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“I found out I didn’t have to be poor.”

Darlene Smith first heard about SJC Bridges Out of Poverty from her diabetic instructor. They were discussing avenues to change her life around, and he told her about Bridges. Two years later, Darlene is now a graduate of the Financial Management Class, certified with Talk With Your Baby, a regular participant at Health and Wellness meetings and the AKA Leadership Program.

“Bridges out of Poverty took me to another level, where I got out of from poverty on my own. It helped me get out of the world I was living in, and I found out I didn’t have to be…how do I put it… I didn’t have to be poor. I was stuck in a world that I can’t even explain to you. I woke up. And I finally graduated. I couldn’t believe it. I completed something in my life.  I couldn’t believe it. I was standing there in front of everybody, and I graduated.

I learned how to be a part of something, part of the community. I’ve been in this house since 1997, and it’s 2014 now. You know it’s like I never really took part of living in the neighborhood; I was always complaining. I abused the system. I felt poor. You know it was like…I can’t explain it to you. I can’t even put it into words…how important it is to have taken this opportunity. ”

Biggest takeaway? “Everything. I took away from everything, and it seems like I still have a lot more to learn. Because, how can I put it…I was like the child who is just not done growing up, and I still have a lot to learn. But I learned a lot in a short period of time. It was life-changing. It’s like I could stand on top of a mountain and tell everybody about it. And it all started with my diabetic instructor. Just one person.

I believe in the higher power called God. When opportunities come, you have to take them. You have gotta get out of your comfort zone. You can’t stay in that comfort zone, or you’ll miss out on a lot.”

Halfway through the interview, she simply stated, “I’m just happy. I’m sitting here happy.” The interview brought back happy memories thinking of all the friends and progress she has made through Bridges Out of Poverty. In her own words: “Bonnie taught me how to find a solution. Amber believed in me. Her friendship means a lot to me.”

Darlene’s next steps are to continue being involved with Bridges Out of Poverty and bringing other women into the program, because as she says, “I know it really has a lot to offer.” But she can’t force anybody: “you just have to go and see for yourself, and then after that you’re on your own.”

On her free time, she continues going to different classes and being involved with the community. Right now, she’s sponsoring a lady who’s currently in a program for rehab.

Last words of advice: “Keep going. Keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t stop. Keep going, don’t stop. I feel like I’m on a journey, and this is a true story. I’m on this journey, and if I stop…nuh uh, I can’t stop. Gotta keep going. Because God has something planned for me. Gotta keep on going. We’re only promised today, we aren’t guaranteed today, and the past is gone. I take every bit of the day and keep going.”

“The light bulb went on, like duh.”

Kim Clark graduated from Getting Ahead this past March, and already she’s participated in the financial management class and co-facilitated a Getting Ahead class at the YWCA.

She’s taking what she’s learning and getting involved. One of the most important realizations she’s had is learning how many resources are here in the community: “I wish somebody would have told me 20 years ago! I had kids then, but we didn’t know. And yet they were there the entire time.

“The light bulb went on, like duh. You never know how much you can learn in five minutes. That’s the part that you’re like oh my gosh, really? …Just across the street.”

This past summer, she was asked to be a guest speaker at the YWCA to speak about domestic violence. It took her 30 years to finally stand up and say something about it. Now she encourages others, “If I can do it, you can do it.”

Thank you, Kim, for all of your strength and courage to always keep moving forward, and for being such a positive role model for our community.

“I wish I would have known this stuff 20 years ago.”

Pat Smith graduated from the Getting Ahead class in 2010 and just recently graduated from the Financial Management this past June.

When asked what effect (if any) Bridges had on her, she said, “It’s nice to learn something when you feel like it wouldn’t make a difference, but it will. It’s nice to have your mind change.” She’s learned how to balance and manage money, invest in an IRA, and save for college and college loans. She specifically states, “What I really liked about the Financial Peace University was the language that they use—it’s not technical. You understand what Mr. Ramsey is saying. Even though they don’t have any videos, cartoons, or musicians—or anything like that—it’s just them talking to the masses, and it’s very understandable and very enjoyable… I would recommend the class. I would love for my grandchildren to learn the investing part because Mr. Ramsey said it very clear and very subtle.” While she says she isn’t the best at explaining it, she’d like “to lead by example,” showing her grandkids her bank statements and the necessity to have an emergency plan.

She concluded, “I wish I would have known this stuff 20 years ago. I don’t even know how long Mr. Ramsey’s been at it, but I wish I would have known when I was working and had a steady income. I wish I would have known. You’re so focused on work that you don’t have time to learn stuff. But people should take the time to learn, especially if they’re working and trying to raise kids.”