United Church of Christ-Affiliated Back Bay Mission Builds Bridges Out of Poverty

Teacher Loretta Smith works with a class in the Bridges Out of Poverty program.

The United Church of Christ-affiliated Back Bay Mission has long focused on helping people out of poverty. This year, its Bridges Out of Poverty program is getting an additional boost from the Mission’s Client Sustainability Campaign, a fundraising effort to open up additional avenues of success for Mission clients.

“The response [to the campaign] — both on the Gulf Coast and in the United Church of Christ — has been positive,” says the Rev. Christopher Marlin-Warfield, Back Bay Mission’s church relations associate. “People are really excited to help people escape poverty.”

Building New Ways Out of Poverty

Bridges Out of Poverty is a program aimed at people who are ready to think about how to get away from needing help. It utilizes an evidence-based curriculum and long-term mentoring to help program participants move out of poverty. A 16-week class helps students create plans and strategies that will help them achieve their goals. During and after the class, participants receive mentoring from both community members and Mission staff.

“Participants are recruited by Loretta Smith, who teaches the class, and [the participants’] case managers,” says Marlin-Warfield. “We look for people who are ‘stable’ in their situation and ready to take the next step on their journeys out of poverty.”

The important thing to know, says teacher Smith, is that “the program changes lives. Once an individual has an opportunity to understand the hows and whys of their situation, they tend to push forward to change their situation.”

For some participants, Bridges helps them communicate better with others. “I came into Bridges shy, scared, and broke,” says one participant. “Bridges [really helped] me in getting to know people … and brought me out of being shy. I have learned how to talk and work with people … And I’m learning how to save money.”

Often, Smith adds, individuals “want a change in their lives before Bridges, but they don’t know where to start. Bridges allows the individual to work through their situation, accomplish their goals and see they are not alone.”

“Before starting Bridges, my life was very different,” says another participant. “My self-esteem was extremely low. I blocked my husband and kids out. Now, while being in Bridges, I’ve regained that ‘old me’ back — motivated to look for work … My goal is to take care of my family.”

The change in the participants, says Smith, is palpable. “If they apply themselves, the changes are amazing to see as they gain confidence in themselves.”

Veterans and Health Initiatives Benefit, too

The Client Sustainability Campaign also is helping to fund Back Bay Mission’s community health initiative, which is geared toward teaching people to be good stewards of their health. Through classes and activities, participants learn about common health problems and preventive care. People with health issues also are supported through case management. The program helps to address and break through the barriers to good health.

The Mission’s veterans support fund also is a focus of the campaign. It gives immediate help to veterans as they work their way to self-sustainability. Through simple acts, such as helping veterans fix their cars or buy clothes for a job interview, the program supports veterans in overcoming obstacles enroute to a better life.

Back Bay Mission hopes the campaign goal of $150,000 will be reached. Marlin-Warfield says that, so far, $80,000 has been raised. Of course, more financial support is always needed, he says, especially for these programs that daily help lift people out of the despair of poverty.

Learn more about the Client Sustainability Campaign.

Back Bay Mission has a proud history on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast that dates back to 1922, when members of First Evangelical Church in Biloxi — part of the Evanglical Synod of North America, a predecessor denomination to the United Church of Christ — began providing education, clothing, shoes, and medicine to the children of the Back Bay “fisher folk.” The CHHSM member continues today with its simple mission: to strengthen neighborhoods, seek justice, and transform lives.

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