OTTUMWA — The Bridges out of Poverty Initiative will hold a training session Sept. 12 for members of the community interested in learning more about the organization’s strategies for dealing with generational poverty.

For Vern Reed, a trainer with the initiative and coordinator of the ASPIRE program at Evans and OHS, addressing the issues that lead to generational poverty begins with empathy.

“We all, and this is my opinion, tend to see the world from our life and our perspective. That doesn’t make us bad people, that’s human nature, right?” He said. “If I look at your world through my life perspective, odds are I won’t get an accurate representation of what your world is, and vice-versa.”

Bridges takes its name and philosophy from the 2001 book “Bridges out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities,” which was published by aha! Process Inc., an organization that describes itself as a “professional development company that provides poverty reduction programs and professional development.” The organization offers workshops and seminars for both people living in generational poverty and those interested in alleviating such stresses in their communities.

The program now has workshops in states all across the country. Reed brought the initiative to the Burlington area when he and his wife attended a workshop while working as teachers. They’re bringing what they’ve learned to Ottumwa.

Their first training session, which met in April, had close to 200 attendees. Among them were business leaders, educators, and church representatives. Reed wants anybody to attend who is interested in working with others to improve the lives of others in the community.

Attendees will learn the Bridges message and worldview, as well as strategies for addressing generational poverty. Reed says attendees will be challenged to view poverty in a new way and learn to adjust their perspective of both people and the world.

“The reality is we’re more alike than we are different. Social media and society wants to focus on the differences. But when you get into a room and you talk about life experiences, you talk about the struggles and the mistakes, and the highlights- we are so much more alike than we are different,” he said. “We all bring strengths. Whatever economic class we come from, race, gender, age- we all bring strengths to the table.”

Reed hopes to continue the training sessions in the future. Whether or not they’ll continue depends on attendance and interest within the community, but based on his experience holding the events in Burlington, attendance numbers tend to grow as the word gets out.

“Our goal is to have to get out more chairs,” he said with a laugh.

Apart from the main training sessions, which he hopes to hold every few months, Reed also intends to hold smaller and more frequent workshops as interest in the initiative grows. These will be training for organizations as well as faith-based seminars.

Starting in October, Reed will also offer “getting ahead” classes for adults living in generational poverty.

Those interested in learning more about the community training workshop should contact Deb Pilcher at or 641-684-6597 x66510. Reed requests that all those interested in the event also get in touch with Pilcher so the organizers can provide the necessary amount of snacks and materials.

The Bridges out of Poverty Community Training workshop will meet at 5 p.m. Sept. 12 in the Indian Hills Rural Health Education Center, rooms eight and nine. The event is free and will run for three hours. Snacks and materials will also be provided at no charge.

Jack Langland can be reached at


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