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Tired of living paycheck to paycheck?

Looking to develop new skills for career and financial advancement?

An anti-poverty initiative from Support Connections of Lebanon County could be just the ticket. The nonprofit is looking for lower-income participants to enroll in a new round of 12 weekly classes, free to the public. Orientation is Oct. 5.

Over the past year and a half, because of COVID-19, meetings were held virtually over Zoom, with occasional outdoor gatherings. Now the group is resuming face-to-face weekly meetings and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Partnering with other Lebanon County organizations, Support Connections is part of the United Way project Pipelines and Pathways to Success; its self-described purpose is to address poverty “one family at a time.”

Since the meetings began in 2012, “we’ve impacted more than 100 people, including family members,” said volunteer director Lee Smedley.

The United Way of Lebanon County 2020 ALICE report found 37% of county residents were under the ALICE threshold: below the poverty line or above it but having difficulty meeting basic expenses.

ALICE is a category of people making more than the poverty limit who are “asset limited, income constrained, employed.”

This group is a “whole other component,” Smedley said, that can often get overlooked.
Several county municipalities have sizable populations below the ALICE threshold, including Lebanon city (60%), Myerstown Borough (48%), Palmyra Borough (48%) and Annville Township (46%).

The Support Connections curriculum over the 12 weeks covers such topics as goals and barriers to success, stress and trauma, money, budgeting and “personal readiness to change,” available resources, and giving back.

The classes “think about poverty not just in terms of money,” so health, education, transportation and other areas are dealt with, too, Smedley said. “It’s hard work.”

Self-sufficiency is the aim, he said. More specific goals could mean earning a college degree or opening a business, for example. The participants are known as team leaders, because they’re the ones taking charge. Volunteers who assist are the teammates.

Smedley said relationships are established with team leaders and their families that last beyond the three-month curriculum.

After a graduation ceremony, team leaders are encouraged to work with their support team for up to two years, he said.

“We’re dealing with each family’s different needs,” Smedley said, assisting them in finding appropriate resources. “We’re helping people make connections.”

Making a real difference

Some also transition from team leader to volunteer, using their experiences to help others.
Palmyra resident Ann Kulp, a former team leader, is now vice president of the Support Connections board of directors.

Kulp said she learned about the classes from a friend who was planning to attend. “I said, ‘Hey, it sounds great, I’ll join you.’”

Among her aims: to get a regular, part-time job at Halcyon Activity Center in Lebanon and to amass an emergency fund for expenses. She achieved both, and is now an activity aide at Halcyon, a drop-in center for adults with mental health and intellectual disabilities.

Kulp was then asked to become a member of the core team, which handles the direction of the curriculum, and she eventually moved to the board. Being financially stable, she said, allows the pursuit of other goals.

Other graduates of the classes report better pay and promotions at work, new jobs with insurance coverage, and a better car for transportation, Support Connections noted. One team leader rose to a managerial position; another completed multiple semesters of college, earning dean’s list recognition; and others established their own businesses, working with teammates who are themselves entrepreneurs.

Smedley said many of the volunteers involved “come as part of a faith-based commitment.”
But it’s an ecumenical crew, with different religious traditions represented, he said.

“We’re not so much preaching as encouraging spiritual health,” he explained.

Support Connections wants to recruit at least six team leader families and up to 10 teammates/helpers for the fall classes.

The orientation will be 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5, at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 723 Lehman St., Lebanon. Childcare will be provided. Everyone attending, including kids older than 2, must wear masks. Takeaway meals will be available, and a grocery gift card will be given to each family registered in advance.

More information is available online. Call, text or email Smedley at 610-914-3846 or smedleylee@gmail.com to register.

He said the classes are just as meaningful to the volunteers as the participants. “Everybody gives, everybody gets.”

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Paula Wolf worked for 31 years as a general assignment reporter, sports columnist, and editorial writer for LNP Media. A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, she is a lifetime resident of Lancaster County.