Proud woman after graduating from the Bridges programThe following is a speech by Jade Dillard, a member of Class 12 (2022) of Burlington (Iowa) Building Bridges.

Good evening everyone,

I am honored to stand up here today speaking to all of you beautiful people on behalf of Burlington Building Bridges, class 12. My name is Jade Dillard and I’m excited to share a little bit of my story and how Bridges helped me in my life.

To give you a little history about me, my life could easily be compared to goulash, there’s a little bit of everything thrown in, so I’m just going to give you the main highlights or the pivotal moments in my life.

I grew up in West Burlington from age 5 to 18. To be honest, I didn’t care much for living here. I always felt too different from my surroundings. Growing up in a small, predominantly white school, and community, and town was hard for me because I was consistently reminded that I was different. I felt like everywhere I went I was the 5th wheel. In my early adolescent years, I wore that “Misfit Toys” attitude like it was some kind of badge of honor. I wore the black baggy clothes, the bright colors in my hair, and chose to hang with the wrong crowd…I mean why not, I was already out of place, so I might as well give them a real reason to talk about me. Maybe if I lived up to the stereotype I assumed they had about me, then maybe they would fear me instead of making fun of me.

So I began stealing from the students at my school. I stole thousands of dollars worth of money, clothes, makeup, sunglasses, whatever I could take that seemed to be valuable to a teenager, I took it. Didn’t do anything with any of it, but give it away to friends or whoever. The thrill for me wasn’t keeping the things I stole, but rather the silent revenge of getting back at anyone and everyone I could to mask the pain of not being seen. After a few months, I was caught by the police and given probation from age 14 to 18. I had to complete 230 hours of community service and my name and charges were in The Hawkeye. Seeing my name printed in black and white was a huge pivotal moment for me. Right there, even at age 14, I knew I had a choice. I could either prove them right about me and continue on this path of destruction, or I could prove them wrong, and show everyone that I was never meant to be a statistic.

From then on, I worked my ass off. There was no such thing as “can’t” in my vocabulary. Something inside my subconscious mind switched on. All of a sudden, I was being driven by the mere concept that I could prove people wrong about me…of course that was all under the assumption that they were thinking I should be anything in the first place.

By the next year, during a student award ceremony, I was awarded “Most Improved Student.” At the time, I found this to be embarrassing that they would publically hand me a piece of paper saying that I was better now than I was. All it did was remind me of what I did the year before. But honestly, I think it gave me an extra boost in morale. I started to realize that I didn’t have to be the smartest person, or the most talented, or the skinnest, or the fastest, or even the lightest person…all I had to do was out-work the people around me and not get into trouble, and that was the strength God gave me to pursue anything.

I graduated from high school when I was 17 and then immediately went to SCC. Same as high school, I worked my ass off. I became an ESL tutor for a few of the Puerto Rican students there, because I ended up taking 2 yrs of Spanish and loved it. After graduating at 19, I was fed up with school and needed a break. I told my family that I wanted to take 1 year off and move around a bit, then come back and finish my 4-year. Someone in my family warned me not to take any time off because I might make a huge life mistake, like get pregnant or meet some boy and decide not to go back to school. Well hott damn if they weren’t right on the money!

Before that year was up, I found myself pregnant with no interest from the father. I was living in a trailer with some random chicks I barely knew, scraping by on my 32-hr Walmart job, living in Savannah, GA. I truly had no clue what life was going to look like after this. I was immature, I didn’t know nothing about nothing, and now pregnant…no money…basic college education…no real job experience…

So here I am again, at another crossroads…”Jade, what are you going to do now…are you going to be a statistic?”

The answer is hell no! Now let’s skip to the positive highlights.

  • When my daughter was 8 months old, we moved to family housing in Macomb, IL, where I eventually graduated with honors in graphic design at Western Illinois University. (Mind you, my first day walking into my graphic design classes, I had never even touched a Mac computer before. Never touched any of the design programs, didn’t know any of the terminology, NOTHING. All I knew is, I could draw, I had a creative mind, and I had a good sense of layout.)
  • I graduated with a 3.9, took all the advanced design courses that were not required, worked two part-time jobs, and freelanced on the side, while taking care of my daughter and of course having my mother’s help with that.
  • For 3 1/2 yrs, I only got 2-3 hrs of sleep per night, I was focused and driven.
  • I worked my way up at design shops and in corporate settings to be an art director and creative director. In my field, this is one of the top positions you can have.

*Keep in mind, I was told by a few haters along the way, that I would never go back to college after getting pregnant so young, and that I would never make money doing art.

Challenge accepted. I refuse to be a statistic.

  • A few more positive highlights would be that my daughter is beautiful and happy and I have been a single mother for 12 years.
  • I run the marketing department for 8 cannabis companies in Colorado; I work from home.
  • I’ve moved 30x since I was 18, so I’m a bit of a modern-day nomad, but this has allowed my daughter and I to meet so many amazing people and to have really neat traveling experiences.

But don’t let the highlights fool you; there were many lowlights where struggle and growth had to take place.

  • I have struggled with depression most of my life
  • I have survived two rapes, once while pregnant, and once two yrs ago in Denver
  • I have gone through many financial struggles
  • Co-dependency and bad relationships were in there too
  • I have had to start from scratch multiple times
  • I have grown
  • I have been challenged
  • I have grown
  • And I then have been challenged some more
  • I have been able to conquer this life through no one else but Jesus Christ

My story is really a story about God’s grace, love, and mercy over me. It’s about how he never gave up, never let me go, never forsaked me. On my own, I am a weak-minded, weak-willed, complacent person. It is only by his strength that I have been able to take on the risks and challenges of life.

When I first came to Bridges, I had just moved back to Iowa from Georgia from Colorado, all within a span of four months. Relationship-wise, I was in a bad way. I had also just had a miscarriage, just moved back to the town I loathed as a child, had a couple of friends, but not many here, and honestly, I really just didn’t know where to go. It’s a long story about why I went from Colorado to Georgia to Iowa, but the point is, when Mona asked me to sign up for the Getting Ahead classes, I was not in the best head space. My life was jumbled. I had just made three moves in a short time, I wanted to be married and have another baby, but I was going about it all the wrong way. I didn’t have much of a community, and I was a bit of a recluse.

Bridges helped me come back to life. I am already a pretty positive person, but coming into Bridges, I was in a place where I was lost. Bridges helped me come out of my shell again. I used to be a very lively, outgoing, fun-filled person, but after the rape in Denver, I lost sight of that part of myself. Bridges has really taught me a lot, but some of my biggest takeaways were that I understand budgeting better now, I raised my credit score by 15 pts, still working on that, I have a better perspective on social classes and resources in Burlington, but for me personally, I feel like I found myself again. I feel like it’s okay to be me again.

My classmates provided a safe space where I could open up and be seen, and they allowed me to see them too. We will forever have this 18-week experience together, no matter how involved we are in each other’s lives. Oh, and the biggest new thing in my life, is that my future husband found me, and we are moving to Chicago with my daughter in the next few weeks!!!

Life is good, and God is good.


Unity in Diversity Motto


We accept the term “poverty” only as a noun, but never as a mindset. Class 12, the dirty dozen, the misfit toys, the originators of #themeatman; we came to this class as strangers and walked out as changed warriors. Hand in hand, we stand fighting the good fight together in this thing we call LIFE. We are not defined by the money in our wallets, our education, resources, social class, marital status, race, gender, our circumstances, or our past. We are however defined as mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, thinkers, solution-finders, game changers, and now, graduators! We have lived, we have laughed, and we have loved on one another. Knowing each other, whether it be for a season or a lifetime, we have impacted each other in such a beautiful way. Through Bridges, we are changed for the better. We are empowered with the knowledge and resources we need to make a change and continue to make changes. Never give up and no man left behind. We are Class 12, 2022.

Cheers to “Unity in Diversity”


Jade is a Getting Ahead graduate. The aha! Process Getting Ahead program offers participants a facilitated group setting that leads them, step by step, through a process of self-discovery. Participants not only learn how they go to where they are now, but they are empowered to see a path to the future life they want. Getting Ahead participants build relationships with peers and mentors who make the Getting Ahead journey together.