FARMINGTON — A program to connect those living in poverty with people and resources kicked off recently with a meal and giveaways of gift cards, gas cards and laptop computers.

The Opportunity Conference held May 13 showcased the Opportunity Community, a program that connects neighbors and people living in poverty with navigators, community members trained to understand the experiences of poverty and share resources that help neighbors out of poverty.

“It is about working together and coming together as a community,” Andrea Richards of the Healthy Community Coalition said of bringing navigators and neighbors together. “It is about helping each other.”

The coalition and Bridging Community Team sponsored the conference led by Donna Beegle, who authored the community model.

“The model removes the shame poverty teaches, rebuilds the hope poverty steals and connects people in poverty to people who are not in poverty,” according to model materials.
The model is currently established in 12 states with a number of success stories, Beegle said. 
Community members are helped to understand the different kinds of poverty and how it affects people’s health, self-esteem and confidence, Beegle said.
Beegle, who grew up in a family of generational poverty, related stories to neighbors and navigators about how she could not understand middle-class words and actions. 
“We are segregated in our communities. Middle class hangs out with middle class. “We are more divided now than ever,” she said.
The model is designed to make connections across that community and restore hope so people can see and go after opportunities, she said.
It is about treating people with dignity and respect, she said. Professionals have conferences loaded with food and prizes but when does someone in poverty have that experience, she asked.
“This is your day,” she told the nearly 20 neighbors who attended.
A variety of gift cards, gas cards and prizes including laptops were given out. A meal from LaFleurs was served. Those attending assessed what talents they had and were encouraged to think about their dreams and dream bigger.
Nearly 20 members of the Bridging Community Team, made up of a variety of professions and areas of society, have been working for nearly a year on the kickoff event.
About 25 people have trained to be navigators, Tom Ward, Regional School Unit 9 superintendent and team member, said.
A navigator is willing to be a person a neighbor can contact. They are armed with lists of resources available and willing to assist someone access those resources, he said.
Training is ongoing. They want to sustain the program, he said.
There are also ways people can help without being a navigator. For more information, contact the Healthy Community Coalition.

Donna Beegle listens to a small group during the Opportunity Conference held Saturday in Farmington.

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