Bridges Out of Poverty helps locals get ahead in society

Derek Maiolo

Moffat County United Way’s Bridges Out of Poverty program saw record attendance at its third annual community workshop in April. The next course begins Aug. 31.

The event brought in 60 business leaders, local politicians and other various community members. Aspen Matthew’s, the program’s director, credits the turnout to a rise in the local effort to end the poverty crisis.

“There is a lot more community engagement this year,” Matthews said.

Ruby Payne, the creator of Bridges Out of Poverty, spoke at this year’s event. The workshop educated participants on strategies to get those in financial need at or above the self-sufficiency standard, the income a family must receive in order to meet its basic needs.

Matthews reported that since the event, 85 percent of its participants have been able to use the strategies they learned. Building relationships with those in need was one of the most important strategies taught at the workshop, Matthews said.

“People need to understand what someone is going through,” she said. “A relationship like that can get someone out of poverty.”

Poverty has been a growing issue in Moffat County. According to Matthews, more than one in 10 Moffat County residents currently live in poverty and even more are living below the self-sufficiency standard.

However, many approaches to reducing poverty do not adequately address all of its major causes. Matthews pointed to the state’s minimum wage as well as certain societal policies when explaining how poverty does not have a singular cause.

“These people aren’t there just because of their choices,” she said.

Matthews hopes that the workshop continues to address the community level of the issue. Bridges Out of Poverty’s Getting Ahead program confronts the individual level by helping those in poverty evaluate their situation and learn how to build economic stability in their lives.

The program includes a nine-week course with two sessions each week. Each class enrolls four individuals or families who are at or below the poverty line. Since its first course in the spring of 2014, the Getting Ahead program has graduated 42 local individuals.

Matthews said the people she works with have the ability to become financially stable. She’s confident in those who have graduated from the program.

“These people are problem solvers,” she said.

Matthews could not overstate the value of reducing the poverty level. Because of the Getting Ahead program, individuals have closed cases with social services, received full-time employment and reduced or eliminated their need for public assistance.

These benefits have long-term effects, Matthews said. Children receive better education, which leads to higher-paying jobs.

“If you can help someone, it truly creates change for generations,” she said.

Many organizations already support the program. United Way, the Daniel’s Fund, the Anschutz Family Foundation, Yampa Valley Community Foundation, Human Rights Commission and Youth United Way are among its donors. The Financial Health Institution in Boulder donated Matthew’s certification for the Getting Ahead program.

The next Getting Ahead course begins Aug. 31. Sessions will be held each Monday and Thursday with free childcare and a meal provided. A referral is required in order to enroll. For more information, contact Aspen Matthews at 970-326-6222.

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