MARCH 13, 2013
DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES OVERSIGHT HEARING
DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC SECURITY
TESTIMONY OF CLAUDIA THORNE, MSW, LISW
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY FAMILY LIFE SERVICES
My name is Claudia Thorne, Executive Director, Community Family Life Services. Community Family Life Services’ mission is to provide clients with the tools they need to move themselves beyond poverty and homelessness into permanent self-sufficiency. CFLS has two primary goals: to provide short-term crisis assistance; and to empower individuals and families to change their lives over the long-term. Our programs include affordable permanent and transitional housing, mentoring for youth and families, employment development and placement, afterschool and summer camp, and food and clothing distribution.
For the past four years, the Family-to-Family Program has successfully helped stabilize the lives of low-income families in crisis due to poverty, unemployment, and homelessness by connecting them to positive, active members of our community. The program currently serves 50 families annually. Upon entrance to the Family-to-Family Program, mentees engage in mentoring, individualized employment counseling, job readiness training, self-development workshops, and family strengthening community outings. In addition to these services, the Family-to-Family Program Manager and CFLS Employment Counselor act as liaisons to connect the mentees to additional resources and programs using existing partnerships. These resources may range from daycare services to youth development programs to professional certification programs.
To assist clients in reaching their professional goals, the Employment Counselor provides individualized job development and readiness coaching based on each mentee’s personal professional goals. By focusing on individual ambitions, the counselor ensures clients are engaged and invested in the process. One mentee recently emailed the employment counselor to thank her for her support and guidance by saying: “I want to thank you for getting me into this class. Without you I wouldn’t even be in the [Certified Nursing Assistant] class. You made sure I didn’t give up and I just want to thank you so much for pushing me and not letting me give up.” As was the case with this client, all mentee’s create a resume, learn job search methods, analyze work place trends, improve work habits, learn suitable workplace behavior, obtain business attire, and continue to receive advice and support after employment is gained.
As of November 2012, 75% of mentee parents in the Family-to-Family program were employed or in job training programs. Of those employed, 61% increased their income through new jobs, additional hours, or increased hourly rates. The employment counseling portion of Family-to-Family is pivotal to this success. For example, after two years of seeking employment before entering the program, a mentee single mother received not just one job offer with the help of the Employment Counselor, but multiple job offers. Now instead of struggling to apply for jobs or wondering what she was doing wrong in interviews, this mentee is weighing her employment options and is preparing to negotiate a fair wage to support her family. In the mothers own words: “When I came to the program as an unemployed single mother of two daughters, I had been actively seeking work for about a year and out of work for almost two years due to health issues. Family-to-Family has helped me tremendously. I receive support about the day-to-day struggles of being an unemployed single mother, assistance with my resume’, job applications and interview techniques just to name a few. The Family-to-Family program helped me build my confidence back and offers me exceptional moral support. Being a part of this program has helped make me a better mother as well as a stronger more confidant woman.”
The success of the employment counseling would be nothing if not for the development of a proper support network. In the absence of sound advice borne of experience, and consistent emotional and tangible support, it can be substantially more difficult for mentees to acquire and sustain their personal, family and career goals. The Family-to-Family program is designed to fill the need for this support by connecting mentees to positive role models. The mentors facilitate mentee growth by providing guidance and a listening ear as mentees navigate challenging situations, accomplish goals, and develop skills that will enable them to independently make effective life decisions. Mentors are recruited for their ability to share life skills, professional knowledge, and a unique worldview. Upon entering the program, mentors are trained to identify mentee strengths and how to help their mentees develop upon those strengths to accomplish goals related to employment, parenting, and education. This strength based methodology can make all the difference as described by one our mentees: “When I met my mentor I was broken. I knew what I desired for myself and family, but due to my circumstances I was unsure if it was even obtainable. After spending time with my mentor I quickly realized that she was a comfort to me. [My Mentor] brings an atmosphere that is so empowering that one can only want to adapt to her lifestyle…” After only six months in the Family-to-Family program, this mentee went from being unemployed and living at a local shelter to gaining full-time employment as an administrative assistant, living in stable housing, and enrolling in a paralegal program—and her mentor has been there to support her every step of the way.
However, the real success of the Family-to-Family program comes from developing a community in which mentors and mentees both flourish by a mutual exchange of life experiences. In our program, the mentors grow alongside their mentees. According to one volunteer, “[a]s a mentor, you develop a new understanding of yourself and open yourself up to new perspectives—it’s really not just to the benefit of your mentee, but to you as the mentor as well. One of my favorite moments as a mentor was when I could see that my mentee trusted me…It made me finally realize that she had no fear about our relationship and that she valued our relationship.” In addition to sharing life skills with their mentees, mentors are encouraged to ask mentees to teach them about their life experiences—an exercise meant to place mentees in a position of leadership and to create a bond. One mentor describes this as her favorite experience in mentoring: “The best thing about being a mentor is about being a friend. It’s about knowing when to listen and to recondition oneself into a state of non-judgment. It’s learning that everybody’s situation is temporary, not permanent. This experience has changed the way I look at people and has taught me to appreciate individuals and what they have to offer no matter what their circumstance. It has truly enriched my life”.
The amalgamation of these supportive resources and the ability to create a community founded on the principles of support, communication, and autonomy bolster the attempts of the client to gain self-sufficiency. It is this net of support systems that cultivates an environment that enables the success of our clients. As described by one of our mentees, “Joining the Family-to-Family Mentoring Program was the best decision I ever made for myself and children. My first impression [of the Program Manager] was [that she was] so full of positive energy and from our first phone call I knew that this was an opportunity that would provide me with the chance to surround myself with people who possessed the characteristics that I wanted to develop in my life. From the staff, to the activities, and resources that you can utilize… you are destined to succeed.”