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Getting Ahead: An Erie Together Self-Sufficiency Program.  People who are living in poverty have many challenging decisions to make on a daily basis that effect their very existence. Perhaps they need to decide how to feed their children at the end of the month when they are out of money and food stamps. Perhaps the car will not start and they need to get to work so they can hold on to their job. Or, their childcare arrangements have broken down threatening their livelihood. These types of decisions and many more are very real for persons in poverty. This situation is called the “tyranny of the moment”. This keeps many people from planning for their future because they cannot control today let alone tomorrow.

The Getting Ahead program helps low income families move from dependency to self‐sufficiency through education, self‐assessment and a mentoring experience.


Erie Together hosts bi-monthly mentor trainings for those interested in helping others reach their self-sufficiency goals. The trainings are free and a great experience for anyone working or considering working with individuals. Click here to learn more about being a mentor and training opportunities. 

Upcoming Trainings (2017):

January 24 from 5:00 PM - 8:30 PM

March 16 from 8:30 AM - 12:00 PM

May 10 from 5:00 PM - 8:30 PM

September 12 from 5:00 - 8:30 PM

November 15 from 8:30 AM - 12:00 PM



Erie Together both hosts its own programs and helps organizations across the community use the program for the families they serve.

  • If you need help finding your way to self-sufficiency, contact Program Coordinator, Kathy Stearns at or 814-451-4581 x652.  Through the program you will be able to find your strengths, share your experiences, learn from others, become more financially secure, and create a plan to reach your goals. Click here to download the participant flyer.

  • If your organization would like to host a Getting Ahead workshop, contact Kathy Stearns at or 814-451-4581 x652.  Kathy can walk you through the Getting Ahead process and the benefits of this turn-key program which can be tailored to fit your needs.



1. Understanding Poverty

The Getting Ahead in a Just Getting by World curriculum allows people to step back from the very concrete world in which they live and begin to enter the abstract world where they plan for their future. This is called developing a Future Story. Without a plan for the future, people in poverty will continue to live the same crisis‐filled lives without change. The curriculum is delivered over a 10 week period by a trained facilitator. During this time the participants will investigate poverty, its causes, and look at how society sees poverty. We call the participating families “investigators” because they are learning about the very situation in which they are living.

2. Developing Plans for the Future/SelfAssessment

Once the investigators have an understanding of poverty and its causes, they are asked to do an honest self-assessment of their own situation. The curriculum provides a guided format for the self-assessment asking the investigators to look at numerous domains such as education, employment and housing.  From the assessments, the investigators are asked to develop real plans for their future. They are for the first time—developing a Future Story for themselves and their families. Just having a Future Story is a very real accomplishment but it is not enough to change a family’s life. For this to happen, more help is needed. When the families have completed the curriculum, they are matched with mentors.

3. Providing Support for Getting Ahead Graduates

Mentors are people who are living in the middle class who are asked to make an intentional friendship with one of the participant families. They provide the bridging capital that will help the family reach its goals. We are not asking for financial support from the mentors but rather their understanding of how the world works; unconditional support for the families and guidance on how to reach goals. Once a goal is met, the participant and the mentor begin to build a new set of goals. Participants and mentors are asked to talk at least once a week either by phone or in person. Additionally, they are asked to come together once a month for a dinner meeting known as a “Big View” meeting. At the Big View meeting, each Getting Ahead participant shares what they have accomplished during the preceding month. Other Getting Ahead participants can offer support and advice. Mentors have a time to meet on their own as do the participants. Big View meetings continue for 18 months after the participants complete the Getting Ahead curriculum.


Sponsoring Agencies

The Getting Ahead program can be offered by churches, social service organizations, educational institutions, prisons and businesses—any group with an interest in helping clients, employees or community members move from poverty to self‐sufficiency.

When you offer Getting Ahead to people in poverty, you make a promise that the sponsor and community will provide long‐term support while graduates transition out of poverty. People participate in Getting Ahead for a variety of reasons. Most want to find solutions for their problems. They are looking for a better way—a way to start over. As a sponsoring agency, you can move them to that aha moment and help them change their lives!

1. Sponsoring Agency will identify one Getting Ahead Facilitator or two Co‐Facilitators who would serve as the main contact and work to facilitate and sustain the program at their organization. Facilitators will:

A. Attend training for Getting Ahead

B. Be responsible for keeping group attendance records

C. Assure the delivery of the Getting Ahead Program

D. Oversee the sustainability of the program thereafter

E. Gather quality documentation of outcomes

2. Sponsoring Agency will provide: (Some financial assistance is available if needed.)

A. Meals and printed materials

B. The meeting facility

C. Stipends for participants

D. Recruitment of families and mentors

E. Getting Ahead books for 15 families

3. Erie Together/GECAC will provide:

A. Technical assistance and training

B. A jump drive containing curriculum

C. Mini‐grant funding

D. Curriculum updates

If you are interested in participating in the Getting Ahead program in your neighborhood, or in participating as a mentor, please call Kathy Stearns, Facilitator, at 459-4581 (ext. 652) or email

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