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Building Bridges Out of Poverty in Ontario

Building Bridges Out of Poverty in Ontario
Representatives of multiple organizations and community groups worked together to create the Bridges Out of Poverty workshop in Listowel, Ont. Gertie Heimpel, member of Bethel CRC, is standing, second from the left.

More than 100 people attended a workshop at Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Listowel, Ont., to discuss methods to help people make a way out of poverty.

The Bridges Out of Poverty workshop Sept. 18 was initiated by a group of community workers, which included Bethel CRC member Gertie Heimpel, who took the idea to the North Perth Chamber of Commerce. Heimpel is dedicated to issues of food and housing insecurity and sees opportunities to speak about these issues as important community outreach for the church.

Heimpel has been working with Youth For Christ North Perth for 20 years—five as a volunteer and 15 on staff. She said this time spent with young parents and youth has taught her about poverty in the area. “I have always described what I do as 'doing life' with people,” said Heimpel. “I walk alongside them as we together identify barriers preventing them from moving forward. Next, we identify strategies to overcome the barriers, and I support them as they tread into 'uncharted waters.’ The poverty of education, parenting skills, work skills, and ethics is often four or more generations deep.”

Taking her experience and combining it with research that she said identifies the needs but not the next steps in working on poverty, Heimpel worked with others to craft a workshop they hope will help community leaders and members address poverty in ways that help people thrive.

Workshop participants came from two local counties and included representatives of housing services, youth shelter programs, the Ontario Provincial Police, Huron-Perth Children’s Aid Society, the mayor of North Perth, church leaders, and others.

“The goals of the workshop were to bring together people who are serious about finding resources and solutions to the crisis in our communities and to present this very viable option to our community and area service providers,” said Heimpel. She said tools would include mentorship at work, reading programs and teamwork between community organizations, businesses, churches, and local governments. As a follow-up to the workshop, Heimpel is continuing communication with community leaders and service providers to help implement the steps to reduce poverty.

Alongside the workshop, a photo exhibit by the Huron-Perth Social Research and Planning Council showed images of what it’s like to live on less than a living wage.

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