The following is from Mona Ash, program director of Burlington Building Bridges in Burlington, Iowa.

Breanna Erickson is a graduate of Class 13 of the Burlington Building Bridges initiative. She shared how Bridges has impacted her life at the graduation ceremony.

Breanna’s speech shared that, through Bridges, she gained hope and now can dream and plan for her future. This has been one of the biggest takeaways from every single class that has graduated since the beginning of our Bridges program.

Below is the complete text of Breanna’s speech (it has been lightly edited):

If you had told me seven years ago that the lady I barely paid attention to in Building Bridges in high school would have been my savior, I honestly probably would’ve been shocked. For my entire life, I felt alone, unloved, unheard, and unmotivated. I had dreams and ambitions but never the confidence to believe in myself to pursue them. Today I stand here with plans for the future and, biggest of all, hope. Hope came through these women who I have spent every Tuesday night with and who have taught me that I am worthy to be happy, that I can fight for myself, that I am smart enough and strong enough to do challenging things and everything I’ve ever wanted. I would not be in the mindset I have without all these beautiful people who took the time to listen to me and understand everything it took for me to be here. I would love to say my life is perfect now, but it isn’t. It is better though. I now have the strength even when bad things happen. I know it’s a part of life, and I can keep moving forward and not let it break me. I have friends now that inspire me to live a new life. I am no longer a little girl who will fall and let the world happen to me. Instead, I am a woman happening to the world. This is all because, in the past several months, I have felt love and support, something I never felt I had before.

 I would like to say thank you to all the wonderful women I’ve met in this class and for what they have taught me, and I hope I’ve also taught them something. And most of all, I would like to say thank you for everything to the lady that heard my cries, picked me up, wiped my tears, and taught me to stand tall and with my head high. Thank you, Mona, for everything you offer to me and to everyone you come across. You are truly someone who has changed my life, and I will forever be grateful for the gifts of wisdom and the love you bring when you are around. And in seven years from now, I can only hope I can be that for someone else.

 So, to Class 13, or “the uplifters,” as we like to call ourselves, it was an honor, and I cannot wait to see the beautiful lives we make for ourselves as this journey continues.

Breanna Erickson is an amazing mom who is raising a beautiful little boy, Beau. She is a graduate of the Getting Ahead workshop and serves on the Bridges leadership team. She is pursuing her dream career path of working with struggling teens. She is gaining experience working as a special education aid for elementary age students. Her plans are to start taking coursework in the summer at the local community college.


The aha! Process Getting Ahead program engages investigators (participants) in exploring the realities of poverty in their communities and how those realities impact them. They also explore the causes of poverty, the “hidden rules” of economic class, and ways to develop resources and build stable lives. Getting Ahead graduates build relationships across class lines and often join the decision-making tables in their communities.