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  • Five graduate from Invest U anti-poverty class

    Five local residents became the most recent graduates of a program that helps people analyze the impacts of poverty on their lives and develop strategies to build their resources for a more prosperous future and to improve our community.

    The five – Yanira Castellano, Haydee Diaz, Bernard DuPree, Carmen Perez, and Rebecca Spinler – were honored during a ceremony held at Northwest Arena in Jamestown.  They were recognized for completing the “Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World” curriculum, a 16-week workshop series that supports people with low incomes to build resources and achieve goals on the path to stability.

    Getting Ahead participants are called investigators.  The course calls on them to explore how poverty affects them, then identify and develop resources that will enable them to get ahead in their lives.  The local workshop is called Invest U because, by participating in the curriculum, investigators invest in a better future for themselves and their families.

    Their efforts also will improve their communities.  This is because, as part of their coursework, investigators examined how community institutions measure in areas such as the economy, housing, health care, employment, education, and banking.  Those stark assessments revealed where our community did not perform well, providing an opportunity for local leaders to address the gaps.

    Invest U is funded by the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County.  The program is operated by The Resource Center.

    During the graduation ceremony, Terri Johnson, The Resource Center’s Director of Employment and Community-Based Services, noted that the Invest U course is demanding, requiring participants to meet together for at least three hours per week for four months.  She said this year’s Invest U class started with nine participants but four left the program, and she praised the five graduates for their efforts in completing the course.

    “I want to congratulate you guys for all of the work that you’ve put in,” Johnson told the graduates.  “It’s a tremendous accomplishment, and I want to thank you guys for your dedication to Invest U, to each other, to the community, and to yourselves.”

    Invest U participants “examine their own experience of poverty barriers that could be keeping them in poverty, and they investigate the realities of the conditions in our community,” she added.  “They investigate the hidden rules of economic classes and study the different economic classes and how to build resources and make connections in their community and ways to deal with change and create stability in their lives.”

    Ray Pryce, who was a member of the first Invest U graduating class in 2021 and now serves as a facilitator for those going through the program, noted the impact the program has.

    “This empowering initiative is a beacon of hope for those who have chosen to participate, offering them a pathway to a brighter future.  Through this program, individuals are empowered with invaluable tools and resources to break free from the cycle of poverty and strive for a better life,” Pryce said.  “This program is nothing short of inspiring, as it equips individuals with life skills, financial literacy and the emotional support to overcome barriers and achieve personal growth.  It is heartwarming to witness the positive changes and success stories that emerge from this initiative, showcasing the true potential that lies with each participant.”

    Pryce referenced an observation by social justice activist Nelson Mandela that poverty is similar to apartheid and slavery in that the three conditions are manmade issues that can be removed through the actions of humans.

    Jacqueline C. Phelps, Assistant Executive Director at The Resource Center, also addressed the audience, and she too referenced a Mandela quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”  She said society needs people to have the courage to step up and become their best selves, and that Invest U “takes people who are willing to make a change and a difference in their own life, and allows them to make a change and a difference in their community.”

    Phelps said the community will reap the rewards to arise from the efforts of the Invest U graduates.  “What we are here to experience and celebrate is five people who have made an impact by investing themselves, their families and future generations.”

    Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist noted that he met with the investigators while they were doing their coursework, and they had asked how he defines a bad neighborhood.  Sundquist said the question got him thinking about how to redefine what a neighborhood is, and that if residents take pride in their neighborhood, issues like crime and derelict properties will start to improve.

    “Instead of saying, `Let’s look at bad neighborhoods,’ let’s look how we can support and create new neighborhoods in the city,” he said.

    The keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony was Amanda Gesing, the Executive Director of the YWCA Jamestown, which hosted the weekly Invest U classes.  She praised the graduates for having the fortitude to make the effort to improve their lives.

    “What an accomplishment it is as an adult to take that mirror and look internally and say that you would like to do something to enhance your skills,” Gesing said.  “So not only should you be proud of yourselves for graduating, but you should also be proud of yourselves for even taking that step of taking the class, because not everyone would be willing to do that.”

    She said that with the knowledge the graduates gained through doing the coursework, they are well prepared to make a positive difference.

    “You guys are the change-makers in this community.  You guys are the ones who are going to help us make a true impact in this community,” Gesing said.  “It is your voice and your vision that is going to change this community.”

    Pictured from left are Beth Jermain, Haydee Diaz, Yanira Castellano, Rebecca Spinler, Ben DuPree, and Ray Pryce.

    Several of the graduates took the opportunity to address the audience.

    “This class has helped me learn about my community and about myself.  I learned to identify my strength and my weakness,” said Diaz, crediting Invest U for “giving me the confidence and resources to make me feel like I can make a difference in my community.”

    She said that as a result of going through the Invest U curriculum, she started going out into her community and was struck by the poverty and isolation she noticed.  She said combating those issues starts by connecting with others.

    “Get to know who your neighbors are and watch out for them,” Diaz said.  “After all, change starts one small step at a time.

    Castellano, a Community Navigator with Jamestown Public Schools, looks forward to sharing what she learned in Invest U with school families and others.

    “Going through the classes, I learned many things about our county and what I can do to add onto the work that needs to be accomplished in Chautauqua County,” she said.  “This workshop/class is for everyone, in every social class.  I think that we can all learn from each other to make this county shine.”

    DuPree said he has made adjustments in his life to correct a “careless ignorance that thought society owed me for hardships in my childhood.”  He shared his belief that if more Chautauqua County residents were involved in church, it would help spur economic growth and security.

    Beth Jermain, Support Option Administrator at The Resource Center, served with Pryce, Johnson and CodyAnne Chambers, TRC’s Employment Facilitator, as facilitators for the Invest U workshop sessions.  She said the five graduates developed a strategy to help the community address poverty.  Jermain noted the graduates are willing to be a part of any community organization to begin tackling poverty.

    Invest U requires participants to examine their own lives and be willing to give frank assessments of themselves.  Doing so Is a necessary part of the growth process.

    “You guys all shared very intimate parts of your life with each other,” Jermain told the graduates.  “There’s been a lot of respect happening, and it’s been a really dynamic discussion and really dynamic conversation.”

    This marked the third graduating class for Invest U.  For more information or to learn how to apply to take part in the next workshop, contact Jermain at 716-483-2344.

    Representatives of Congressman Nick Langworthy and County Executive PJ Wendel attended the ceremony and congratulated the graduates.

    200 Dunham Avenue, Jamestown, NY, 14701