What would Larimer County look like if the 42,000 residents living in poverty today could become permanently self-sufficient?
That’s the goal of Bridges Out of Poverty Northern Colorado. The Bohemian Foundation Friday announced the launch of the two-year pilot initiative to help alleviate poverty locally by engaging the business, education and social service communities.
The concept, based on the nationally recognized Bridges framework, is to create partnerships among all sectors of society — including those living in poverty and employers of low-wage workers — to address issues of generational poverty and to create a more stable workforce.
“Bridges is not a program but a set of strategies designed to empower those in poverty to move out of poverty, with the support and collaboration of the entire community,” said Sarah Hach, director of community programs at the Fort Collins-based Bohemian Foundation.
The pilot initiative will have three distinct parts, each training a specific portion of the community in understanding the barriers preventing people from transitioning out of poverty. Bridges for Business provides strategies to assist employees with personal and financial instability, in the process enhancing productivity and decreasing retention and training costs for companies.
As Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce President David May told the crowd, “A rising tide of strong job creation lifts all boats, but right now those boats are surrounded by too many people dog-paddling just to keep their heads above water.”
Bridges for Community offers training to area nonprofits, government agencies, faith-based organization and community members with a focus on creating sustainable communities.
“We have an incredible opportunity to do something very special, but none of us can do it alone,” said Darin Atteberry, Fort Collins city manager.
Bridges for Education addresses how to improve learning and graduation rates from pre-school to higher education. Superintendents Jerry Wilson, of the Poudre School District, and Ron Cabrera, of the Thompson School District, joined Andrew Dorsey, president of Front Rage Community College, and Tony Frank, president of Colorado State University, in endorsing the initiative.
Frank called education “the best bridge out of poverty, an escalator to a better life,” and said he hopes universities like his are never forced to consider ability to pay ahead of a student’s ability to learn.
Free training sessions will be provided for each sector, beginning in May. For details, go to www.bridgesnoco.org.
The initiative was announced to a gathering of about 100 business, government, education and nonprofit leaders on the Columbine Health Systems campus. The location was chosen because Columbine is the first business to receive Bridges training for all 125 of its managers, as well as the services of an onsite “navigator” to work confidentially with employees to help them juggle home and work.
“For me, it was a no-brainer to participate,” Yvonne Myers, health systems director for Columbine, told the crowd. “We need our employees to be stable to provide quality care to our residents. If they need help dealing with a life crisis so they can be here to care for a resident with a medical crisis, we want to give them what they need. As an employer, we don’t necessarily need to know what’s going on but that they are getting help to deal with it.”
She said she knew her organization needed to do more when only 70 percent of employees signed up for a direct payroll deposit program. “That told us that 30 percent of our staff either didn’t have a checking account or didn’t have the skills to manage their money effectively,” she added. “If we can address those kinds of issues, it’s a win for us, a win for the employees, and a win for our residents.”
The complementary Circles Larimer County initiative, funded by the Bohemian Foundation and the United Way of Larimer County and offered through the Education and Life Training Center in Fort Collins, works directly with people in poverty to help them create a mental model of their situation, then map a specific path out of it. Part of the 15-week training involves learning the “hidden rules” of class, and why middle-class employers have trouble understanding low-income workers, and vice versa.
Another part of Circles is pairing graduates with middle- and upper-class volunteer “allies” to foster relationships across socioeconomic and ethnic lines and help the graduates achieve their goals of self-sufficiency.
For more information about Circles, visit www.circleslarimer.org