August 9, 2014 11:22:13 PM
On the day before school started in Columbus, Glenda Buckhalter stood before a table stacked with book bags containing school supplies Wednesday and offered an apology.
"I'm sorry that I couldn't get everything," she told the group of a dozen women, all moms, and in one case, a grandmother. "Some of the things on the supplies list were just too expensive and I had to make the money we have available go as far as it could go."
Although Buckhalter's apology was not intended to be part of the three-day program designed to teach vulnerable adults the skills they need to get back on their feet, it served as a reminder of something the class had learned about on the first day: Making your money count.
The Greater Good program, which started this week, is open to anyone who finds themselves in need, including the homeless. The classes are held from 10 a.m. until noon, Monday through Wednesday every other week. All of the people in this inaugural class were people who had called Buckhalter, coordinator of the Community Outreach Center, for help.
"I tell them, we will do everything we can to help you, but in exchange for that help, we want you to be a part of these classes."
Wednesday, the group got certificates showing they had completed the courses. All of the women in the room were homeless in some sense of the word. Buckhalter defines a homeless person as someone who is living in a place not meant for human occupation, whether it's an abandoned building, a car or a park. None of the women in this first class had reached that point of desperation, mainly because they've found a friend or family member who is giving a place to stay temporarily.
As they women collected the backpacks their children will need for school and made their way toward the exit, Buckhalter reminded those looking for a place to live to keep in touch. Buckhalter has partnered with five area organizations to build a pool of money that can be used for this purpose, mainly in the form of security and/or utility deposits.
"But it's up to you to find a place," she reminded the women. "When you do, you call me and we'll work on your situation."
The classes discuss a different topic each day and they provide some very basic information. Buckhalter, who has been coordinator of the Community Outreach Center almost a year now, says one of the things she has discovered is that the kind of information you might assume everyone knows is something many poor people somehow have never learned.
Day one focuses on making your money count.
"Really, it's about making priorities, which is really important when you have a limited income, whether it's from work -- and many of these women have jobs -- or from various kinds of assistance. I can't tell you how many times I've heard stories where someone will say something like, "Well, my child wanted this or that," even knowing that they were behind on their rent and might be evicted." It may sound simple, but some people have to be taught things like that. Otherwise, it's just a pattern that's going to repeat itself over and over.
Day 2 focuses on understanding lease agreements.
"Again, people just don't understand they obligations," Buckhalter said. "They'll say, "well, I didn't pay my rent for the past three months because my toilet was broke and they never came to fix it." It just doesn't work that way, but they don't realize it. So we talk about those things, about their obligations and how to resolve problems."
On Day 3, the subject is taking personal responsibility.
"I think the first and last classes really go together," Buckhalter says. "Part of taking responsibility is making good choices about money."
Mary Gould, 54, the grandmother in the group said the information she received will help her - eventually.
"Right now, my main concern is getting some help for my situation," says Gould, who is currently two months behind in her rent, due mainly, she says, to lost revenue (she works in commission sales) and her grown daughter's decision to move out of town (leaving Gould to pay the rent on her own).
"I really do think we got some good information that can help me when I get back on my feet," said Gould, who has taken on a second job and now feels confident she has enough money to make ends meet if she can get help getting current on her rent.
"There's no doubt that the people here want something in return," Buckhalter says. "But that's OK. We want to help. At the same time, we want that help to put them in a position to be self-sufficient. I'm not any more in favor at throwing money at things than anyone else is. The help we give has to matter and we hope these classes provide the information that can make that difference."
The next Greater Good classes are scheduled for Aug. 18.
The Community Outreach Center is funded primarily by the city of Columbus, but also relies heavily on donations.
For more information on donations or the Greater Good program, contact Buckhalter by phone at 662-244-3525 or by email at email@example.com.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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