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

As I reflect back on 2023 and all the amazing, hard, heartbreaking things we have been through together, I am in awe of the miracles I have had the privilege to witness by being a part of this Bridges thing. This picture with just a handful of our kiddos brings me to tears, grateful tears. The realization that I get to sit in a front-row seat in the lives of so many wonderful families and be a part of their future stories is amazing to me. Watching them transform their lives and helping them create a future story that, before Bridges, they never thought or believed could become a reality, is a soul-filling experience.

I am asked frequently about statistics and numbers, proof that this initiative is working, which is a must in any nonprofit. We want to prove that we are having impact, and numbers do that. Now, however, I want to reflect on the stories, the personal side of what we do, the personal details of some of the lives we have impacted this year.

Below are just a few of these stories.

A single mom who started out with us had no real hope for a future career. She was just working to survive and put food on the table. While before she was in fear of becoming homeless, she has now begun the career path of working with kids, she has found a job as a para-educator, she has found new and safer housing, and she has started her path of healing her childhood trauma and domestic abuse. She is a Getting Ahead graduate, and she is working toward her goal of starting school and earning a teaching degree. She has grown spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially, and she has gained valuable supportive relationships. All of this happened in a year’s time, which is a miracle.

A couple that struggled financially and had disabilities and did not have jobs have, since coming to us, landed jobs they love. They work when they are able due to disability. These folks have gained confidence and supportive relationships, they lead and serve in our meetings, and they have learned valuable financial and social tools that will help them continue in their path to sustainability. They have grown spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally, and they have built much-needed relationships.

A single mom raising two teens suffers from a debilitating illness, she could not get a driver’s license for multiple valid reasons, and she struggled to keep a job due to illness and transportation barriers. Her teens struggled in school, they experienced trauma from losing a parent, and they all felt alone and isolated. This year, they have grown in so many ways. Mom has found a job she can thrive in with her abilities, and we helped her work to get her driver’s license back. Her teens are back in school working toward their goals, they are all working on trauma, and they all have supportive relationships. All of this was in less than a years’ time.

All of these beautiful families and their children’s lives are going to be different now, and their future stories will now be forever impacted. I am forever grateful for the support that enabled all of these miracles to happen, your support. Thank you, community, for all you do to come alongside our neighbors. We could not do this if it wasn’t for you!

I’m looking forward to what we do together in 2024!

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.