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Who is Vern?

I spent much of my early career in education as a teacher/coach at West Burlington High School in West Burlington, Iowa. But, at some point in my journey, students once classified as “at risk” began finding their way to me and my wife, Cindee. Eventually, I began to understand that my life had to be more than coaching basketball. Somehow, some way, I had to find a way to help students write their own future story, not just accept a story that was being written for them.

Fifteen years ago, I lobbied to become the official “at risk” point person at West Burlington High School. Since that time, the “Success Center”—essentially a place no student ever wanted to go—became “The Corners.” Today, The Corners serves more than 120 junior high and high school students, and it has become the place that not only under-resourced students want to be a part of but that almost every student in the school makes use of on a regular basis.

My school brought Bridges Out of Poverty to Southeast Iowa. Since December 2015, the partnership has grown to include local businesses, churches, the local community college, Great River Health Systems, and many more key partners. I consult and train on the topics of addressing poverty and emotional poverty. Bridges and its impact on The Corners at West Burlington High school led to an opportunity to try to implement these same ideas in a big school setting. In 2019, I was brought to Ottumwa, Iowa, as the under-resourced student programming coordinator. In this position, and with a great team, Ottumwa has added multiple programs focused on moving at-risk students to graduation and beyond. This included opening a new learning center for under-resourced students in fall 2022 with the ability to serve 200 high school students.

Vern’s aha! moment

Aha! moments have become an everyday occurrence in my Bridges journey. Like many people, for too long I’ve fought the “symptoms” of a “metaphorical disease” that is generational poverty. In reality, my biggest aha! moment may have been the Bridges definition of poverty! Understanding that poverty is about resources, not necessarily money, has empowered me and all who are on their own Bridges journeys. We can all work together to help build the key resources that we all need to live a sustainable life.

Vern’s passions

For my wife Cindee and me, our passion has always been finding ways to help and connect to our students. We have so many children caught in the tyranny of the moment that is generational poverty. When we attended a Bridges certification training in Santa Fe to become Bridges trainers, we realized at that moment that our passion had met a pathway to truly helping our students write their future stories. Bridges has changed who we are and how we do what we do…forever.

Vern’s best training

I’m not sure I can pick the best training. All bring something unique to the table, and the Bridges constructs allow each training to fit the needs of that particular audience. It is really amazing to watch how that happens! I can say that the best part of any training is getting to be a part of the aha! moments each participant experiences.

What does Vern do for fun?

My favorite thing to do is spend time with my wife and sons! If that time can be spent boating, that is even better. I enjoy getting to know people, drinking a good cup of coffee, and when time allows, reading a book that challenges my thinking. In 2021 we added a new grandson, Joshy, to our family. I think my wife would agree that everything kind of pales in comparison to him!