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For Dubuque's “Circles Initiative,” Student Becomes Teacher

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DUBUQUE, Iowa — The city of Dubuque looked to bridge the gap for rich and poor on Thursday.

It’s part of the city’s Circles Initiative to help people get off government assistance.

The point of the program is to help rich, poor and middle class people better understand each other.

In 2010, Ermina Soler was bound and determined to get herself and her three kids out of section 8 housing.

Soler said, “When I came to Dubuque, I needed assistance. I needed welfare. I needed Housing and food stamps. “

She enrolled herself in Jim Ott’s “Bridges out of Poverty” program. Ott said he noticed her drive right away.

“I thought at that moment, ok here is someone who’s really looking, but didn’t give it much more thought,” said Ott.

Soler says Ott’s program helped change her perspective on what it took to get herself out of poverty.

Soler said, “People in poverty tend to network with their family members and relatives. If that’s all they have access to, it’s kind of foreign to jump outside that box.”

Fast forward four years, the student has become the master.

Soler is now Ott’s teaching partner for the program. That makes her a full-time employee in the City of Dubuque’s Housing Department.

“My kids and I have health benefits. A 401k. I have a savings account for home ownership next year. My credit is decent, “ said Soler.

Ott said, “My initial response is, ‘yes I am very proud of her.’ But what I have now realized is I’ve learned more from her than I’ve ever given her.”

Soler says turning her life around was something she did on her own. Now she’s urging other people to do the same.

“Every time I interview someone who is interested in the program, that’s exactly what they say: “well, if you can do it. I can do it.” “of course” is what I say, “of course you can,” said Soler.

She is now helping her oldest child pick a college, something that was never an option for her family until she broke the cycle of poverty.

The city pays people to take the class. They give participants $20 per class, which meets once each week for 16 weeks.

For more information on how to enroll, click here.

l Comments: (563) 583-9999;

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