I was fortunate to attend a training in December for a program entitled Building Bridges Out of Poverty. The West Burlington School District hosted the event, with around 150 people in attendance. We had about a dozen city staff in attendance, which I felt was very important given the topic. We spent a lot of time speaking about how to properly define poverty from a perspective that looks at way more than financial resources. We spent the day talking about how poverty involves not just a lack of financial resources, but a lot else as well. Other resources we talked about that are important to a health life are having solid support systems and relationships, good physical health, and a strong motivation. We also talked about the importance of having good health habits, emotional balance, and a spiritual foundation. A final area that was discussed in regards to poverty had to do with an understanding of what was termed the “hidden rules” of society and the language used in everyday life, and how a lack of either can lead to an inability to function well in the typical work world of society.
Thinking about poverty from this type of overall perspective was valuable to me. It was a strong reminder that I need to ensure that I don’t take my expectations of what people should think or do, and apply them to everyone around me and expect them to feel or think the same way. It just doesn’t work that way. As I talked about the training afterwards with other department heads that attended the event, I continued to hear the theme of how we need to develop an understanding of the circumstances that others are coming from that we have interactions with. As we deal with someone who comes from a life of poverty, we need to understand that their ability to arrange for transportation to make it to an appointment, or even their ability to communicate in the formal language style that is considered appropriate in the business world, may not always be what we would take for granted. As we encounter interactions such as these we need to recognize that we need to learn to adjust our thinking to work through situations.
Over the coming months, I am excited to see how this training can potentially impact how we do business as a local government, and also how some of the follow-up training program can impact our community. We have begun to have additional planning sessions occur in our area associated with the Building Bridges program, and I anticipate seeing action taken in multiple areas. There are efforts underway to begin an 18 week training program within what is called the “Getting Ahead” model, which aims to work in partnership with individuals confronted with poverty on a daily basis. I look forward to seeing this movement get underway, and encourage you to stay tuned to any announcements that may be forthcoming, and see how you too can be involved.