Fighting Poverty with a New Attitude

“It’s hard to be self-motivated when someone is telling you what to do.”

Todd Coombes spent most of his adulthood “on the low end of the money scale”, drifting, without much purpose, through life in his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario.

Things are different now.

Two poverty-fighting programs in Peterborough have left their mark on Coombes, now aged 47, introducing him to new ideas, new skills, a supportive social network,  and, above all, a new attitude.

open door“I thought the world owed me something. I look to the future now and realise things aren’t so bad — all because of a change in my thinking from ‘life sucks’ to ‘life is what I’m going to do about it’,” said Coombes, in a recent interview with JOURNEY Magazine.

Those two programs are Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting By World and Bridges Out of Poverty.

Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting By World, offered by Peterborough Social Services, is for individuals living in poverty, who may be on social assistance or one of city’s many working-poor. Participants dig into their own lives and challenges and come up with strategies to create a life plan that takes them beyond day-to-day crises.

In a parallel program, “From Mentor to Ally”, training is offered to volunteers (middle and upper-income folks) to help them understand the systemic and cultural barriers that keep people in poverty. 

Once people have participated in either of the two groups, they then come together in small, confidential Bridging Teams. Co-ordinated by Peterborough’s Bedford House, they bring together under-resourced people with volunteer mentors who have resources (e.g. time, ideas, connections) to share. 

” . . . we all became friends. I grew my social network from two to 17-18 people.”

Coombes’ story began in a typical lower-middle class home, where money wasn’t an issue. At age 11 he was diagnosed with diabetes, which was fine until he hit high school and wanted to do all the things other kids did. He decided he didn’t care and over the next 20 years or more he completely disregarded his health.

He  worked at various places as a cook and dishwasher, married,  had two children, parted ways, went on welfare, and found himself angry a lot of times, blaming everyone and everything but himself — and never really having much motivation to improve his circumstances.

Five years ago he decided to look after his health and started using an insulin pump.

“It was like night and day. It was like I had been on a 20-year hang-over. The fog lifted,” he said. “When I was going through it,  I was always saying ‘why is this happening to me? Life is unfair.’ But the truth was I did it all to myself. I was making my life unfair.”

Coombes was guided to the “Getting Ahead” program by his Ontario Works social worker two and half years ago. 

“Through it, I realised one of my problems was that I was lacking a social network. I only had my aunt and sister in my life regularly. So, I knew the Bridging team would give me that.”

“And we all became friends. I grew my social network from two to 17-18 people,” he said. “And after going through the group, I realised I had made a definite decision for almost the first time in my life.”

That decision was that he wants to be a teacher

bridges out of povertyHe is now one of the co-facilitators of the new Building Bridges Out of Poverty Teams — Getting Ahead Program, and a certified facilitator for a Getting Ahead group of 15 people in Peterborough at present, which, he hopes, will then lead its members to join a new Bridges group once they graduate. 

Coombes said he is learning, through this opportunity, effective organizational skills such as using a day planner, something that was “challenging at first, but is getting easier.”

He said, in past interactions with social agencies, he found the people “in charge” set the rules, “and you had to do this, this, and this and they’ll give you your reward. They thought they knew better than we did.”

“It’s hard to be self-motivated when someone is telling you what to do.”

It was not productive and did not fit every person, he said. But the people on board the Bridging Team bring a passion for wanting to make a difference in the lives of the “under-resourced”, Coombes explained.

That passion has helped him reach out and contribute to making a difference himself. He volunteers with Peterborough’s Nourish Project packing weekly food boxes, remembering quite well “a lot of times when I would have loved a box of food”.

“I just want to try to make a difference because Peterborough’s poverty community is quite large, unfortunately,” he continued. “The Bridging Team program and its leaders Lynn and Allan (Smith-Reeve) have helped me realise what I can do and when you make people realise things about themselves, they can start to make changes.” 

“Now I am going to help make other people understand that realization is the best thing we can have. It’s a powerful thing.”

See also: Creating Bridges Out of Poverty in Peterborough, Ontario.

By Melodie McCullough




2 replies

  1. This is off-track but worth the share. I knew a man who always worked hard, but for a long time, still struggled to make ends meet and get ahead. With time, he became quite successful. But he shared a lesson with his kids that has always stuck with me: One day, his children explained that they wanted an allowance (They did some chores.). He could have explained to them that he already works to provide for them, and he would have been right. He could have explained to them that the family should help each other, and again, he would have been right. And he might have shared these thoughts. However, he also decided to give them an allowance. Starting at a few dollars each, he explained to them that if they doubled their money that week, that would be their new allowance. So, through deals they made with others (I think, one of the children bought a basketball for a quarter and sold it for a dollar.), they doubled their money. This continued until they were making $50.00. After that, he never gave them any money. They are all now successful business owners. **Some of life’s lessons are not as difficult. His message to them was both that he knew they were smart and they could creatively come up with solutions.

    Liked by 1 person

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