Moffat County United Way program helps participants gain financial stability, independence | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County United Way program helps participants gain financial stability, independence

Samantha Johnston/For Craig Press
Donations raised in Moffat County by Moffat County United Way stay in Moffat County.
Moffat County United Way/Courtesy

Achieving daily financial stability can be hard for even the highest income earners who don’t have good tools and skills to manage money and other life priorities with the future in mind.

Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World

Applicants must live in Moffat County

Must be 18 years or older

Must be able to read and speak English at a conversational level

As a general guideline, an individual/family will be at 125% or below the Federal Poverty Level (there may be exceptions to this).

For more details about the selection and referral process and course information, visit: http://www.unitedwaymoffat.org/community-impact-program

The Community Impact Program, an arm of the Moffat County United Way, is helping to alleviate poverty in Moffat County by working with families, individuals and government agencies to develop positive and long-term solutions for low-income residents.

“Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’-by-World” is a nine-week course that meets twice per week. Students are referred from participating agencies based on each individual’s or family’s desire and readiness for change. The program is designed to eliminate some potential barriers for attendees. Participants receive a $20 gift card for each class as a compensation for their time, dinner is provided at no cost, and free child care is provided.

The goal of the program is to help families be involved in planning and developing their strategies for building a better and sustainable future. It is funded by grants from the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, Daniels Fund, Anschutz Family Foundation, Moffat County Human Resource Council, Moffat County ISST, Union Pacific Railroad, El Pomar, Consumers United Association and Moffat County United Way.

More than 130 individuals have graduated from the course since it was launched in 2013, many of whom have remained in Moffat County and are more engaged members of the community.

“I was in a place where I was in between poverty and being able to actually make it on my own without assistances,” said Kia Counts, a graduate of the program. “I went from having a safety net of government assistance to having to make it on my own. I didn’t doubt I could do it, I just didn’t know how to do it.”

A cornerstone of the Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-By World curriculum is to provide an agenda-free learning environment where participants can reflect upon their lives and make begin to make concrete plans for long-term economic stability.

“The hardest part of this class was the self reflection,” Counts said. “I was able to gain the tools I need for the next chapter of my life to be successful and not self sabotage and fall into old patterns and habits.”

Counts also did deep personal work to understand the meaning of “poverty,” which isn’t just about being financially poor; it’s also about not having the resources needed to navigate everyday life. Those resources include emotional and mental support, strong role models and good physical health among others.

“You really have to be willing to take what is presented and apply it to your own life. I have a hard time with change and a hard time looking at my own faults and shortcomings,” Counts said. “My biggest struggle in this program was really digging deep and finding the root of things and then making changes in my daily life.”

Since the program, Counts has a lot to be proud of. She moved out of Columbine Apartments and into her own home. She had to buy a new car and is able to manage a car payment in the mix of all of her other bills. But she is most proud of the example she is setting for her children.

“My biggest fear was that they were going to look at government assistance as something that was normal,” Counts said. “As a minority and a teen parent, I felt that the odds were stacked against me and my kids. With what I have accomplished, they can see that they don’t have to settle; they can strive for their own dreams and have the future they want.”

Counts is just one of the success stories.

“For the graduates who stay in the area, many are now off of any type of assistance,” said Genevieve Yazzie, Community Impact Coordinator. “Others have stabilized employment, gone back to school, some have finished their GED. For those who have left the program, they are taking those skill sets with them and sharing them with other communities.”

For Yazzie, one of the biggest benefits of the program is the local impact.

“Socially, it strengthens the community. When a graduate leaves Getting Ahead, they feel more ready to be involved and engaged in their community,” Yazzie said. “It really allows them to feel like they can participate as full members. They have new self-worth.”

And the economic benefits are also undeniable. When graduates have daily stability with reliable employment, they contribute back to the local economy through home ownership and spending that supports the tax base.

The course sets the foundation for the lifelong change, but the results come from how hard the graduates work toward their own success.

“This won’t be a fix-all or cure-all, but it will give you the tools to do better for yourself,” Counts said. “When you need help, you have the tools manage your money; you know what community resources are available and you stop living in the cycle of panic. The more panicked you are, the more you do nothing and the more you do nothing, the worse things get.”

For Counts, personal change took a lot of soul searching and changing of previously held notions. She acknowledged that while change might not happen right away, or even in the next couple of months, it will happen.

“It’s not a magic light switch that you flip and everything changes,” she said. “But I 100% know that it will help you change your circumstances.”