Steamboat Springs Routt County officials hope a new program launched Thursday will give local families the resources they need to escape poverty.
About 45 community leaders attended a daylong class at Olympian Hall that was aimed at educating and understanding the challenges and barriers associated with poverty and low-income families.
“It’s raising awareness ... of the culture of poverty,” Routt County Department of Human Services Director Vickie Clark said.
The audience was a cross section of the community and included bankers, large employers, elected officials, a judge and local law enforcement leaders. The course was taught by Jim Ott, a trainer for A Framework for Understanding Poverty and Bridges Out of Poverty.
The class was Phase 1 of the new Routt County Bridges Initiative, a program aimed at helping low-income families in Routt County become permanently self-sufficient “with the goal of changing lives,” said David Freseman, director of LIFT-UP of Routt County.
Routt County United Way, LIFT-UP and the Department of Human Services have been trying to secure funding and launch the program for a couple of years, Clark said.
While Phase 1 was meant to educate local leaders, Phase 2 in the spring will focus specifically on those families who need help. A 20-session, 10-week class will be offered to about a dozen people who want to gain economic stability. There likely will be an application and interview process for those interested in the class titled “Gettin’ Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World.”
“There is a real expectation of a real commitment,” Freseman said.
The class aims to help the participants develop a personalized plan to improve their lives and would engage many of the community leaders who attended Thursday’s class.
Clark said Routt County does a good job of helping people in crisis or emergency situations but more can be done.
“We could probably all do a little better job of giving these low-income families the skills they need,” Clark said.
Phase 3 of the program would focus on helping the families execute their plans for escaping poverty by utilizing partners, coaches and other resources available in the community.
The program goes beyond the poverty level, which the U.S. Census Bureau reported 6.4 percent of Routt County residents were below in 2009. The lower middle class also is struggling locally, Clark said.
“There are over 30 percent of the population that’s not making enough to make ends meet,” she said.
Clark said the Routt County Bridges Initiative is modeled after a program that has proven to be successful nationwide and is being funded in part through local grant money.
“Small and local is the way to do it,” Clark said.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com