Merced County's Circles Campaign to End Poverty said it honored 20 Merced families in poverty as founding graduates of an 18-session Getting Ahead class.
The ceremony was held on the grounds of the Seventh Day Adventist Church School.
Getting Ahead class facilitators Liz Freitas and Crystal Andersen, executive director of the Foundation for Improved Living Merced, issued certificates to graduates and acknowledged community leaders for stepping forward and bringing the Circles Campaign to Merced County, organizers said in a news release.
Representatives from Rep. Dennis Cardoza's office also presented certificates to the class participants.
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"Tonight, the first fruits have been brought forward from the seeds planted a couple of years ago," said Andersen. "The testimonials from these families tell us we're moving in the right direction. Until we have all economic classes at the planning table of our community, we cannot hope to be as efficient in our systems."
In the first 18 sessions, individuals and family leaders explored poverty's effects on their lives and what it takes to get ahead in Merced County. Each set goals that lead the way to economic self-sufficiency and which were specific to their lives and family situations.
The graduates' next step will be to align with two or three community "allies" from middle-class or affluent backgrounds. They will meet monthly for 18 months to work on goals and remove roadblocks that families encounter in their journey toward economic self-sufficiency, organizers said in the news release.
To find out more about the Merced County Circles Campaign and how to become an ally, call (209) 349-8057.