors were going to be closed forever. But guess what, I’m here and I’m graduating from Getting Ahead!”
Getting Ahead Facilitator Sarah Kimbrough said she’s proud of all the graduates because they took on the extra challenge of a fully virtual work group.
“It was tough but they stuck with it. Through technical difficulties, kids running through the room, trying to eat dinner in time to attend … they overcame so many obstacles to get to graduation day.”
Getting Ahead graduates join Common Heart’s Advocates for Change group and have the opportunity to receive professional coaching to achieve the goals they’ve set.
“We’re a family, we’re a community. And this community can only get better when each member of our community starts to thrive,” Sarah said.
“There’s no blacks, whites, Hispanics, we’re just a big family with a big heart — Common Heart.”