Open Table

Nonprofit helps others escape from poverty

Too many bad choices, no role models and a lack of life skills had Traci Richerson spiraling out of control, unable to finish school, find a job and be a good mother to her son.

"I was stuck at ground zero," said the 32-year-old Cy-Fair resident. "I knew I had to find something that would help me get off the ground—and stay off the ground."

The answer was Open Table, a distinctive nonprofit organization recently established at The Met Church.

Based on faith and originally founded in Arizona, Open Table's mission is to help people permanently escape the web of poverty by building a network of support.

The network, sometimes referred to as a "table," is comprised of individuals and supporters who specialize in or have knowledge of all facets of successful living.

"We build a network of transportation, finances, parenting, career, education and so forth," said Dena Wilhite, a member of The Met on Jones Road and an Open Table volunteer. "We figure out what the person needs from an intellectual standpoint in order to teach him how to network himself right out of poverty."

This multi-pronged approach makes Open Table a "relational" mission instead of a "transactional" mission, Wilhite said.

"We're not teaching people to get out of poverty by giving them blue jeans and an energy bar," she said. "They will eat and put their pants on, but that won't get them out of poverty."

Open Table's long-term form of network support lasts for up to 12 months and is open to people from all walks of life—including prison parolees, single mothers, children who have aged out of the foster care system, war veterans and the homeless.

"The idea is to follow a model specific to the individual's need," Wilhite said.

To effectively do so, Open Table at the Met has reached out to a variety of organizations, including Angel Reach, Arrow Child & Family Ministries, Lone Star College and the Texas Workforce Commission.

"It's absolutely, critically important to have community support," Wilhite said.

Open Table has branches in 22 cities and seven states, and it provides background screening and behavioral training for volunteers.

For Richerson, the organization provided her with the support she needed to get out of poverty.

"Open Table showed me how to reach and maintain my potential," she said. "They gave me the ability to hope."

Open Table was formed in 2005 in Arizona, but now has branches in California, Arizona, Texas, Iowa, Florida, and New York

Each table is formed by a group of volunteers from different walks of life who mentor for one year a family or individual in poverty

More than 46 million Americans live in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau data

Open Table, 281-890-1900, www.themetonline.org