Vern Reed is confident that what started out as a professional development session for his job at West Burlington High School is transforming southeast Iowa. He’s sure that will continue as more and more people learn about Bridges out of Poverty and the resulting local initiative: Building Bridges.
Reed describes Bridges out of Poverty as a series of constructs that studies the disease that is generational poverty.
“It offers a community not only tools but a different way to look at poverty,” said Reed. “A way that takes away judgment, a way that encourages us to work together, a way that says let’s quit trying to fix people because that never works.”
The constructs include encouraging participants to look outside of their own economic class, to address inequalities in access to resources, and to include people from all classes, races, sectors and political leanings to be involved in community decision making.
Reed said he and his wife, a fellow teacher at WBHS, attended a Bridges training session in Dubuque a few years ago. He said they quickly realized that the message of combating generational poverty is needed in southeast Iowa.
Reed said the ball got rolling about 18 months ago when the district sponsored a Bridges community training session.
“We bombarded the community with email and Facebook posts and said come check this out,” said Reed. “This is not only interesting, but it offers answers that we’ve not heard or seen before.”
Reed said about 160 community leaders attended the first session. He said the session was a free-flowing discussion about identifying generational poverty and how to prevent it from continuing.
The response led to the implementation of the Building Bridges initiative in southeast Iowa.
“One of the goals [of the local initiative] is to train as many people as we can in the Bridges constructs and challenge the way we view poverty,” said Reed, adding that he estimates more than 2,000 people have participated in a Bridges training session in the past 18 months.
The definition of poverty is a key issue in the Bridges out of Poverty discussion.
Reed said the government defines it at a family of four making $25,000 or less annually. He said Bridges looks at it much differently.
“Bridges defines poverty as the degree a person or an institution does without key resources and in the research, they've identified 11 key resources we all need to live a sustainable life, with only one being financial,” said Reed.
The list of what is needed to live a sustainable life, ie taking care of yourself and your family, paying your bills, finding a career includes:
- Motivation and persistence
- Integrity and Trust
- Physical Health
- Ability to use appropriate vocabulary and grammar
- Emotional control
Reed said Building Bridges is working to identify these resources for people living in generational poverty in southeast Iowa. He said that is why the effort continues to grow to train people to look beyond themselves and understand that poverty is all around them.
“The financial does not have to be the end all,” said Reed.
Reed said there is a group of West Burlington students who participate in the training sessions, to provide first hand experiences of what it is like to live in poverty. He said many times, their participation sparks discussions that would not have happened otherwise.
“Bridges respects the fact that the best problem solvers in America are people caught in generational poverty,” said Reed. “I see that every single day in my school because we have kids that get to school and they shouldn't get the school. They’re miracles but they have learned how to problem solve. It may not always be the way I want them to problem solve, but it is problem-solving nonetheless.”
The program, which has been headquartered in Des Moines County, is now starting to extend its reach.
Reed said a training session was held in Mount Pleasant for about 60 people and there are talks of holding sessions in Lee County and New London, Iowa in the very near future. He said the second phase of training for previous participants is underway as well.