Bridging Forward launch event

Jodi Graves, executive director of United Way of South Central Nebraska, discusses the Bridging Forward program at a launch event June 23 at the Hastings Museum.

Aiming to substantially reduce area poverty, local agencies launched the Bridging Forward program June 23 at the Hastings Museum.

Bridging Forward is a program created by the Community Impact Network and the United Way of South Central Nebraska to reduce poverty 30% by 2030 in Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster counties.

The program plans to move from managing poverty to using community resources to improve the quality of life, increase the local workforce and reduce the need for public assistance. It coordinates existing nonprofit services, community organizers, employers, volunteers and donors to help place those in poverty onto a path of stability.

Brady Rhodes, collaborative coordinator with the Community Impact Network, said the goal is to move to a poverty alleviation system instead of the current poverty management system.

He said many times people on public assistance run into a “cliff effect” when attempting to better themselves. As they make more money, they no longer qualify for public assistance and lose the help they rely upon to get by. After struggling two or three years in a higher-paying job, people on public assistance can start improving their overall wealth, but the financial hardship makes it difficult to take those steps.

“We need to find ways to reduce the cliff effect,” he said.

Instead, he proposes creating a six-step system to guide people to success. Steps include crisis intervention to provide immediate needs, stabilization to build a strong foundation for the individual, provide job readiness to develop the skills needed to obtain better employment, finding placement within area businesses seeking employees, planning for advancement to increase job roles and pay, and prosperity as defined by enough shelter, food, healthcare, childcare, meaningful work and community to thrive.

The program will vary for each participant. The process will center on the individual and be future-orientated. They will work with a prosperity coach and use a binder to help keep information together and guide accountability.

Rhodes said there are 1,441 open jobs in the area as of June and this program will help fill that need.

They have created a network to confidentially share information between agencies.

“It’s a system we’re all going to make together,” he said.

Jodi Graves, executive director of United Way of South Central Nebraska, said they will track the progress of people in the program to assess what’s working and what needs to be changed.

She said Adams, Clay, Nuckolls, and Webster counties have a 12% poverty rate, compared to the state average of 9%. Reducing poverty 30% in the area would impact 700 households, 1,700 individuals and 380 children under age 18.

Graves showed statistics that indicated a rise in a school district’s number of students needing free and reduced lunches matches a decrease in math and language scores.

She said the overall cost for the program is about $5 million over eight years, but the benefits include an income gain of $19 million. That money is expected to reduce the cost of government assistance by $45 million as well as impact local businesses looking to hire employees and the well-being of the community.

“We can’t do this by ourselves,” she said. “It’s going to take the entire community to help us.”

For more information about Bridging Forward, volunteering, donating or being served by the program, call 402-461-8412 or email coordinator@unitedwayscne.org.

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