Navigating poverty and finding a mentor

Getting to the next level sometimes requires a mentor

a story from team members Lydia Alston-Murphy and Ron Rizzo

We work with families trying to find a way out of the cycle of poverty. On a face-to-face level this often means we are working with the head of a household who is stressed and barely making a minimum living wage — beyond being above any “official” poverty wage, but truly at a level where their income level, savings and social supports can mitigate the risk of falling back into poverty and almost constant stress. How can a parent ensure that the struggles they are facing mean their children will have a stable, hopeful future where their dreams are fulfilled? How does a family move from surviving to thriving?

We see clients facing these challenges all the time: illness, a car break down, loss of job, and accident, and issue with a child, etc… can stress a family to the point where their supports crumble. A parent may lose a week’s worth of wages (if not their job) because they needed to care for a sick child or parent, or because a car broke down and they could not get reliable and regular transportation to work.

Catholic Family Center, Action for a Better Community and Community Place of Greater Rochester joined the City of Rochester’s initiative to study and pilot programs that would impact childhood poverty in our city, and was inspired by the EMPath (Economic Mobility Pathways) Mobility Mentoring model.

Recently, a mother of four joined our Bridges to Success program, which matches an individual with a mentor who will help them navigate the financial, social and family supports that may be available to help them meet their goals. During her intake appointment, Rashima reported being stressed, yet determined. She was preparing the oldest of her four children for college, while balancing family concerns, church, school and work. Rashima was visiting colleges, completing financial aid applications, being a mom and working as a full-time Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

Together with her mentor, Rashima used a tool called the self-sufficiency matrix to identify her goals for family stability, well-being, education and training, financial management, and employment & career management. Rashima feels that the tool assisted her in seeing “what needed to be done to achieve her goals, and which to prioritize and begin.” Rashima’s goals included bettering herself, helping her kids see that they could do better, enroll in LPN school, and then RN school upon completion.

Two months later, Rashima had already met a few of her goals and under the guidelines of the Bridges program will begin earning some financial incentives that can help keep her going. She was accepted into the Health Professions Opportunity Grant (HPOG) program, she scored high on the Test for Adult Basic Education (TABE) aptitude and skill tests, and was accepted into an LPN program, which she began one month later.

What we see every day with families like Rashima’s is that just getting by comes with stressors and vulnerabilities that can keep a family in the risk zone of generational poverty. Heads of households who have family members and social supports to help with goal setting can help a family stay on a path to success. Sometimes, it requires a mentor-navigator to help clear the path, when no family or social expert is able to fill this role. Rashima says her relationship with her mentor and the Bridges program has “truly been a blessing, her mentor is encouraging and helping her excel.”

We feel these stressors have solutions, but they can take time and resiliency as individuals and families navigate the complex systems available that can help them. Our agency is piloting Bridges to Success to determine efficacy and broader reach, as well as other programs to support family prosperity. I would be happy to discuss our findings, and learn from your community’s initiatives.

Follow us on Facebook: @catholicFamilyCenterRochester

Follow us on Twitter: @CatholicFamCntr

Catholic Family Center is the largest provider of family services in #ROC, addressing issues of need across all stages of life. See more:

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