ICAN coaches

Jen Garner, left, and Ashley Barnum, the resource integration coaches who work with families getting help through Weber County's Integrated Community Action Now program, pose in east central Ogden on Dec. 6, 2019. The I-CAN program is aiding 35 families living in intergenerational poverty in east central Ogden.

OGDEN — After nearly a year in operation, an initiative targeting intergenerational poverty in east central Ogden is yielding results, helping some of the hardest-hit families in Weber County, says the program proponent helping oversee it.

Integrated Community Action Now, or I-CAN, launched in early 2019, had, at last count, been helping 35 families representing 92 people — 39 adults and 53 kids, all from east central Ogden. As money from a one-time grant to help fund the pilot program runs out and proponents mull its future, Melissa Freigang, heading Weber County‘s new Prosperity Center of Excellence, says the numbers show it’s having an impact.

Among the indicators, homelessness has dropped from 18% of program participants to just 1% as of Sept. 30. At the same time, the share of adults holding jobs that earn them enough to meet their families’ basic needs has risen from 14% to 35%.

The figures also show conditions for the kids involved, a major focus of I-CAN, are getting better.

When the program started, 30% of kids aged 3 to 5 were participating in pre-kindergarten classes or other high-quality early-care programs. That number had risen to 90% as of Sept. 30. The share of elementary-aged kids enrolled in after-school programs, meantime, went from 6% to 65% while the share of parents willing and able to take a more active role in their children’s schooling or take part in parenting classes went from 52% to 100%.

“We knew the intervention is what our community needed,” said Freigang, who had been overseeing I-CAN as a consultant but was hired on as Weber County employee to help run it last June. “It’s very satisfying seeing the data yield what we thought it would do.”

Two resource integration coaches, Ashley Barnum and Jen Garner, are key in the initiative. They meet regularly with program families and help direct them to the many social services available from a range of service providers in the county. Freigang also praised the initiative of program participants themselves, some, she said, who have struggled for generations.

“It’s these families that are stepping up,” she said.

Most recently, Western Governors University, the nonprofit online university, offered 10 scholarships to I-CAN participants. As many as five may be able to start studying in January, Freigang said, and eight in all are interested.

The WGU partnership “highlights the progress made in our plan to curb intergenerational poverty and provides a path forward for these families who have put in the work with this program,” Weber County Commissioner Scott Jenkins said in a statement.

Helping secure higher education for program participants, Freigang said, is symbolic of getting them to “that next step.”

Weber County leads the state and Utah’s most populated counties in intergenerational poverty, cyclical poverty within a family from generation to generation. Within Weber County, it’s most pronounced in the Ogden area, according to figures from the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Among just kids aged 17 and under, for instance, 9% were living in intergenerational poverty in 2018 compared to 6% overall in Utah, 6% in Salt Lake County and 4% in Davis County.

In light of such figures, Weber County received news in 2018 of a $150,000 grant from the state to cover I-CAN program costs for a year. That’s set to run out, and Freigang said she’s pursuing continuing funding through the Department of Workforce Services and other resources.

“We’re not going to drop the program. We’re going to continue to provide this some way,” Freigang said.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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