Building bridgesCommunity learns how to build bridges out of poverty during Saturday training session
By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News
Each time Vern Reed asked a question, more and more students rose to their feet.
“Have you or someone you know not known where your next meal was coming from?” the West Burlington Corners coordinator asked the dozen students who accompanied him.
Five students stood up.
“Have you or someone you’ve known ever been abused, physically or verbally?”
Every student stood up.
When Reed asked if any of the students or anyone they knew had ever thought about committing suicide because they didn’t see a way out of their situation; again, every student stood up.
Reed and his students were conducting a standing survey as part of the Bridges out of Poverty training session held at the Mt. Pleasant First Presbyterian Church Saturday morning.
“It was eye opening,” said David Collins, of Farmington. “I am already vastly more educated than (I was) this morning.”
Collins said his “ah-ha” moment came during the standing survey with the students. “When he asked the teens, well that was a very heavy hitter.”
Collins and his wife, Elizabeth, had heard about the training through friends in Burlington.
The training came by request from Fellowship Cup Director Ken Brown, who had attended the workshop last month and felt it was something Henry County residents should attend.
“We are all on the frontlines of this problem,” Brown told the 60-some people in attendance. “The Fellowship Cup can’t do this on our own, we haven’t done anything on our own because we do it with and through our volunteers.”
The Collins’ were ready to step to the plate. “We look forward to hearing how to get past the barriers, to start a conversation and see this (initiative) grow,” said Collins.
By the end of the three-hour session, Brown said he felt the training was a success.
“I think a lot of minds were changed and a lot of eyes were opened,” he said. “If we can get 12 motivated, inspired people out of this, the effect will be great.”
This issue wasn’t just poverty, but generational poverty. One of the first things Reed said people must do is view poverty through three lenses – the individual, the institution and the community.
“I used to look at poverty through one lens, the individual lens,” he said. “As I looked at poverty through the individual lens, that often allowed me to unintentionally pass judgment on somebody else. It was easy for me to say why doesn’t that person just go get another job.”
Reed told a brief story of how when he was younger and decided to propose to his now wife, he took on another job in order to pay for her engagement ring. “If I’m a mom raising three or four kids, and I’m already working a job and I’ve got the cost of child care, food and paying for rent… then getting another job is not an option.”
However, Reed said, if we look at poverty through the three lenses we’re more likely to get a more accurate picture and then can begin finding a solution.
One of the components of Bridges is helping those in poverty build connections and resources. The initiative also has Getting Ahead, a night class that allows adults caught in poverty to learn about living a sustainable life.
“If kids know you care unconditionally, they will find you,” said Reed in his time as an at-risk coordinator. “As I progress through this learning and training with Bridges, I have also learned that when people are in need, if they understand that you can care and see people unconditionally you have a real shot at building a relationship. And once you have built that relationship things can change.”
He continued, “Bridges is an initiative that is not a “do for” program. This learning gives us in the educational setting and the community tools to work together.”
The final question Reed asked his students was if they wanted to learn to live a sustainable life. Again, each student stood, this time proudly.
For more information regarding Building Bridges: A Southeast Iowa Initiative, contact the Fellowship Cup at 319-385-3242. Or Mona Ash at 319-572-6533, or email Vern Reed at email@example.com.