Lynn Phillips-Gaines won Volunteer of the Year for founding Starkville Bridges Out of Poverty, a nonprofit aimed at eradicating poverty in Oktibbeha County, Miss.
Ms. Phillips-Gaines, a principal of Phillips Financial in Starkville, Miss., founded the nonprofit after reading “Bridges Out of Poverty,” a book about how communities need to work together to understand and drive out poverty.
The organization created by Ms. Phillips-Gaines focuses on teaching low-income residents how to improve their financial situations, including lessons on “the hidden rules of the middle class.” At the same time, the nonprofit educates middle-class citizens about the causes and realities of poverty.
“People in poverty already know there is a disconnect between their world and the middle-class world,” she said. “The biggest problem with poverty is the middle-class and wealthy groups create programs that make us feel good, but never stop to see what that looks like to someone in [a lower] socioeconomic group.”
Programs like food kitchens or “adopt-a-family” programs at Christmas can work to destroy the recipients' self-esteem by doing things for them that they could do for themselves, Ms. Phillips-Gaines said.
Instead of only giving food and dealing with emergencies, more needs to be done on the structural side within the community to provide education and other resources to transition the poor into the middle class, she said.
“Those in poverty are not subhuman; they are incredible problem-solvers, actually. They are simply working within the constraints that they have,” she said.
In addition to helping adults get ahead, the nonprofit sponsors a children's mentor program called Building Bridges for Kids, which trains college students as volunteer mentors for children ages 3 to 15. The program helps teach children financial concepts, but also the appropriate language used in the real world; the way to behave, such as negotiating instead of fighting; good time management; and dressing advice, she said.
The award comes with a $20,000 stipend that will be used to support the programs of Starkville Bridges Out of Poverty.
Ms. Phillips-Gaines, who is a certified financial planner, opened her independent advisory business 30 years ago.
She also is an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and lives in Starkville with her husband, Russell.