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Success Stories

Bridges in the News

InMichiana Article (08/2010)
SB Tribune Op-Ed (08/2010)
SB Tribune Article (08/10/2010)
YWCA BOP Participant Shares

WNIT Economic Outlook Interview, February 2010

Building a Bridge Out Of Poverty
Originally printed at
SOUTH BEND — Some of the unemployed who are struggling aren't just taking classes to find a new job. They're learning how to change their lifestyles, thanks to a class called 'Getting Ahead.'

Michelle Taylor hopes the 15-week class will help turn her life around. “I need finances to help with me and my family,” she told WSBT News. “I'm tired of living that ghetto mentality — it's time for me to get up and be something bigger.”

“Poverty can be so grinding that no matter what you do you can't get out,” explained Executive Director Bonnie Bazata.

That's why she started the program “Bridges out of Poverty” while working at Saint Mary’s College in 2004. The need became so great, she left Saint Mary’s in 2007 to become the Bridges director at the YWCA of St. Joseph County. The class is part of the 'Bridges' program.
“It supports people in poverty to begin understanding how economic class works, the way poverty works in their life from kind of a big picture level to their own choices,” she explained. “Then they build a resource plan for how they'll move to self sufficiency.”

The current poverty line for a family of four is $22,050. So a family of four making less than that is considered poor. Recent census figures show St. Joseph County fares better than the national average. But the numbers increase dramatically for the city of South Bend, and when it comes to single women, they're even worse.

Below Poverty Line U.S. St. Joseph County South Bend
Families 10.2% 8.8% 17.3% 
Individuals 13.3% 12.8% 22.8%
Families headed by women with children under 5 55.3%
(2000 U.S. Census)

For single women head of households in South Bend with children under 5, more than half are living in poverty.

“We lived in poverty for years, so it was time to make a change,” said Michelle Foster.

Foster is one of the 200 students that have completed the class and now has a job. “I work at McDonald’s!” she laughed. She laughs, but knows that in this economy, that's something. She plans to go to Ivy Tech in May. “I'm very proud of myself,” she added. “Going to school after 23 years is a very big deal.”

“I think part of what people walk out of this class with is a sense of hope, that ‘I can really get out,” said Bazatta.

Michelle Taylor is on her way. She's looking for work, and is headed to Brown Mackie College. “I would like to be a deaf interpreter,” she said, since her mother is hearing impaired.

Bridges out of Poverty is a nationwide and countywide program that gives students the tools they need to improve their lives. Ten local agencies like St. Margaret's House and Hope Rescue Mission take part. Classes are free, thanks to grant money from local agencies. Men take the class as well. Bridges tracked 58 former students for a year, and found 84 percent improved their income, and 69 percent were continuing their education. Bazata says it It takes two to four years to move out of poverty.

National Success Stories
Cascade Engineering Welfare-to-Career Program
Stanford Graduate School of Business study
Web site:

St. Mary’s Getting to the Bottom
Fred Keller Presentation April 2008

Cincinnati Works
Cincinnati Works is a successful employment program for moving people from poverty to self-sufficiency. They’ve achieved an unprecedented 84% retention rate through their retention, support and advancement programs – programs and support that don't stop once a Member becomes employed.  Learn more at: 

Local Success Stories
YWCA of St. Joseph County is a founding organization of SJC Bridges. They're a leader in using Getting Ahead in St. Joseph County. They received a National YWCA Hallmark Award for their integration of the Bridges program. To read in more detail about the impact of their program, click here: Getting Ahead YWCA.


For more information, contact us at 574/246-0533 or 574/339-1232.