11 Cares for the Community: Bridges Out of Poverty Special Report

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An estimated twenty percent of the population in Mesa County relies on some sort of federal aid to get by.

So representatives from about 30 different county agencies recently got together to improve communication between agencies and hopefully improve the quality of services they're able to offer.

Those agencies are now working together to target some of Mesa County's top needs when it comes to poverty.

The program is called 'Bridges Out Of Poverty' and the concept could change the way Mesa County approaches their work with families in need.

These agencies are working together to give those in need tools to allow them to live on their own.

Pamela Powers is one person who has already taken part in a class funded through ‘Bridges Out of Poverty.”

She was convicted of a crime that landed her in community corrections, and then she turned around and landed a steady job thanks to a class called Learning to Work it Out.

Powers says, "You learn that there are a lot more resources out there in the community – to get over the hurdles that seem almost impossible, but they're really not."

Jennifer Sheetz, project coordinator for the class, says it’s aimed at helping the students “overcome any barriers they might have to not knowing where to look for a job, not knowing how to write a resume, or how to interview well."

The Learning to Work it Out class was made possible thanks to the Bridges Out of Poverty program. As a whole, Bridges Out of Poverty is a community collaborative that's infusing nearly 30 community projects, like the Learning To Work It Out Class, that are aimed at helping break the cycle of poverty.

The Bridges Out of Poverty steering committee is focusing its efforts on what it calls the "generational" poor.

Jennifer Sorensen, director of Adult Services with the Human Services division says, "Individuals who are in generational poverty are those that have been in poverty or whose families have been in poverty for at least two generations or more."

Bridges Out Of Poverty coordinates the various agencies to use similar concepts and goals – so the message to clients remains consistent.
Sorensen says, "And when we all come to the table we pour all of our resources into one large pitcher and what we like to do is spread that throughout Mesa County through the Bridges Out Of Poverty initiative."

The project is spearheaded by Human Services, using their $3 million surplus of federal TANF funds, or anti–poverty dollars.

Len Stewart, director of Mesa County Human Services, says "It was cool to put the money to work in the community and not administer it ourselves as a giant, government agency."

They had until the end of June to spend the majority of the surplus, or the federal government would reclaim the money.

He says, "It was a perfect opportunity to take the work we've been doing about interrupting the cycle of poverty. And really teach them to be successful and really teach them to fish, rather than giving them a fish."

Some of the money went to pilot programs, like Learning To Work It Out, which has received a good response so far.

Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger says he likes the idea of the class. "If we as a community or a society can make these kinds of investments in helping people have the skills that will help prevent them to be tempted to commit crimes in the future, we will see a significant payoff down the road.”

While the temporary federal surplus has mostly been spent, the Bridges Out of Poverty committee will soon have a better idea of which programs worked the best, and that could help determine which programs get money in the future.

But committee members of Bridges Out Of Poverty say it's about more than money, it also helps agencies approach their work with clients using similar language and similar goals.

"We can try to figure out some strategies where they can be economically successful with the tools on their own, and not need to come in and ask us for help," says Stewart.

And it has already helped people like Powers, who have benefited from learning not just about workforce skills, but life skills. She says, "I volunteered to attend the class, and I'm glad I did. I wouldn't have made a lot of the choices that I made. And it would have been a lot easier to gain employment and do all the proper things that wouldn't have led me to where I am now."

Learning To Work It Out provides students with services that will help them overcome hurdles, allowing them get a job, and then in turn, possibly turn things around.

For more on the Learning To Work It Out class, call Jennifer Sheetz at 970-244-3302. You can also learn more by visiting Lisa's blog – just click the link below.

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