Lots of great things have been happening in southeast Iowa, and I’d like to give an update on the progress of our Bridges Out of Poverty initiative. Our Getting Ahead groups have been a huge success, and the next-biggest boost has been the partnerships that are being formed between people, classes, and even races that simply were not happening before. Here are some highlights:

Our communitywide Bridges training in mid-February was a great success and built on the momentum from an award we received in January. My wife and I were invited to the annual Greater Burlington Partnership dinner, but they didn’t tell us we were being honored for our work in the community and schools.

Imagine our surprise when they announced the 2016 Community Impact Award winner and a video of our initiative came on the big screen! We were gratified to feel that the community and our community leaders think our Bridges work is important and legitimate.

Our local hospital, which employs more than 2,000 people, hosted a Bridges training with 90–100 attendees. I was then invited to their follow-up committee meeting. The big question: “What do we do with the learning?” The hospital will begin offering a Getting Ahead group for their lower-level employees, many of whom are coming from generational poverty.

The hospital is working with the school where I teach and eventually all schools in our area to develop a career pathway for teens who complete their certified nursing assistant training while in high school. The idea is to partner with local Southeastern Community College (SCC) to help with funds so a graduate can work for the hospital while training for advancement in the healthcare field. They then commit to work for the hospital for two years upon graduation, which helps the hospital stay well-staffed with qualified employees.

As a part of this process, these teens are also experiencing the Investigations into Economic Class in America curriculum in high school or at the community college. Our Investigations night class teens recently began the process of meeting with a staff team to identify hidden rules in our school and figure out how we become more intentional in teaching those rules to all.

We are working on partnering with area schools to offer a middle school camp this summer. We will take kids, along with staff hired by schools, to a day camp for three weeks. Using The R Rules curriculum and our learning from “Teaching with Poverty in Mind,” our focus will be on building and intentionally challenging thought processes. This would never have been possible without our Bridges initiative.

Currently a group called SURGE has partnered with Bridges to work on the housing situation here in southeast Iowa. The group purchases houses from the city to refurbish and sell at the lowest possible cost to those caught in poverty. Our Getting Ahead class and graduates were the missing piece in this equation.

A month ago West Burlington High School was invited to a meeting with SURGE and SCC. The focus of the meeting was looking at how SURGE, Bridges, SCC, and West Burlington High School could partner in a building trades program. The program will train students to refurbish the houses, thereby saving money and allowing the students to give back to the community at the same time.

In February we trained local law enforcement in the Bridges constructs, and this month the West Burlington school district began a Getting Ahead group for parents. Our Staying Ahead team, led by Getting Ahead graduates, is looking at the transportation hurdle in southeast Iowa. The goal is to start a ride-sharing system in which churches and other organizations with vans serve as on-call transportation for those who need the service. Our Bridges office would serve as the “dispatch center,” and we would staff that with Bridges volunteers.

Vern Reed is a teacher of at-risk youth at The Corners at West Burlington Jr./Sr. High School. He would like to thank everyone involved in the southeast Iowa Bridges initiative for their inspiration and willingness to share knowledge in the Bridges journey.