Other Opinions

Free program intends to help Mississippi families get out of poverty

Christi Webb
Christi Webb

A unique multi-generation learning program aimed at improving the lives of vulnerable families is spreading across Mississippi and should reach all 82 counties by January.

The goal: to elevate families out of poverty by empowering parents with the skills and confidence to improve their life situations. Learning is extended beyond school walls and into daily routines, such as a trip to the store, time at the dinner table, or just time alone between parent and child.

The approach is known as Gen+ by the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS), and is incorporated into a program called Families First for Mississippi. The services are being provided by the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi and the Mississippi Community Education Center. A particularly satisfying aspect for the Family Resource Center is that we have been partnering with the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) to provide services to two generations of family members under Toyota’s Family Learning initiative for over a year. Gen+ and the NCFL/Toyota approach are identical in the focus on more than just an individual family member but the family as a whole.

In the past, social service agencies like ours saw that clients were becoming dependent on the system rather than gaining independence. Now, we are focusing on the entire family with the intent to change not only the individual, but also the culture of the family.

Components of the NCFL/Toyota two-generation model of services include Family Service Learning projects, Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®, and family-to-family mentoring. Families are empowered to learn about and address important social issues in their communities such as safety and security, environmental stewardship, financial literacy, effective education systems, transportation, and health. Through Families First for Mississippi and DHS’ Gen+ approach, we will also be providing free classes for literacy, parenting, life skills, workforce development and education services for the whole family based upon each family member’s need and desire for success.

All services are free to participants who will be assessed to determine needs, and there is no wait time — families can begin immediately.

Recently, 100 Families First for Mississippi staff came together for a three-day training session conducted by the highly respected National Center for Families Learning. NCFL and Toyota have a long track record together, bringing this successful approach to over 2 million families across the U.S since 1989.

We have seen great results from the multi-generational approach. One of those success stories is Kim, a 32-year old single mother whose 6-year-old daughter has a hearing impairment and Addison’s disease. Before enrolling in the two-generation program, Kim became very frustrated with her daughter’s behavior in school and at home. She credits NCFL Family Learning for teaching her the skills she needed to help her child with homework, encourage positive behavior and to build a positive relationship.

“I’ve learned how to better work with my daughter on homework and reading,” Kim said. “She’s gone from struggling to now improving her reading scores and having better behavior in school.”

Meantime, Kim, who was receiving government assistance due to a job loss, is now living independently and working full time as an administrative secretary at a mental health center. She is also pursuing a degree in office administration.

In addition to gaining skills to help their children succeed in and outside the classroom, parents also are instructed in the areas of technology, English language, self-efficacy, interpersonal communications, problem-solving, and time management. These employability skills prove extremely valuable as they look to either join the workforce or go after a better job.

Finally, children participating with their parents in Family Service Learning will see the application of their education first-hand on their own pathway to success. Also, they are more likely to grow up and serve their own communities by following their parents’ example. This approach to Family Service Learning empowers families to become a part of the solution to their own communities’ problems.

I feel very strongly that this program will reap great rewards — it will help pull families out of poverty. However, for it to work and grow, we will need the support of not only DHS, Families First and NCFL, but, also, other non-profit groups, volunteers, government leadership and ordinary Mississippians who want to see their fellow citizens succeed. Anyone interested in learning more about this program, please call us at 662-844-0013 or visit us at FamiliesFirstforMS.org.

Christi Webb is executive director of the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi, a chapter of Families First for Mississippi.