Grad class learns to not only get by financially, but to get ahead |

Grad class learns to not only get by financially, but to get ahead

Kristi Van Voorst hugs Getting Ahead co-facilitator Stephanie Martin on Thursday night at the class' graduation celebration at Olympian Hall. Van Voorst took on the intensive, finance-information course with her husband, Jerry.
Ben Ingersoll

— For two months, twice a week and a total of almost 45 hours, 17 Routt County residents were schooled on the resources to not only get by in a resort community that demands a higher-than-average income, but to get ahead.

It’s the namesake of the course, after all. In conjunction with the Routt County Department of Human Services, the Bridges Initiative Getting Ahead in a Just Getting by World course is designed to give those struggling with life’s common financial and emotional constraints a leg up, even if they are facing steep or moderate hills.

The students are called investigators, and they follow a research-based model on the causes of poverty and economic disparity as well as what are known as the “hidden rules” of socioeconomic classes. They also are handed a framework to discover the resources in the community to create a plan — a “future story,” as the course puts it — to help them address a poverty threshold in Routt County that hovers around triple the national average.

The annual class is a bit of a time commitment for a group of investigators already balancing work and family life, Bridges Initiative Coordinator Libby Foster said.

With a heavy helping hand from local resources such as St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the Craig-Scheckman Foundation in donating meals and child care, the class could gear its sole focus into a route out and away from that poverty line.

On Thursday night at Howelsen Hill’s Olympian Hall, the 2014 graduates were honored for successfully completing the course as the largest class in program history, with many of their families and friends who rely on them so heavily there in support.

“These folks are working two, three or four jobs and have families,” Foster said. “They’re juggling a lot. It really was a big commitment, which is why it’s so special to honor them at this graduation ceremony.”

For Jerry and Kristi Van Voorst, the class serves as a bit of a launch pad from a once-imbalanced financial life.

Jerry moved to Routt County five years ago, married Kristi, but couldn’t find the steady employment to keep the newlyweds ahead. They lived at Kristi’s parents for the vast majority of their young marriage, getting support from food stamps and other federal benefits while staying in North Routt.

But things have taken a slow and steady turn for the better for the Van Voorsts. Jerry’s full-time job with a nonprofit that assists individuals living with disabilities has the couple out of Kristi’s parents’ place and on their own for the first time.

“I talked to Vickie Clark (of the Department of Human Services) and she came to me and said, ‘I think you and Kristi would be a good couple for this class,’” Jerry said. “We’ve had our challenges and now we’re almost above it. It was really good. It was something we decided we should do together.”

Foster said the Van Voorsts were among a few couples in what proved to be a large and diverse 2014 class.

Led by Foster and co-facilitators Stephanie Martin and Cynthia Lucio — both Getting Ahead alums — the group frequently shared the stories of what brought them to class every week.

“Lots of people shared their personal stories, their trials and tribulations in life,” Foster said. “A few were further along in the continuum to achieve self-sufficiency. Some were role models to others, and that was really cool.”

The Van Voorsts are planning to be in that role model category moving forward. Using the tools gained from the nearly two-month course, their next step is digging themselves out of debt.

When that happens, in the next 18 months or so, Jerry said, maybe then they can finally relax and enjoy getting ahead.

“That’s our main goal,” Jerry said about erasing the couples’ debt. “Once we can do that, there will be a lot more freedom.”

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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