Portage Health Foundation’s Poverty Initiative “Bridges Copper Country”

Bridges Copper Country is a community initiative designed to address the challenges faced by individuals and families living in poverty and to help them build a path towards self-sufficiency and stability. It was developed by Dr. Ruby Payne, Philip DeVol, and Teri Dreussi-Smith.

My name is Michael Steber and I have been given the task to help address the needs of our under-resourced community and educate our community through workshops and seminars about the challenges people in poverty face. Currently 16-19% of the Copper Country are living in poverty and around 49% are living at the ALICE level.

What is ALICE? ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This represents people in the community who are working but still struggling to make ends meet. Sometimes they may be just one financial crisis away from being in poverty. When hardworking people struggle to make ends meet, they are one emergency bill or unexpected financial burden that may cause them not to be able to pay a bill or put food on the table for their family. These folks are above the federal poverty line but struggle to be stable. Couple these numbers with our poverty numbers and that means that half of our community falls into this category of instability.

The key components of Bridges Copper Country are twofold: First to train and educate our community, businesses, schools, social services and encourage collaboration. The second component is to educate individuals in poverty, on how they can help themselves develop a more successful future story through a class called “Getting Ahead”.

In January of this year, Portage Health Foundation (PHF) offered our first of many “Getting Ahead” classes for 8 individuals who met for 16 weeks, one night a week. Through this class, members learned how to become empowered and self-sufficient. The ultimate goal is to help people move out of poverty and gain stable employment and be less reliant on public assistance and eventually improve financial stability. In class we learn that poverty is much more than just financial deficits, and together we develop a plan for a more successful future story. Another important aspect of our Getting Ahead class is that we try to eliminate barriers for people to come to class by offering free childcare and transportation so that people can attend class.

In late May of this year, we graduated 8 people who have all created a stronger future story for themselves. Four of our graduates have decided to register for college in the fall; three of which will pursue a degree in the medical field and another pursuing engineering. One of our graduates has not only registered for college, but has obtained her driver’s license and recently purchased her first car. This is something she has been wanting to achieve for a long time. The future looks bright! Besides all these success stories, probably one of the most celebrated benefits of the class is the social capital developed through “Getting Ahead.” New relationships with community and business leaders have helped bridge the gap to a brighter future for all and helped provide a sense of hope!

Overall, the goal is for our entire community to become a Bridges community. A community that is aware of the struggles of under resourced individuals and provide education and social capital so that we can all be empowered to live a better life and create a stronger future story. By working together, we create sustainable solutions that address the root causes of poverty and create supportive networks for individuals and families.

If you are interested in learning more about Bridges Copper Country, or want to find ways to support our program please visit: bridgescoppercountry.org. If you or someone you know could benefit from taking our “Getting Ahead” class, please visit the website and apply online. If you need a paper application, please contact the Portage Health Foundation at (906) 523-5920. Our next class begins in August and class size is limited.


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