Kathy Kavanaugh, from left to right, Coordinator for Getting Ahead and Ladies of Charity, Mentor Diane Stevens (behind), Charlotte Brown, Lisandra Sepulveda, Facilitator Rosemary Revoir, and other members of Ladies of Charity. (Franchesca Caputo photo)
Kathy Kavanaugh, from left to right, Coordinator for Getting Ahead and Ladies of Charity, Mentor Diane Stevens (behind), Charlotte Brown, Lisandra Sepulveda, Facilitator Rosemary Revoir, and other members of Ladies of Charity. (Franchesca Caputo photo)

Lisandra Sepulveda and Charlotte Brown are the 2019 graduates of the Bridges over Poverty Program, “Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-by-World.” The 12-week course held at the Watervliet Housing Authority is facilitated by the Albany Ladies of Charity and helps give people in poverty the training and resources to make a better life for themselves and their families. 

THE PROGRAM

The course is centered around the book “Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World” by Philip E. DeVol, which teaches students the culture of poverty and how to efficiently use the resources available within their community. 

Every Thursday, the women met at the Watervliet Housing Authority for two and a half hours to go over their homework and talk about various exercises they’ve completed throughout the week. What started off as 18 participants, quickly dwindled down to four, until just Sepulveda and Brown remained. 

“They learn about the causes of poverty: generational poverty, situational poverty,” Facilitator Rosemary Revoir said, “The first part of the program is somewhat educational and also facilitates being introspective to learn about what’s going on within them and what areas do they have deficits. It might not only be monetary, but with social interactions, social support.” 

While the women who oversee the program are called facilitators, the participants are referred to as “investigators,” as they are asked not only to explore their own experience with poverty, but also the resources within their community that stunt growth, such as transportation, housing, banking and jobs. The facilitators follow along with the program, offer support and ask questions. 

According to Revoir, the group learns about hidden rules and what language to use when negotiating with groups of people. In order to graduate, the investigators must fully engage and create a plan to achieve their future goals. At the end of the program, they receive a laptop computer so long as they have committed to higher education. 

“They really are the ones who have to go out and find out what it’s all about,” Revoir said, “And if they’re not willing to really work hard at this, it won’t benefit them.”

The program is also facilitated by Kathy Kavanaugh, Coordinator of Getting Ahead and Ladies of Charity, or who Revoir refers to as “Mother Teresa.” Kavanaugh offers support like other facilitators, but also brings clothes, furniture and toys for the women’s children during each meeting. 

One of the main components the group learns is the culture of middle class and what factors keep them bound to generational poverty, such as constantly living in the “tyranny of the moment,” Kavanaugh said. 

Tyranny of the moment is described as a continuous crisis that prevents an individual from moving forward due to a lack of resources. Getting Ahead aims to equip students with a plan to combat such moments. 

“We discuss how poverty affects us. We learn about hidden rules, language issues and borders we might have and learn about code switching. We look into the community for different resources to help us achieve our goals,” Sepulveda said. 

THE STUDENTS

Sepulveda, 26, born in Troy, is the mother of a 6-year-old boy. She says in the past she’s been stuck in tyranny of the moment, trying desperately to succeed, but always lacking the vital information and resources needed to move ahead. She went into the program because she knew she wanted to improve for the better, “because the way I was doing it, led to disaster,” she said. 

Since her primary goal is to open an after-school program for children in grades K-5, she’s considering going back to school.

A recent opportunity may have opened the door for Sepulveda to jump-start her career. KIPP, a charter school in the Capital District, is seeking help to facilitate an after-school program. Sepulveda said she plans to meet with the principal. 

“Instead of going the educational route for medical billing and coding, I might go to the other route and start that way immediately,” Sepulveda said. 
Brown, 47, born in Bennington, V.T., is the mother of two sons, 26 and 24. She says the program has given her confidence after years of shying away from work due to depression. 

“I was in my own little shell and I was planning my work, my job for my injury which did happen,” said Brown, who twisted her knee and injured her spine while working as a CNA at a nursing home, “but I seemed to come out of that as I talked about it and I felt some kind of empowerment because for the first time in 10 years I was able to do a resume, so that made me happy.”

On June 1, she moved into an apartment, her first in four years. Kavanaugh arranged for a couch set to be delivered to her. Brown’s goal is to go back to school for medical billing and coding and become financially stable.

EXERCISES/GROWTH

Since Sepulveda is interested in starting a business, her first assignment into the community was to go into a bank with an assessment and ask questions found in “Getting Ahead” so she would know what to ask in the future. The experience lent her assurance. 

“If I wanna do anything financially, that gave me the confidence to do it,” Sepulveda said.  

“She said she would have never gone in the door before. It’s just so inspiring to be around both of them,”  Kavanaugh said. 

For another assignment, Brown and Sepulveda went to Hudson Valley Community College to inquire about the requirements needed to fulfill a medical billing and coding certificate. Brown said she was disappointed when told classes started June 24, while their next semester wouldn’t start until January. But the two didn’t give up. 

“Then we extended ourselves to go to where we graduated, which was Bryant & Stratton, and finding out information there,” Brown said. 

Sepulveda and Brown sat with representatives from The Rensselaer One-Stop Employment Center — which helps residents of the county and the Capital Region find employment — in hopes of receiving a grant to help finance their education. Their next step is to meet with the board to find out if they are eligible. 

“There’s different steps that we have to take depending on where our doors open, it’s never handed to us and I think that’s one of the things we learned” Sepulveda said. 

“I graduated from Bryant & Stratton (2011) for medical assistant and business administration, so for me to go back there and ask questions and see if they might have an opportunity for me, that made me feel really, really, really, good.”  Brown said. 

If interested in learning about the program contact Mary Clinton, head of Tenant Relations at the Watervliet Housing Authority, Mclinton5@nycap.rr.com, or Kathy Kavanaugh, coordinator for Getting Ahead and Bridges Out of Poverty, kkav@nycap.rr.com.