Peterborough-area residents struggling with poverty, be it of the generational or systemic variety or a combination of both, have a local ally in turning their lives around with an eye on better days ahead.
However, unlike most other initiatives and programs that aim to help people via dollars and other finite resources, Bridges Peterborough uses conversations and their resulting relationships as its currency.
Growing out of the faith-based Bedford House Community Ministry founded by Lynn and Allan Smith-Reeve, Bridges Peterborough is working to challenge the prevailing ways of addressing poverty through bridging teams, a small-group experience where under-resourced participants develop strategies with middle-income mentors to build a more stable life.
Self-described as being comprised of ‘ordinary citizens who are passionate about challenging current ways of addressing poverty’, Bridges Peterborough is a coordinated response to prevalent societal challenges — including increases in poverty, precarious employment, and opioid addiction, and the lack of affordable housing.
Jacques Graveline is one of those ‘ordinary citizens’. A longtime Peterborough musician and singer-songwriter, he is also the newly minted chair of the Fleming Student Administrative Council board. In his capacity with Bridges Peterborough, Graveline is a co-facilitator of ‘Bridging Artists Forward’, a bridging team that will begin meeting weekly in March for four months. Plans are also in works for a second bridging team, called ‘Getting Ahead While Getting Out’, for people who are preparing for their release from the prison system.
A bridging team is comprised of 15 to 20 participants — people living in poverty, also described as under-resourced or catalysts, and mentors of middle income who may or may not have lived experience — coming together to share food, fun, and storytelling. The end goal is to learn from one another towards a more stable life.
VIDEO: Bridges Peterborough – Bridging Teams 2020
“We use a workbook so everyone is not only speaking the same language and also understand what each other is going through — the hurdles, what resources people have, and what they don’t have,” Graveline explains. “By the end (of the program), participants have a new circle of community. You’ve had the team asking lots of questions and storytelling, all while developing relationships. When you’re done, they don’t say ‘See you later.’ Meaningful relationships have been built.”
Graveline was introduced to the Bridges Peterborough model while he was a student at Fleming College. Required to do a research project on a specific Peterborough community, he chose Bridges Peterborough “just to find out who even knew about it.”
That exposure led to him being asked to work on the group’s recruitment strategy, a paid marketing position and, eventually, the chance to co-facilitate the Bridging Artists Forward team.
As an artist himself, Graveline brings a wealth of personal experience to the role. He has, in the truest sense, walked the walk.
“You get stuck in your ways as an artist,” Graveline says. “You’re comfortable smoking pot and drinking beer. You work hours that might take away from your being creative. You’re too tired or you just don’t want to create, or you don’t make the time for it. Your creativity is put on the back burner.”
After reading the book Bridging Out Of Poverty: Strategies For Professionals And Communities, Graveline found himself “able to put the pieces together” about generational and systemic poverty.
“I grew up in generational poverty,” Graveline notes. “There were a bunch of hidden factors I didn’t know about, like budgeting or simply making a plan. It sounds silly but when you read a book, sometimes it changes your trajectory. This book changed my approach to how I’m going to live my life. My mental health is better. I have more confidence. My party lifestyle is less. More opportunities have come from just understanding the road map.”
The work of the Bridges Peterborough teams meshes with the themes of the book, a key one being the importance of having a role model or mentor “to kind of steer you.”
“Growing up in poverty, your parents are always working, your school marks don’t matter, you walk outside and there’s a bunch of people sitting on their stoops drinking and smoking,” Graveline says. “That’s all you know. You don’t aspire to do anything else besides that. When you mature, you’re maturing in that direction versus other directions.”
“Artists can get easily stuck in their ways and (become) hopeless in a sense. This is about making a change in your life with a strong supportive network that’s not just there for those four months. It’s not ‘Here you go, you’ve graduated.’ It’s like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). They stick with you. You have someone to call after. You’re not just left on your own.”
For team participants, says Graveline, the social capital they will gain is huge.
“There are artists who will never get into the Commerce Building here for a First Friday Art Crawl unless they know somebody. You’re not going to get on a bill for an event unless you know somebody. They’re just not getting into the fold. You come away with not only with more confidence, but also a stronger support system.”
On a more personal level, Graveline gains the most satisfaction from “being part of something good for the community.” In addition, he’s learned “how much we all have in common with complete strangers. When you see someone change their trajectory and see that confidence grow, that’s pretty satisfying.”
Bridges Peterborough needs two things to support both the Bridging Artists Forward and Getting Ahead While Getting Out bridging teams: participants and funds. The organization has a goal of raising $36,000, of which 85 per cent has already been attained. The money helps pay team facilitators as well as purchase grocery store gift cards given in recognition of the leadership and commitment of under-resourced people helping in the work.
To learn more about Bridges Peterborough, to join, or to make a donation, visit bridgespeterborough.ca.
This story has been updated to correct some factual errors.