Addressing poverty on the Springs' Southeast side 

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click to enlarge Patience Kabwasa
  • Patience Kabwasa

Southeast Colorado Springs needs a systemic overhaul now. The onslaught of violence targeted toward black and brown men in our nation has come to a head. We can no longer turn a blind eye on the intersection of race and poverty and relegate their effects to certain communities. It's a Colorado Springs problem that residually impacts us all.

African-American and Latino populations are higher on the Southeast side. The struggle to make a living wage is prevalent in the lowest-income homes. Single parents often work long days and are still barely able to cover rent and utilities. Where does this leave their children?

The burden of responsibility shouldered by single parents to nurture their children spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically and academically by default creates a deficit, exacerbated by those low wages. This deficit often translates into inadequate nutrition, latch-key children, unsafe communities, bogged-down welfare systems, exhausted community resources, incarceration and death.

Per FBI uniform crime reports from 2014-2015, crime in the Springs increased by five murders, 38 aggravated assaults, 185 property crimes, 449 larceny/thefts, 81 car thefts and 32 arsons from the previous year. These stats show if part of a city suffers, the whole city suffers. Crime rates can attract or dissuade businesses and talent contemplating whether to move into the area, thus stifling or encouraging economic growth. Life is cyclical; what affects one affects all.

As a mother of two African-American sons, I work against the downstream of negative messages to raise up my boys' confidence and self-worth in a world that tells them they must be twice as good to be considered half as good. I am constantly fighting against failure messages, and I do not want to fight alone.

Thankfully, Robert Andrews, a man who grew up on the Springs' Southside, is working to change its narrative of poverty. Andrews, the executive director of DenverWorks, a Denver-based nonprofit, devotes his efforts to creating access to career opportunities that will provide decent living wages to residents both in Denver and here in Colorado Springs.

"Economic opportunity is the fight of our lifetime," he says, noting that without intervention, poverty becomes repetitive. Economic opportunity provides individual growth and stability which in turn creates less dependence on state resources as well as individual and community empowerment. It's a step toward dismantling the generational effects of poverty.

DenverWorks offers specific training programs for trades in construction, HVAC, and plumbing. The nonprofit has long-standing relationships with more than 23 companies in the city that will offer a $12/hour minimum wage, health care and union attachment.

The satellite office, hosted at the Sand Creek Library (1821 S. Academy Blvd.), will open Monday, Jan. 9 with the launch of a pre-apprenticeship program. There's still time to sign up; classes will close when filled. Veterans are strongly encouraged to apply, and it's free to all applicants.

The program specializes in serving low-income job seekers 17 and older. First, individuals will be equipped with "soft skills" and the basics of construction culture, the nuances of engagement, and communication. They'll also be taught how to move up in the construction field, and discern if that work is the right fit. Secondly, folks will be equipped with personal protection skills (for construction), as well as flagger certification, plus tool etiquette and help obtaining tools needed for the work.

DenverWorks' other programs include free education while earning income, addressing transportation needs and providing people with a criminal background access to opportunities. Andrews says DenverWorks is here to stay as they plan to plant roots in the community. Access to the middle class through respectable 9-to-5 work on the Southeast side of town is the goal, as it will backbone the change trajectory in other inequitable areas.

How can you help? Monetary donations are always welcome. In addition, addressing the transportation needs of its clients is one of DenverWorks' core components. Their model lets them operate remotely in areas convenient to client. They're seeking community partners willing to allow facility use for a week at a time, five hours a day. For more information visit denverworks.org or contact Robert Andrews at 720/980-4445.

Patience Kabwasa is program director of Colorado Springs Food Rescue.

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