Society of St. Vincent de Paul ‘Getting Ahead’ program helps people navigate out of poverty

June 13, 2023

The most recent graduates of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s “Getting Ahead” program are all smiles after receiving their certificates for completing the 16-week program that helps participants gain resources and networks to pull themselves out of poverty. (Photo courtesy of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul)

HOUSTON — The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) is shepherding people to move from crisis to sustainability in its “Getting Ahead” program that held a recent graduation ceremony.

So far, 49 people — mostly women, four men and minorities — have graduated from the 16-week program that helps participants gain resources and networks to pull themselves out of poverty.

SVdP Program Manager Michelle Gonzalez said, “When you live in poverty, your main goal is to survive. You may feel like you’re stuck on a hamster wheel with no opportunity to dream.”

The life skills classes taught online from laptops provided by the program, along with supplies, focus on basic finances and planning, as well as health care, nutrition, and other self-care topics, she said.

The most recent 17 Getting Ahead graduates received their certificates on May 16 at the St. Dominic Chancery off Holcombe. The group joyfully celebrated completing their weekly two-hour sessions on Wednesday evenings over four months with online trained facilitators.

“This ceremony was the first time many of them met each other in person. Their excitement and enthusiasm made the occasion one to remember,” Gonzalez said.

A previous graduate, Valerie Weathers, 59, said she saw the difference the program made in her 20-year-old daughter when attending the Getting Ahead program.

“She learned life skills and became more confident and motivated,” Weathers said. “She’s back at school, now working on her associate degree, and is interested in nursing.”
Weathers, who was working as a paid counselor at a church, was then inspired by her daughter to apply for the Getting Ahead program.

“I basically grew up with no parents. My mom died when we were young, and my dad was always traveling around,” she said. “Many days, the only food we had to eat was at school or whatever we could find in the trash. I went to 11 different elementary schools,” she said.

“This program taught us the way to escape poverty. They provided resources and education from mentors to be positive, persistent and motivated. They also showed us time management skills, how to push away procrastination and not to let negative thoughts get you down,” Weathers said.

She needs that positivity right now after the church closed the counseling program, and she was left without a job. While sending out resumes for a new job and doing telephone interviews, Weathers still volunteers to co-facilitate continuing education for the Getting Ahead program graduates.

“We are like a family. And the Getting Ahead staff members are the heart of it,” Weathers said. “It’s like we’re coming in out of the rain after five or six storms. They are our harbor helping us to rebuild our lives. I thank God for them.”

Gonzalez said another participant, a political refugee from Afghanistan, came to Houston with a pregnant wife and four children. After graduating from the program, he was able to work and save enough to buy a house for his family, she said.

The program recruits and attracts a diverse clientele; some may have a degree and are employed, but many are underemployed.
“We are people of faith, but we don’t require that of our participants,” Gonzalez said.

New program sessions start up twice a year, with class enrollments starting this July and again in January 2024. For more information, email or check the program website.