Nov 062011
 
Authors: Andrew Carrera

Colorado State University will partner with a local nonprofit organization, the Bohemian Foundation, to alleviate poverty as part of a greater community effort to tackle the issue in Larimer County.

The Bohemian Foundation, a community action and philanthropy group started by resident billionaire Pat Stryker, has been in talks with the university about how it can contribute to its latest project called “Bridges Out of Poverty.” The effort is one of two pilot initiatives the foundation rolled out in a Friday press conference.

The plans aim to improve economic sustainability and help under-resourced individuals and families permanently transition out of poverty.

“They are being implemented by a growing number of communities across the U.S. that believe as we do that these models have the potential to turn the tide on poverty,” said Sarah Hach, director of community programs at the Bohemian Foundation.

The efforts are not without reason. In the U.S., 46.2 million, or one in six Americans, are living at or below the poverty line. This rings especially true in Fort Collins, where the number of people who are poor has increased steadily over the years.

The Food Bank for Larimer County distributed 1.3 million pounds of food to approximately 70 nonprofit agencies in 2010, an 18.2 percent increase since 2006.

Bridges Out of Poverty is an initiative that sees poverty as a complicated issue that must be dealt with using various local elements within a community. Organizers say this will work with businesses, for example in offering training to employers and providing innovative business strategies to assist employees with personal and financial instability.

Community organizations that already have a stake in the community will also be involved in Bridges Out of Poverty. Area nonprofits, government agencies, faith-based organizations and community members will have the opportunity to undergo trainings that examine the barriers to
change for people in poverty and methods for creating sustainable communities.

At CSU, the initiative will offer training to administrators, teachers, faculty, counselors, academic advisors and students on certain constructs to improve learning and increase graduate rates among low-income students. The specifics of what it will look like on campus, however, are still in the works.

“For an entity as large as CSU, the region’s largest employer, we have a lot of employees that this program can impact as well,” said CSU President Tony Frank, who spoke at the event alongside other education officials including Andrew Dorsey, president of Front Range Community College. “It’s not just in the educational realm, but also through how we deal with our employees,” Frank added.

Bridges Out of Poverty (BOP) is also being implemented in various other municipalities nationwide. In Dubuque, Iowa, one local organizer has heard stories of individual lives changing in terms of stability of housing, finance and education because of the effort.

The initiative has also become a resource for other Dubuque community organizations that have questions about dealing with poverty.

“I have found BOP to be different in that it addresses poverty through a shift in mindset first before implementing yet another program. It provides a basis for understanding and a common language for dealing with poverty on a community wide basis,” said Jim Ott, a national consultant for Bridges Out of Poverty, who is also the one of the directors for the Dubuque Bridges Initiative.

“BOP is also different in its intentionality toward including people in poverty as equal participants in the process,” Ott said. “In the communities I have known most programs to address poverty are funded by the wealthy (through the government sometimes) and run by the middle class. But the people who actually need the service are given little voice.”

Oklahoma also reports seeing positive results because of Bridges Out of Poverty. The entire state has bought the materials necessary to carry out the initiative, according to Deborah Price, the project’s manager of the state’s office of faith-based and community initiatives, which runs the effort.

“Seasoned social service providers that take this training say, ‘Now I get it. I wish I would have had this training 20 years ago.’ We just hear that over and over and over,” she said. “It empowers individuals in poverty. It doesn’t just give them a hand out. It doesn’t just give them an entitlement. It empowers them to make good decisions and lasting change in their life.”

But Ott cautions that Bridges Out of Poverty is not appropriate for communities that don’t have the willingness to make it work.

“It takes a lot of work and energy,” he said. “Because it is not a canned program, applying the principles takes local knowledge and ingenuity as well as patience as others are exposed to the ideas. Other than that, I have found it to be a powerful framework.”

Senior Reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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