How to engage employers in a Bridges Initiative

September 2, 2009 Published by

This is a story about the business sector buying into Bridges and employing Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-by World graduates.

On June 9, 2009, 90 people attended a meeting at Goodwill Industries in South Bend, Indiana, to hear about the Future Story Project; 20 businesses were represented. The event was organized by the St. Joseph County Bridges Out of Poverty (SJC Bridges) initiative, www.sjcbridges.org, which is headed by Bonnie Bazata.

Here’s the lineup of speakers, all of whom are backing the initiative (pay special attention to their party affiliations and occupations!): Stephen Luecke (D), mayor of South Bend; Jeffrey Rea (R), mayor of Mishawaka; Andy Kostielney (R), St. Joseph County commissioner; Gregory Downes, board chairman of the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce; and Jacqueline Barton, CEO and president of Specialized Staffing Solutions. We’ve been saying that Bridges brings people together across class, race, and political lines. Here’s an example of that! We are heartened to see that helping people get out of poverty is appealing to everyone.

Go to www.sjcbridges.org to see how the Future Story Project works. In this picture Nancy King, a charter member of the Bridges Initiative and vice president and trust officer of the Indiana Trust, is explaining a slide that shows 11 sites in St. Joseph County that are providing Getting Ahead (GA). More than 200 people have graduated from GA in St. Joseph County, and many need jobs.

At lunch we talked shop and got to know each other. Pictured here is Alkeyna Aldridge, a sociology major at Notre Dame and one of three interns staffing the new SJC Bridges office.
After lunch we visited St. Margaret’s House, which adjoins the SJC Bridges office, and I got to meet a number of GA grads. We signed each other’s GA workbooks and celebrated a new co-facilitator. St. Margaret’s House has graduated six GA groups so far, and some of their GA Facilitators helped create a GA training CD, available at the aha process store.

Our next stop was at the YWCA, another GA site, where its Bridges/GA model earned both the Women’s Financial Empowerment Model and the Hallmark Award of the National YWCA. GA results from the YWCA initiative can be found at www.gettingaheadnetwork.com. The SJC Bridges Steering Committee met to review the results of the morning session, but not before we were treated to a dance by Bonnie Bazata and Rev. Michael Cobbler. (Sorry, but we don’t have pictures of that!)

SJC Bridges just hired its first employment specialist, Jonathan Krause. Next step: Get as many people out to the August 28 Day One workshop as we can, particularly employers.

After leaving the June 9 event, Kirby Falkenberg, CEO of the YMCA of Michiana, asked what it would take to make St. Joseph County a Bridges Community—what would be the “tipping point” that would change the culture of St. Joseph County and get enough people focused on the goal of eliminating poverty. He answered his own question with, “Maybe 750 leaders of commerce, 250 human service workers, and 2,000 generationally poor people to go through the Bridges training.” Sounds like a good goal!

The next time I saw Bonnie Bazata and the SJC Bridges interns, we were in Indianapolis, where Bridges and Circles sites from Indiana formed the Bridges/Circles Alliance of Indiana … but more about that in another blog!

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This post was written by Philip DeVol

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