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Strengthening resiliency in families experiencing the greatest disparities in education, health, employment and income

The proposed pilot project will give families – children and adults – the supports needed to break free of cycles of generational poverty.

Photo of Vicky S.

Written by

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

For some families, the challenge is to find work that pays enough to end homelessness, keep food on the table, and set them on the path to prosperity. For some families, the challenge is to find peace and safety within the home – to deal with mental illness and substance abuse, to end domestic violence, to provide kids with the kind of parental engagement that leads to healthy development. Too often, agencies that provide social service supports serve one group of families or the other. However, more often than not, these families are one and the same. There will be no chance at prosperity if adults in the family have been so overwhelmed by the traumas of poverty that they cannot hold a job. There will be no opportunity for children in these families to grow up and be productive members of the community if their parents cannot provide the emotional security that comes with financial stability. We propose to bring together all the resources needed for all families to address those legacies and chart new paths to peace and prosperity, in a way that effectively uses resources already under one roof. Lifetrack has offered employment services and child and family services, but in separated programming. Over time, we have realized that families served in each program often have the same needs: Employment Services serves adults who are hardest to employ – those living in poverty, with disability, with mental health or substance abuse issues, immigrants and refugees, or with criminal backgrounds. Child and Family Services serves families with unemployed heads of households, who are homeless, who cannot feed their children. We realize we cannot continue to treat them as separate groups. By assessing all of every families’ needs, by addressing the barriers to employment as well as addressing the health, mental health, and service needs of all members of every family, we believe we can give those we serve the tools needed to end cycles of generational poverty.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

The immediate beneficiaries will be the 3,000 families served annually, who will receive employment training, and resources for addressing immediate needs as well as longer-term needs for health, mental health, parenting and education from Lifetrack. Over time, others will benefit – the Minnesota communities we serve, who will see some of the area’s most vulnerable families improve their economic circumstances and quality of life. We will also see a decrease in child abuse and neglect.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

While other agencies use a two-generation approach, none purposefully bring together employment AND child and family services. Our employment side brings experience working with diverse populations, and expertise in education and job training. Our child and family side brings a trauma-based approach and a capacity for building trusting relationships with isolated populations. Both use strengths-based, individualized approaches so that every individual is met at the level that is most appropriate.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Initial Design: I am exploring the idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

For 70 years, Lifetrack has been working to reduce disparities in education, employment and health in Minnesota, with a special focus on the most marginalized community members – poor people, people of color, the disabled, and immigrants and refugees.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

We had a child living with her mother in a tent for months. Eventually CPS put her with a foster family who didn’t understand her circumstances, so now, when the girl comes to preschool, she goes into a corner set up as a house, pretends she’s going to sleep, and wishes her teacher good dreams. She needs time in her little house to feels safe and have a mommy. The impetus for our pilot comes from imagining what might have been different if we could have worked with the mother to find work.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Over 90% of our Employment families had income less than $1000 a year, and 100% of the families served by our Families Together Program had incomes below poverty level. The proposed pilot seeks address barriers that prevent our families from prospering –disparities in access to services that address root causes of poverty, the lack of role models and mentors to support success, and lack of individualized supports. Within these low-income communities, violence and child abuse and neglect are endemic, both on the streets and in the homes. The traumatizing effects of exposure to violence make it near impossible for children to learn and for families to remain intact. The proposed pilot seeks to provide access to therapeutic resources for children and their parents, as well as parenting education, to ensure every home is safe and every parent and child is ready to learn. By realigning existing resources, we can ensure every member of every family has resources needed to thrive.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Lifetrack works with Ramsey County Child Protective Services, St. Paul Public Schools, Head Start/Early Head Start, city, county and state agencies, the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, a variety of adult education and community college partners, the Hallie Q Brown Community Center, Breaking Free, Parent Mentor, Minnesota Communities Caring For Children, immigrant and refugee advocates and many other community-based organizations in order to provide our program participants with access to as many resources as possible. Our success depends on our relationships with these organizations. As we realign our services, we will be better able to ensure that every program participant is getting all of their needs addressed. We will work with our community partners to build our program to be optimally responsive to community needs.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Experience has shown us that the individuals we serve have the resiliency and desire to succeed. We have seen parents reclaim their families. We have seen children overcome trauma to succeed at school. We have seen immigrants build lives in our communities. Ten years ago, an immigrant from Cameroon named Peace came to us. We provided her with CNA training. Now she is an RN and her kids are in high school and college. Our families are like Peace – ready to succeed, given the right tools.

Geographic Focus

The seven-county Twin City Metro area, which includes St. Paul and Minneapolis.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

We will need 24 months for this project: Six months for planning to develop policies and materials to support realignment, 12 for implementation, and six to review outcomes and make changes to implementation plan.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Our Workshop

Hi Vicky. Great work - I see why you connected to our idea...
I must say I'm personally not one to start with too much 'planning' and 'policy' like you mention in your timeline... The idea of allowing a process to run, resulting in outcomes is from my experience more realistic.
'Implementing' a 'plan' kind of excludes the possibility of unexpected but probably necessary growth along the way.

more later. Heath Nash of Our Workshop 

Photo of Vicky S.

Thanks, Heath! I agree that opportunities for growth usually pop up in the most unanticipated places, and my language does not account for that. The reality is that these kinds of steps -- this kind of language -- are expected by the government, public and private funders we hope to attract, so we include it. But we are also aspirational and we recognize that in any project, the ebb and flow of progress is not always in our hands, and we are open to whatever lessons may come our way, regardless of where they came from!

Photo of Our Workshop

sure. understood. I'm so sick of 'government' and 'institutions' that endlessly talk... do nothing.
people are hungry. literally.

so we are basically guerrilla.

Clearly you've travelled a long road already...

Photo of Ozuluonye Shedrack

Hi Vicky,

I was thinking we could have a specific population (beneficiary) and not wide spread. so it will be easy to text their responses and get the right feedback as we progress.

Photo of Vicky S.

Thanks for the feedback, Ozuluonye! Our primary population is people living in poverty in our area, and within that larger group, there are subgroups -- individuals with disabilities, individuals with mental health/addiction issues, immigrants and refugees, communities of color and others. Within those subgroups, is there one in particular you think we should target?

Photo of Ozuluonye Shedrack

Hello is Minnesota communities the location of all your  beneficiary? If so that great and if not you need to be exact on the name of a geographical setting (location) your beneficiary are residing:
Something like: My beneficiary are projected to be 3,000 family member living below a reasonable income level in Minnesota community in __state_____ or Region of probably a country. Thanks  

Photo of Vicky S.

Hi, Ozuluonye --Our geographic focus is the Minneapolis-St.Paul Metropolitan area. These are cities in Minnesota. So, using your formula, our beneficiaries are projected to be 3,000 family members with annual incomes below the federal poverty level in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area located in the State of Minnesota in the United States. Thanks for helping me clarify this. In thinking about your previous comment, I had wondered if you meant we should identify a smaller number of people for the pilot phase of the project. Appreciate the feedback!

Photo of Ozuluonye Shedrack

Great you have just done justice to my observation, Many thanks. I will take some time to do a follow up on your work as we progress please.
You need to read this too

Photo of Vicky S.

Thanks, Ozuluonye. You helped me see that my response to the idea questions were very American-centric, where I assumed everybody would know what I was referencing. You made me think about the broader audience, for which I am grateful.

Photo of Ozuluonye Shedrack

Hello Vicky,

You are welcome please. Please maybe we can  reflects same in your description of problems where you wrote  ( For some families, the challenge is to find work that pays enough to end homelessness, keep food on the table, and set them on the path to prosperity. For some families, the challenge is to find peace and safety within the home – to deal with mental illness and substance abuse, to end domestic violence, to provide kids with the kind of parental engagement that leads to healthy development).
  Something like For most family in (targeted location) >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> at least the reader will be able to position his understanding of a problem in a given location.

Photo of Dominican Sisters  of Peace New Orleans Peace Center

This is very similar to our project in New Orleans. I have a question - in the community we serve, most households are led by women and many men are unemployed. The women often work two or three low-wage jobs to get by - so they don't have time to take advantage of the career education that we offer. Have you had similar problems? How do you reach this important population?