By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News
After recovering in the hospital for three months from injuries sustained in a hit and run last year in Ottumwa, Tara Klein found herself technically homeless.
While her two children stayed with their father, Klein lost the room she was renting and ended up crashing with a new friend as she tried to get back on her feet.
Landing a job at Innovairre, she wasn?t able to stand on her feet for the 12-hour shifts and had to cut her losses and apply for work elsewhere. That?s when she stumbled across the Building Bridges Foundation class hosted by the Fellowship Cup this past fall.
?I always take a free learning opportunity,? Klein said. ?Poverty was something I was raised in and lived in my whole life ... I came out of the class more positive, ready to look forward to the future instead of dreading what could happen.?
Klein is one of eight students to participate in the first Building Bridges Foundation class at the Fellowship Cup. The 18-week program is a study of poverty conditions and the community people live in.
By investigating situations of poverty, the idea is to try to come up with initiatives and actions that can take a person from a point where they are just getting by to a point where they are getting ahead in all areas.
?We call them investigators because they did a lot of research and study,? the Fellowship Cup director Ken Brown said during the Building Bridges graduation ceremony on Monday, April 9. ?My journey with investigators changed my perspective to empower people to rise above the need for our services.?
Many students shared that because their income level was just above the poverty line and unable to get any government assistance, that staying on top of house payments, meeting rent or even purchasing groceries was difficult to fit in the budget.
For Cynthia Hallett, something had to give to make ends meet. ?My situation is usually food,? she said.
But on the night of her graduation from Building Bridges, she could proudly say that in 2018, she is right on track financially. Each Building Bridges student set three main objectives they will continue to be held accountable for in the Building Bridges Staying Ahead class that will meet monthly. Hallett?s goals are to have her house paid off in three years; her youngest to be graduated from high school; and she herself will have her Ph.D.
?When you?re a single parent trying to raise a teenager, it gets hard,? Hallett said. ?I have a job, education, but unfortunately my ex didn?t leave me in a good situation.?
In the video that played during the graduation ceremony, Hallett shared that after putting her husband through nursing school, ?basically the day he got his degree and job, he walked out, leaving me with the bills.?
Participating in Building Bridges gave Hallett an instant support group. Eating together every Monday night and learning about poverty together helped her see she was not alone.
The class looks at poverty through the lens of the community they live in and the institutions around them. Brown said that this helped him further see that the individual is not responsible for their situation. With 100 percent of the class spending over half of their income on rent, it?s a much bigger problem.
?I was financially, after my house fire, stuck in life,? Nichole Gonzalez said. ?I needed some insight into how to get out of the rut I was in.?
Now a graduate from Building Bridges and goals in hand, Gonzalez feels ready to keep succeeding ? along with Brittany Fetterman, Yesenia Trevino, Jontue Stagers, Amanda Mclain and Reita Frazier.
?I was referred (to the class) by my DHS worker,? Mclain said. ?I?m a recovering addict. She thought it would give me some skills. I never imagined it would help me stay clean.?
Now, Mclain has a goal of growing in her mental health, reactivating her nursing license and building a relationship with the community. Mclain said that there was no reason before why she shouldn?t be ?sitting well? financially. It was where she spent her money that was the problem.
Mclain said there was no reason why she shouldn?t have had the funds to renew her nursing license. ?That should be my number one priority,? she said. ?That?s what I love to do ? constant learning, and it?s financially beneficial.?
Fetterman?s goals include going back to school and bettering herself as a person and through that helping better her family. While she couldn?t name specifics of her goal, she said she had it all neatly written down.
?I didn?t know how personal it was going to get,? Fetterman said about the class. ?Nobody judged anyone. Everyone?s different. We all have different stories. It eased my anxiety.?
Another big part of her goals is getting more involved in the community. ?I already have plans to go to city council meetings, to be a voice for other people and get the word out (about poverty),? she said.
Since this was the first Building Bridges class offered in Henry County, Brown wanted to ensure its success, with most students? referrals from other agencies. Brown believes that the true reason for its success, however is that from that first session, the students opened up.
?That?s why we made so much progress,? Brown said. ?I see big things for all of them.?
Anyone interested in the Building Bridges Foundation class can contact the Fellowship Cup at 319-385-8242 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.