The United Way of Henry County and Martinsville looks to expand its Bridges Out of Poverty and financial stability programs with a two-year, $147,181 grant from The Harvest Foundation.

Bridges Out of Poverty is a program that enables communities to understand how poverty affects families throughout generations, the multiple causes of poverty, and barriers that hinder an individual or family’s ability to make economic progress. “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World” is a program that addresses individuals living in poverty and empowers them to achieve stability.

“Getting Ahead” is a 16-week program that, through intensive assistance and engagement, will leverage local resources and expertise from the community to establish a framework for sustainable living. Participants are referred from the extensive network of providers in Martinsville-Henry County using the Martinsville Henry County Assistance Network, which provides for closer collaboration between local organizations and a streamlined referral process. The United Way also will work with local employers to encourage the hiring of program graduates into their workforce.

“While our economy is experiencing a boost, we know there still are individuals and families that struggle,” said Sheryl Agee, impact officer and team leader at The Harvest Foundation. “Our goal is to enhance opportunities and the quality of life for all Martinsville-Henry County citizens. We feel that Bridges Out of Poverty provides a way to better understand barriers impacting vulnerable families, and provides a means to connect local efforts so we can work together to help families make progress towards self-sufficiency and a better quality of life. We are proud to partner with the United Way on this effort.”

The Harvest Foundation provided a $10,000 Pick Up the Pace! grant to United Way in July to pilot this program with a goal to serve up to 48 community members. The Getting Ahead pilot program kicked off with 11 participants and graduation is set for January. More than 59 individuals in Martinsville-Henry County received training to become certified facilitators in the “Getting Ahead” program.

To reach individuals who are employed but still need assistance with sustainability, United Way will work to expand its Workplace Financial Wellness program at area businesses. The program will help participants understand basic financial literacy principles such as budgeting, credit scores, and retirement planning. They also will learn more about banking, predatory money lenders, develop a plan with financial goals, and be connected to VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) for free tax filing services.

United Way Executive Director Philip Wenkstern said he is incredibly grateful to The Harvest Foundation for its investment in United Way programs and services.

“Bridges out of Poverty is an amazing program that has experienced tremendous success in other communities across the nation,” Wenkstern said. “Countless individuals and organizations throughout Martinsville and Henry County have received training centered around Bridges out of Poverty, and we are excited to embed services modeled after Bridges out of Poverty in the community. These programs will have an impact not only on individuals served by the United Way, but also other agencies throughout Martinsville and Henry County.”