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Getting Ahead creates a positive path out of poverty



  • The Adult Learning & Training Centre’s (ALTC) Getting Ahead program helps people change the narrative on their personal stories, whether they’re dealing with unemployment or any kind of upheaval in their lives.

  • As described by ALTC Executive Director, Pauline Levesque, they’re getting people in need out of the “tyranny of the moment” by giving them the confidence and tools they need to succeed.

  • Local retiree Don Robertson thanks Getting Ahead for putting him on a positive path out of poverty and is now helping others do the same.

  • We’re all better off when community helps community. 

“It’s a course that gets you back into society – into the workforce.”

The pandemic disrupted the financial wellbeing and employment of so many, including Don – a retiree who is currently living in poverty after a career in business. But he says, with the help of those at the Adult Learning & Training Centre (ALTC) and the Getting Ahead program, he now has a plan and is feeling positive about his future.

Getting Ahead provides equitable employment opportunities for people who face barriers entering the labour market. It empowers residents to determine the direction and wellbeing of their communities, and it reduces wealth inequities for marginalized groups. 

Building up our communities

Based in Smiths Falls, what makes Getting Ahead so unique is that it’s a class open to anyone who needs it, explains Pauline Levesque, ALTC Executive Director. 

“It could be anybody finding themselves in poverty or near poverty, it could be somebody that’s gone through a nasty divorce, it could be somebody that’s lost their place of employment. It could be just anyone in any situation that puts them [in a negative place] and they are ready to get out of that situation.”

Class sizes are small, which allows for its participants to get to know their facilitators and fellow classmates, so they can feel comfortable telling their stories and addressing their personal barriers to getting ahead. If a participant’s

goal is to gain employment, their class will talk about how to highlight their skills, how to present themselves, and they’ll discuss community resources that can help them achieve their goal.

“The Getting Ahead program is a program that helps people get out of the tyranny of the moment.”

The group is together, and they figure out their own future story because each individual is different, each individual has a different set of goals and a different journey they would like to take, says Pauline.

Changing lives one class at a time

At United Way, we know Indigenous people, vulnerable women, youth, newcomers, racialized communities, and people with disabilities have been the most negatively affected by the pandemic.

After a career in the local business community, Don came to Getting Ahead because he needed help planning his financial future. He has a pension, which he says offers some stability in his income, but currently lives below the poverty line and wants to figure out how to afford a vehicle so he can get part-time work to supplement his income.

“Is it attainable? Frankly, yes. It is now.”

Now, as a co-facilitator of the program, Don is excited to fill others with the same hope he has.

“We try to gather, for each class, resources that they may not have seen before,.” he explains. “And we tap into our local community.”

Navigating the road ahead, together

Even before the pandemic, marginalized groups experienced major barriers to inclusion in the workforce, in community spaces, and in accessing services of all kinds—including stigma, misinformed perceptions and biased or outdated assumptions.  

The financial, cultural and social costs of these inequities are on all of us to carry, and that’s why at United Way we believe it’s so important to support programs like Getting Ahead.

“Without the United Way, we wouldn’t be successful in providing this program to the people who really need it.”

It’s good to know that there is community helping community,” says Pauline.

Help remove financial barriers for vulnerable people in your community.




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