For Spalding Collaborative Executive Director Regina Abbott, next month’s Opportunity Conference, in a sense, is the culmination of 10 years’ work.
Slated to take place April 24 at the Eagles Way Church in Griffin, it’s where “neighbors” and “navigators” will be paired for the first time.
“It’s a one-year commitment,” Abbott said of the program designed to teach people — step-by-step — how to help themselves break free from the grips of poverty.
Former Spalding Collaborative Executive Director and current Eagles Way Executive Pastor Will Doss explained the program in more detail. “The Collaborative is bringing what’s called Opportunity Community to our area,” said Doss, who has served on the Collaborative Board since 1998. “What this is, is a venture to be able to pair navigators with neighbors.”
“The definition of a navigator is someone who is (from an) established household who can navigate our social systems such as banking, doctors and have an understanding of the ins and outs of that and pairing them with a neighbor,” he continued. “And a neighbor is someone who is on the cusps of coming out of poverty and may not be experienced in dealing with these social systems.” “And developing a friendship to where they can be mentored in those areas if they want to be,” added Doss, of the program’s ideal goal.
Abbott said, “We hope it will lead to relationships that last a lifetime,” to where maybe even they can come back and become a special navigator someday as the impact expands within the community.
The conference’s in-person guest speaker is Dr. Donna Beegle, who invented this system, or model for dealing with poverty. “When she comes in and talks about poverty, her story will absolutely blow you away,” said Abbott. During the conference, Beegle will speak to Neighbors and share her story of overcoming generation poverty — hitting key points along the way to further facilitate the model the program is built upon.
“This is proven with data,” Doss said of the success of the technique the system uses. “Dr. Donna Beegle, who is coming in to do our conference, is who we are using their organization’s patterns after.”
“She had lived in poverty all her life and has navigated out of that,” added Doss, “and some of the experiences that she has learned and things you have to be careful of … you don’t want to do for somebody what they can do for themselves, but you want to enable somebody or help somebody in an area that they can’t do for themselves.”
It’s very much in the theme of you can give someone a fish for or a day or you can teach them how to fish.
“We’re not looking to be always just doing handouts, but we want to be able, for our benevolent giving in the community, to make the most impact on people’s lives,” Doss added.
Abbott said the planning for all of the work that will come out of next month’s conference, “came out of something that started nearly 10 years ago here, what we called Educational Prosperity Initiative.”
“We selected a grassroots leader in the community that could bring community members — not agencies and organizations — but community members together to get things done,” added Abbott, “so we could not go in and tell folks what was needed but we wanted to work with folks.”
Many good things came out of the EPI, beginning with a good cold, hard look.
“So we looked at the community’s needs and what stood out was the Fairmont Community,” said Abbott. “When we looked at that are of our community it was so disenfranchised. Services weren’t there. Delivery services didn’t want to go in to make deliveries because of crime.”
“The only things we saw that were of value to the community were the Fairmont Community Center, A.Z. Kelsey Academy and Moore Elementary,” she added. “Everything else was blight — not a pretty picture.”
What it resulted in was immediate action.
“We brought our community leaders over there, got them on golf carts, road them around and showed them what was going on,” Abbott recalled. “Then Ms. Jewel (Walker-Harps) pulled grassroots leaders, folks who were vested in that neighborhood, not necessarily living there.” Walker-Harps, a retired educator, is the president of the local NAACP chapter.
“She is very well connected and respected in the community,” said Abbott. “She has a voice, and she uses that voice so she has been a tremendous asset to our Spalding Collaborative.” What resulted was a resurgence in the area. “Today when we go over there, we see Heritage Park going up, we see the community garden .The renovation of the gym,” said Abbott. “All of that was the outcome of the work that was started back in 2011.”
The collaborative, although grateful for all of the work that had been done to that point, soon realized that something was still missing. “But we still had not gotten down to the point of people,” said Abbott. “It was really more environmental.” That’s where the Opportunity Community comes in. “We didn’t know how to do that,” Abbott explained of the Collaborative’s initial take. “We tried different services, different programs, different (ways of) putting people together, but nothing really took off.”
“And so, when the opportunity came up to partner with some surrounding county school systems to bring Dr. Beegle in as a multi-county conference — it was called the Poverty Institute, and it was two days in 2019 — she came in and spoke with community leaders.” It struck a nerve. “I’m thinking we had over 100 people from Griffin-Spalding to participate,” added Abbott. “We then had about eight folks go through a two-day training for Beegle-certified coaching.” “So those coaches came together to begin to plan about how to implement an opportunity community,” Abbott concluded.
Next month’s conference, delayed because of COVID since early 2020, is the next step in that process.
Some 25 “neighbors,” will be paired with “navigators,” during next month’s conference.
“This going to be an on-going thing,” said Abbott. “We want to be successful.”
By JOHN SULLIVAN SPORTS EDITOR [email protected]