The Forward S.T.E.P.S. (Support Transforming Empowerment Pathways to Sustainability) initiative is a relationship based program of Second Harvest Food Bank in which social service agencies, businesses, and community members come together to support individuals accessing their full potential. Forward S.T.E.P.S. is designed to engage local community members in efforts to increase the economic stability and vitality of under-resourced households.
Who is Poverty is just one way of classifying need in the community, but families who do not technically live in poverty also struggle. ? Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed individuals often fall outside the parameters of government assistance programs but do not have the resources to move from surviving to thriving.
Empowerment Team Leaders or team “captains” are individuals who want to make an intentional change with the support of Forward S.T.E.P.S. Accountability Partners and community members.
Accountability Partners are community volunteers living in middle income or wealth who want to be intentional friends with someone enrolled in the initiative.
The Resource Development Coach supports captains and accountability partners goal setting and provides encouragement and information to help them reach goals. The coach acts as a liaison between team members and community resources to help the team access opportunities.
Each Empowerment Team is comprised of two to four Accountability Partners and one family or individual with a goal to build their skills and resources to achieve sustainability. Accountability Partners work alongside participating “captains” to focus on reaching family-prioritized goals of:
- Increasing income,
- Acquiring needed education or training, and
- Enhancing personal social capital.
This community engagement strategy is designed to reduce and end daily instability by building individual and community assets. While traditional social “safety net” programs are critical to help provide for families’ most basic needs, these programs usually do not engage the broader community in developing goal-oriented relationships to create lasting change for households.
A unique aspect of the local work is that that dynamic actions occur simultaneously:
- individuals receive training, personalized support from intentional friends, build resources and gain control over their future stories for a better life at home, leisure, and in the workplace.
- Participants increase their ability to access community resources and opportunities, and develop hope for their futures.
- Volunteer Accountability Partners receive training to identify and address the policies and systems that must change to make eliminating daily instability possible.
This successful model focuses on relationships, resources, and reciprocity to support families who want to move from surviving to thriving on a sustainable economic path. In turn, it also provides a framework for a local community to build relationships across class and race lines and work together to advocate for positive institutional change.