by Lisa Stoddard

Let me tell you about Heidi. Heidi grew up in poverty in a family struggling with alcohol and drug problems. She dropped out of school in the ninth grade and was a married mother of two by the age of 17. That marriage ended, and Heidi found it very difficult to support her family as a single parent. She struggled with her personal finances, using payday loans, pawn shops and bad checks to survive. The challenges of being a single parent also led to some unfortunate choices in partners who proved to be abusive and destructive to her well-being.

Heidi has always been a hard worker. She has almost always worked two jobs at a time and still was not able to make ends meet. Recognizing that her lack of education was holding her back, Heidi got her GED and enrolled at Lewis-Clark State College in 2007. Caught in the daily struggle to take care of her family, work, and go to school, Heidi was ready to drop out and give up when she got involved in the Circles community in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley of North Central Idaho in November 2009.

Circles is a co-investigative approach that partners volunteers and community leaders with families who want to make the transition out of poverty. Circles communities work on reducing poverty by using Bridges Out of Poverty concepts and Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World classes to help participants investigate the impact of poverty on their lives.

Heidi graduated from the Getting Ahead class in March 2010. The class introduced Heidi to the idea that poverty had her trapped in the tyranny of the moment, responding to crisis after crisis, leaving little time or energy to plan for the future and build resources to climb out of poverty. Heidi learned about the hidden rules of economic class and the skills and resources necessary to navigate the systems and institutions that make up our community. She learned to assess the resources she currently had, make a plan to grow her personal resources, and build a pathway out of poverty.

Following graduation from Getting Ahead, Heidi was matched up with community allies who were trained in Bridges Out of Poverty constructs (essentially the same information that Heidi learned in Getting Ahead but aimed at increasing the knowledge and understanding about the issues of poverty in people from middle class and wealth). Heidi and her allies became part of the LC Valley Circles initiative where people from all sectors of our community are working together to support people who are climbing out of poverty and to solve the systemic problems that contribute to poverty in our community.

In the past 12 months, Heidi has stabilized her financial situation, paid off debt, expanded her network of friends and supporters, and will graduate from college this spring. Her success has come from membership in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley Circles initiative where people of all economic classes, with a shared understanding of the issues of poverty developed through participation in Bridges and Getting Ahead training, are working together to provide the opportunity for every community member to prosper. As a valuable and valued part of this community, Heidi has co-facilitated the last three Getting Ahead sessions and was recently recognized in the state of Idaho as the Community Action Promise Award winner. The Community Action Promise Award is given annually to a person who has climbed out of poverty as “recognition of your outstanding achievement in changing your life, improving your community, and for helping others help themselves and each other.” Heidi exemplifies what happens when people from all sectors of our community work together to end poverty.

Lisa Stoddard has worked in Community Action for the past 18 years, serving as the executive director of a community-based, non-profit community action agency for the last eight of those years.  She has a degree in English with a secondary education emphasis from the University of Montana, is a Certified Community Action Professional (CCAP) and a Bridges Out of Poverty certified trainer.