BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – In a symbolic gesture from economic groups in Fort Madison and Keokuk, the Bridges out of Poverty program got an infusion of seed money to kick off Lee County fundraising.
At the site of the Lee County Economic Development Group’s efforts to bridge the north and south parts of the county with a world record of most people planting flowers simultaneously with 1,463 on Oct. 18, 2016, LCEDG Chief Operating Officer Dennis Fraise announced two $5,000 funding donations to the Bridges program Wednesday from the Lee County Conservation Center.
Fraise, who’s also a member of the Bridges’ Steering Committee, said the donations, which will serve as seed money to get fundraising locally off the ground, came from Keokuk Economic Development Corp. and the Fort Madison Economic Development Corp.
The initiative started in December with a meeting of 70 to 80 people and launched the idea for Bridges in Lee County.
“It’s gonna take some money to fund the program,” Fraise told the group. “We thought this would be good place to kick off what we’re planning. If you remember, 18 months ago we came down here and planted a bunch of tulips and if you look out in the field they are starting to come up again. Bridges has become that event. Bridges is one of the first things we’ve done since then and we sent out emails that something was happening with Bridges here and look what happens – we get people involved from all over the county.”
Fraise said it will cost between $65,000 and $90,000 to get the program going and a $10,000 donation is a great start. We couldn’t be happier to see these two economic development groups step forward and say “We believe in this program and there is a need.”
Tim Gobble, executive director of Fort Madison Partners, the umbrella group overseeing FMEDC, was on hand for the joint check presentation.
“Obviously Bridges helps the workforce initiative and gets people qualified for quality jobs,” Gobble said. “Fort Madison Economic Development Corp. and Lee County Economic Development Group have been working towards that and this is a great addition to their support and will ultimately benefit not only Fort Madison, but Lee County as a whole.”
Gobble said the steering committee will be working on fundraising mechanisms that will include grants, different foundations and enterprises, and industries in and around Lee County.
“It’s going to be a collaborative effort all the way around.”
Mona Ash, Building Bridges Coordinator out of Burlington and the Des Moines County effort said Lee County is certainly getting off on the right foot.
“I’m so excited about this, first of all, seeing you all bring this together,” she said. “You might need your own Mona, but it takes a village to make all these things work. This is an excellent start. Both of these groups have started so powerfully, it’s really an avalanche. Burlington was the same way, it’s very exciting.”
Ash said the Burlington Bridges program started with seed money in the form of a grant from Great River Medical Center.
“I feel like this is coming together really well. You have such a diversity of people involved and you need that to make it a go.”
According to the LCEDG, the Bridges initiative seeks to provide education, build resources, and remove barriers to success for individuals and families living in generational poverty.
“Twenty-eight percent of children in Southeast Iowa live in poverty and Lee County’s unemployment rate has been the highest in the state for eight of the last twelve months,” Fraise said. “The need for an initiative such as Bridges is significant. It’s encouraging that both the Fort Madison and Keokuk economic development groups recognize the need and have chosen to support it.”
The committee is working with Young House Family Services, a 501(c)3 social services organization, whose program in Des Moines County has seen considerable success.
The steering committee is hosting the next community-wide Bridges out of Poverty training in Keokuk on April 9th from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the First Lutheran Church located at 1101 Blondeau Street. The training will look at the cyclical nature of poverty that can keep generations of a family in its grasp.
“Community members from all backgrounds will learn how to understand that framework and work within and around it to help our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Kira Kruszynski, another steering committee member. “That’s esentially, the heart of the Bridges initiative.”
Those interested in participating in the April 9th community training can RSVP to the Keokuk Area Chamber of Commerce at 319-524-5055.