County Bridges facilitator gearing up for first classes


FORT MADISON – After close to two years of planning and fundraising, the Lee County Bridges Out of Poverty Initiative is close to holding it’s first class.

August 12 is set to be the first class of the “Getting Ahead” program for the Lee County effort. Des Moines County has a program up and running and the efforts spilled over into Lee County two years ago when the Lee County Economic Development Group ushered the program in.

Shayla Blackburn, who originally was a volunteer with Bridges and served as a Care Connections Coordinator for Young House Services out of Burlington has been hired to be the facilitator and coordinator in May for the Lee County Program.


Blackburn has been in the nursing field since 1989 and said she decided she wanted to do something different, and signed up as a volunteer with the Bridges program.

“Two years ago they had an ad in the newspaper for a community training session and I attended that and was on the email list. In March, Dennis Fraise , (LCEDG’s COO) sent out an email they were looking for a coordinator and here I am,” she said

“I can’t say enough about how much we need to help the community to better itself. It’s a full community effort. It’s not just geared at one level of the community – it’s geared for the whole community enrichment.”

In two years with the program, Blackburn said she’s seen how the Des Moines County Bridges initiative has impacted the lives of those involved with the program, both investigators and volunteers.

People who participate in the programs “Getting Ahead” and “Staying Ahead” program are called investigators, because she said they are the ones investigating the hurdles to the generational poverty that could be keepin them from productive lives.

“We call our participants investigators because its set up to investigate how they get from point A to point B. They’re a small group and help each other and I will be helping them and we work together to get to point B,” she said. “I facilitate, I don’t teach.”

The upcoming classes are being held at the Fort Madison and Keokuk Salvation Army locations. In Fort Madison, that facility is the Diamond Center at 1415 Avenue M. Blackburn said Capt. Linda Faye-Jones has been a great partner in getting the program up and running.

Faye-Jones is also a certified Bridges trainer and has agreed to be Blackburn’s co-facilitator.

But Blackburn said there are still lots of places where people can help make the first classes successful. She said the group is still looking of a van for transportation and has been reaching out to area churches for possibly a vehicle and a couple drivers to help get people to the classes.

Child care and dinner will also be provided at each one of the “Getting Ahead” classes. The Salvation Army is donating the food and cooks, but volunteers are still needed to help with the serving, setting up, and cleaning up.

She is also still accepting applications for people to attend the classes. Anyone interested in participating in the “Getting Ahead” classes can do so by reaching out to Blackburn via Facebook at or by calling or texting her at 319-371-7465. Class size is limited so she encouraged those interested to reach out to her right away. You can also email her at

“We want people to succeed at this so if they have issues that we need to address prior to starting a class we need to refer them to the proper agency to get that issue taking care of before starting so they need to get with us sooner than later,” she said.

Blackburn said the program brings a wide array of value to the community’s they serve. In addition to the program participants, the community pulls together in a cohesive effort to strengthen the bonds within it’s people.

“There’s a wide range of values to this program. When were able to bring the community together to help people uplift themselves and create bridges between levels of society, we help each other and that’s good for the community.,” she said.

Bridging the gap that occurs between the socioeconomic stratification of communities, Blackburn said, helps cultivate resources and relationships that are key to successful integration of those suffering from generational poverty.

“People that have a tough time tend to be ill more often and drain resources and if we can build bridges to gain access to better resources, gain access to education, and help them to get there they become a helpful, self-sustaining part of society. Everybody gets more on the same level and that’s what were aiming for – to help everybody understand each other.”

The Lee County Initiative had it’s first training session scheduled for last week, but a last-minute postponement was needed due to speaker Vern Reed, having to leave town.

Reed has been instrumental in facilitating the process with Lee County Economic Development Group in getting the program off the ground. Blackburn said the session will be rescheduled at a later date.

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