Breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty in Weber County

Local News

OGDEN, Utah (ABC4 News) – Home to minor league baseball, Historic 25th and a gateway to area ski resorts. It’s also home to some of the highest poverty percentages in the state with 20.3% living in overall poverty.

That’s compared to just under 10% across Utah.

Driving through Grant Avenue, it’s difficult to comprehend that this is what intergenerational poverty looks like. But, behind these doors are families struggling to make ends meet.

They live in the city’s poorest neighborhood.

“In the last few years, it’s been just me and the kids,” said Wendy Cooper. “We have some family, but I’ve been responsible for everything.”

As a single mother of four recently escaping domestic violence and struggling to get out of poverty, Wendy and her children have seen some very hard times.
 
“They’ve seen mommy working all the time. I have worked two jobs, seven days a week.”

Statistical data shows Wendy’s children are among the more than 7,000 children living in intergenerational poverty in Weber County.

Dr. Michael Vaughn is a professor of economics & the director of the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality at Weber State University.

“What you see in Ogden, and what you see in this neighborhood is a greater proportion of populations that fall into those demographic groups,” said Dr. Vaughn.

Those demographics include the unemployed, residents who didn’t graduate high school as well as single-parent households.

“Individuals that are born into the lowest income quintile are more likely to stay in that quintile when they become adults than to move to any other quintile,” said Dr. Vaughn.

When it comes to addressing the numbers, that’s where Melissa Freigang comes in.

She works to create workforce initiatives in Weber County that specifically address intergenerational poverty.

She helps to oversee the Career Path Partnership Pilot Program.

“When we’re teaching skill sets, we have to provide these environments and these experiences so people can get these wins and these successes, and that breeds this growth mindset,” said Freigang.

The way the program does this is by pairing participants with workforce mentors.

Those mentors can either provide participants with a job or help them build their skillset.

“We’re asking them to come to the table as partners to engage in a long-term relationship with the initiative,” said Freigang.

The basis of the program is to address intergenerational poverty on multiple levels beginning with children.

“When we’re looking at how do we move children towards self-determination, a great deal of the work is really happening in the schools,” said Freigang. “So, we’re heavily-partnered with the ICAN Initiative with the Ogden School District.”

It’s been five months since Wendy enrolled in the Career Path Partnership Pilot Program.

Her experience has been life-changing.

“We did sit down, and write down housing, a new car,” said Wendy. “I did get my new car since then. It’s been leaps and bounds. Our lives really changed in the last few months.” 

In addition to her new car, Wendy also has a new home and a job working for the IRS.

“Before, I was pretty much taking whatever job I could get in order to provide for them, and to make sure they had everything they needed.”

Wendy’s accomplishments are something that seemed out of reach during her darkest hours.

She says the biggest change she’s seen is in her children.

“They have more confidence, especially being in our own house. They love that. That was a big thing for them when we lost our home. They didn’t have their own bedrooms. They didn’t have their own yard to play in.”  

Wendy is currently among 13 families enrolled in the program. 

One of the program’s main features is it helps to streamline resources for families so they can find them all in one place.

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