Steamboat Springs Routt County Commissioner Steve Ivancie posed a question he already knew the answer to because he had experienced it firsthand.
“Poverty in Routt County, what does that mean?” Ivancie asked no one in particular.
It means working two, sometimes three jobs, he said without hesitation. And those jobs are often in low-paying trades that aren’t exactly career-based.
Bridging the poverty gap
In an area where living expenses are above average and wealth isn’t uncommon, tough economic times can hide in the county’s crevices. The Routt County Bridges Initiative aims to educate those in and out of poverty about the resources available for those still experiencing hardship.
When Ivancie first moved to Routt County in 1980, things were great economically. Work was abundant, and tourism was peaking.
Then things tanked, he said. Slowly, the economy picked up, but at a crawl, sort of a roller-coaster cycle that Ivancie said culminated in a 20-year economic peak across the county through the 1990s and early 2000s.
For the first few years during which Ivancie lived here, he held various odd jobs. Delivering pizzas, working at the police station and serving as a ski patroller paid the few bills Ivancie actually had to worry about.
Then Ivancie worked his way into public positions, serving as co-chair of First Impressions of Routt County as well as a member of the Steamboat Springs City Council.
It’s a career he always had wanted, to be “aware of what is happening in your community,” he said. And it’s a community he loves dearly.
So when Ivancie recently was laid off during the height of the “Great Recession,” as he called it, things like the Bridges Out of Poverty simulation suddenly became somewhat of a reality.
His wife still was working full time, but Ivancie’s workweek was slashed from 40 hours to about 10. He refers to that time simply as “survival mode,” when he was constantly on the hunt to make ends meet.
When Ivancie heard about the Bridges Out of Poverty simulation, he knew he had to find out more. As a community leader, Ivancie thinks being actively involved with all walks of life is critical, especially for someone who has walked in those shoes, even if only for a brief period.
“The No. 1 reason I got into public service is to lead by example,” Ivancie said. “I felt it was important for me to be part of this process and go to the (Routt County) Bridges Initiative to basically educate myself and see what others were thinking.”
The poverty simulation reminded Ivancie of a few things. His sudden turn of fate in 2009 may have stalled his working life, but it didn’t kill his morale.
It brought him back to his roots.
Ivancie briefly returned to ski patrolling and renewed his safety and first aid certifications through the same teacher he learned from decades earlier.
Slowly, Ivancie’s hours returned to normal, and participation in events such as the Bridges Out of Poverty workshop gave him an inside look at how Routt County residents respond when things are at their worst, even if it was just a simulation.
“Think about getting involved, and think about being a part of the system,” Ivancie said. “Serve on a commission or committee or board and give back to your community. In this community of ours, in Steamboat Springs and Routt County, you see a lot of it (volunteer service). I’m very impressed.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll
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