Alicia Wille, right, a participant in the “Gettin’ Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World” class put on by Routt County social service agencies, visits with Routt County Extension Office Director Karen Massey on Monday at Holy Name Catholic Church.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Alicia Wille, right, a participant in the “Gettin’ Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World” class put on by Routt County social service agencies, visits with Routt County Extension Office Director Karen Massey on Monday at Holy Name Catholic Church.

Routt County families receive tools to help escape poverty

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— Thanks to a 10-week class offered by three of Routt County’s social service organizations, Isabel Dieckhoff says she knows what she needs to do to better her life and escape poverty.

Dieckhoff, who never finished high school, knows she first needs to go back to school so she can get a better-paying job.

“I want to be an architect,” said Dieckhoff, who is married with three children. “I would love to build homes. It’s what I wanted to do my whole life.”

Her ultimate goal also is clear.

“I want to have a house because everyone is in one bedroom right now,” Dieckhoff said about her children.

On Wednesday, Dieckhoff and 11 others became the first graduating class of the Routt County Bridges Initiative, a free program aimed at helping low-income families in Routt County become permanently self-sufficient. Routt County United Way, LIFT-UP of Routt County and the Department of Human Services provided about $19,000 in funding, and the first class cost about $10,000, United Way Executive Director Kelly Stanford said.

Last fall, about 45 community members received training for the program aimed at educating and understanding the challenges and barriers associated with poverty and low-income families.

Stanford said the initiative was in response to the recently adopted Routt County Health and Human Services Plan that identified economic self-sufficiency as the highest-priority need in our county.

“It was clear through the plan development that many human service problems faced by residents in our community are driven by the lack of economic self-sufficiency,” Stanford wrote in an email. “Our organizations felt compelled to move beyond our traditional roles of providing emergency relief to families in crisis and take on the challenge of trying to help move people to a state of self-sufficiency.”

About 20 people expressed an interest in the class, and after an interview process, the first participants were chosen for the 20-session class titled “Gettin’ Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World,” which began in the spring.

“Almost everyone grew up in poverty,” said Kathy Sullivan, who facilitated the class with Stephanie Martin. “A majority have been in generational poverty and want to get out.”

The group met two evenings per week, and class members worked to figure out their debt-to-income ratios and develop personal plans. Sullivan said class members evaluated the steps they needed to take to achieve their goals and learned who the people were who were going to help them along the way.

“This group seemed to really bond and trust each other right away,” Sullivan said.

The community members trained in the fall were involved heavily throughout the course, and some were there Monday to visit individually with the students about jobs, training, education, insurance and healthy eating.

“The idea is that the community knows about it and these people in the class,” Sullivan said. “They’re going to be ready to help them and support them with their personal plans.”

Martin considered the first course a success.

“They now have the tools to make the changes that they always knew they needed to make,” she said.

The class facilitators identified participant Alicia Wille as one of the leaders in the class, and she will help teach the next round of students.

The next class is scheduled for the fall, and participants are recruited by the participating social service organizations.

“It really helps you get on track toward setting goals,” Wille said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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