BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – It’s been more than a year in the works, but Lee County’s efforts toward creating a Bridges out of Poverty program has reached another threshold.
According to Dennis Fraise, the COO and Chief Economic Developer with Lee County Economic Development Group, said the program has received seed money to hire a part-time day-to-day coordinator.
The LCEDG group in conjunction with other volunteers and Keokuk and Fort Madison economic development organizations, have been spearheading efforts to get the program rolled out in the county.
The effort started after Fraise attended several sessions of Burlington’s “A Southeast Iowa Initiative – Building Bridges,” including a graduation session.
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The program aims at identifying the members of the county living in poverty and trying to knock down some barriers that make that poverty cross generations in families. After the identification, then the program aims at classes that help open lines of communication.
That was in 2017, and for a better part of 2018 the groundwork on getting the program up and running in Lee County has been taking place.
“We think in the next 30 days we’ll have a coordinator hired. We’ve had this pent up energy and everyone wanted to help, but once we get the coordinator hired, they will run the day-to-day operations and we’ll take that off our plate,” Fraise said. “We also have a great group of volunteers in a consortium in Lee County that will oversee the program here.”
He said the Lee County Bridges program will partner with Young House to help with the financial aspect of the program. Young House Family Services, is also partners with the Burlington Bridges program and serves as the non-profit arm for those efforts.
Fraise said about $50,000 has been raised in seed donations for the Lee County Bridges program, with Keokuk Economic Development Corp., Fort Madison Economic Development Corp., LCEDG, and the Benevolent Union of Keokuk have been the major donors to date.
He said other donations have come from Pilot Grove Savings Bank, Potowonok Circle of Kings Daughters, United Resources Council of Keokuk, and Climax Molybdenum.
The group does not yet have sustainable funding sources for the future, so Fraise said fundraising will continue to be part of the logistics of the organization going forward.
“Once people see the program and the impact it can have, I think they’ll be more willing to help fund it,” Fraise said.
Once the coordinator is hired, Fraise said the next step will be to identify people for a “Getting Ahead Class” that will be held in Fort Madison and Keokuk.
“That will require child care, transportation, and meals. So there are a lot of layers to this and it really will take a village in this case to make that happen,” he said.
After that would be a “Staying Ahead” class where people from the “Getting Ahead” class will be connected with mentors and Fraise said that program in Des Moines County was rolled out to high schools as well.
Fraise said he hoped that first classes could start in the spring.