Burlington, Iowa, is home to a thriving Bridges Out of Poverty community that has trained more than 3,000 people in Bridges constructs. The backbone organization, Burlington Building Bridges, also organizes Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World courses and has achieved an 88% graduation rate.
More than half of the Getting Ahead graduates in Burlington have gone from unemployment to employment since graduating, and all graduates are supported by more than 70 “staying ahead teammates” who serve in mentoring roles.
Destiny Payne (no relation to Ruby) gave the following speech at her Getting Ahead group’s graduation. Mona Ash, Burlington Building Bridges program director, said, “Her speech was so touching. This story shows so many of the barriers that folks who are in poverty face just trying to get services that they do qualify for! I read it to one of my groups today, and many of the people had no idea all of the things folks have to go through just to get services.”
The not-so-uncommon struggle
First, I want to say words could never express how truly grateful I am for this opportunity. I didn’t have the easiest childhood. I’ve been on my own since I was 14, trying to survive through people and poverty-stricken situations and unsafe “homes.” I found myself in many unsafe predicaments with no one to help me out of them! I became a mother at 19 and knew I had to do whatever I could to prevent these struggles from ever touching my children. Six months ago, when I first met Mona and signed up for Bridges, I was in such a desperate, stuck, and unstable situation. I was unsuccessfully searching for housing assistance because I was homeless, jobless, and supportless. I was newly separated from my kids’ father because life’s struggles had turned our love very sour. I took my three babies and stayed where I could when I could. Eventually, I found myself scrounging and scraping up $60 a night to get motel rooms, and when I couldn’t, we slept in a tent in campgrounds. We spent the summer trying to get food stamps and government assistance. Outside of this incredible struggle, I was going through mental battles, some of the toughest of my life. My babies had lost everything but each other.
Mona put plans in action, made all the phone calls, checked on me regularly, and stayed on my butt about getting things done. Just knowing someone was not only rooting for me but actively trying to help me made my view on our struggle do a complete 180. I was so nervous on Day 1 in this room full of beautiful strangers but very quickly grew to love each and every one of my Bridges family members. We share, cry, confide, and laugh! We learned so much about systemic poverty and the cycle the tyranny of the moment puts us in! At one point we were making mental models of what a wealthy person’s lifestyle is like. I was so angry reading it, but Mona explained to me why it’s so important to understand the cycle of someone from wealth. It made me really think! She was right, of course. If I want the wealthy to empathize and understand, I must do the same and learn to set my poor man’s pride aside.
Now, after six months of learning and having support I’d never experienced before, I’ve pulled myself together mentally and have made leaps in my life! I mended my relationship with my kids’ father, and we got married after 10 years! We are happier and healthier than we have ever been. I was even able to get a good-paying job and a new home of my own, which Mona filled up for us, and she even helped the IRS recognize me as a legal citizen! Now that Bridges has taught me about resources, community connections, and given me these new supportive relationships, I have a better understanding of how to ensure my children’s success, and that’s the real dream! I know it’s only going to get better from here, and without Bridges, this would not be my reality. So, thank you for changing my life forever! <3