Midstate counties among first to roll out faith-based program to combat poverty

Written by Rachel McDevitt | Oct 24, 2017 12:45 PM

Jeremy Long, Lebanon Daily News

(Harrisburg) -- It takes a village--or a congregation--to help people overcome poverty in The Open Table Program.

Midstate counties will be among the first in the state to roll out the faith-based, government-sponsored program, in which one person or a family is referred by a social services agency, then they meet every week with a group of volunteers from a local church or group of churches. The volunteers help the participant set and realize his or her own goals over the course of one year. 

Northumberland County is among the four "pioneer areas" starting the program under a federal grant administered by Behavioral Health of Rural Pennsylvania. Snyder, Union, Montour, and Columbia counties will form a partnership to become another area, as will Forest and Warren counties in northwestern Pennsylvania. McKean County in north-central Pennsylvania rounds out the first group for the program, which will eventually spread to 23 counties. 

Reverend Karyn Fisher of St John's United Methodist Church in Coal Township said many charities or government programs tell the poor person what they need.

"And really what you're saying is 'you have no idea what you need, you are incapable of thinking for yourself,'" Fisher said. "And what Open Table is, is a way of saying 'we're here for you, what do you want and how can we help you achieve it?'"

Fisher said dealing with the spiritual aspect of a person will help him create meaningful change.

"There are aspects of humanity that aren't touched by physical health and really aren't touched by even emotional health, there's a deeper level," she said.

Two years after completing the program, 19 out of 20 Open Table graduates said they were self-supporting or were confident they would be soon.

Organizers hope to serve up to four people in each participating area in the first year.

Tables will start forming after organizers complete a training at the end of January. 

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