How can we ensure policies and programs reflect the real life experiences of people most affected by a problem? And how can we make sure the voices and stories of low income women are valued when policymakers develop new programs? These questions are a core part of our work at Springboard to Opportunities and a focus of a recent policy brief released by Springboard, in collaboration with New America and Ascend at the Aspen Institute. The policy brief, “Becoming Visible: Race, Economic Security, and Political Voice in Jackson, Mississippi,” is the result of conversations with over 80 women who live in Springboard communities. National, state, and local partners gathered in Jackson, Mississippi, this month to develop strategies and tools to more effectively include the lives of affected women and their families in the policymaking process.
Too often the voices of people most affected by a problem are left out, resulting in programs and policies based on false assumptions and stereotypes that lead to punitive regulations and unequal access, particularly for poor, Black women. The dominant narrative about poor people is that they are in poverty due to their own moral failings. This inaccurate narrative has resulted in a separate, unequal set of policies for poor people vs. people aren’t poor. Quite simply, false narratives create faulty public policy. The policy brief provides historical context for these false narratives and a bold, new vision of public policy, with specific, actionable solutions.
“I think that is kind of like keeping us where we are, basically. We try to come up, and when we start to climb out, it’s like the hole is getting deeper. Reaching the top is getting harder.”—Tracee
This summer, in collaboration with the Racial Empowerment Collaborative at the University of Pennsylvania, Springboard launched a new program for middle school boys called PLAAY (Preventing Long Term Anger and Aggression in Youth). PLAAY provides strategies for managing stress during intense face-to-face conflicts so boys can perform better in the classroom and in neighborhoods. The program uses the physical activity of basketball and culturally responsive group therapy to enhance participants’ capacity to challenge racial and gender stereotypes, develop interpersonal and school achievement skills, and build stronger bonds between parents and their children. Springboard is excited to implement PLAAY because research has shown PLAAY can reduce stress, increase racial coping assertiveness, and improve youth academic achievement.
Aisha Nyandoro, CEO of Springboard to Opportunities, is a guest columnist for the Clarion Ledger. Her recent column describes the devastating impact of federal budget cuts on the families Springboard serves.
On Tuesday, the White House issued a budget proposal with the imposing title “A New Foundation for American Greatness.” It seems someone miscalculated the measurements for this new foundation, as it is only strong enough to hold up a minority of wealthy Americans while leaving millions of others out in the cold.
Tiffany, a single mom in one of our Mississippi Springboard communities, works 35 hours per week at a local nursing home and has three children ages 15, 8 and 3. Her kids attend public schools, receive health care through Medicaid, and have enough to eat each month thanks to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.
Tiffany wants to re-enroll in school in an effort to gain eligibility for a higher-paying job, but the time and money school would require seem impossible. Not to mention, she is already thinking about the cost of sending her oldest child to college in a few short years. Tiffany has a vehicle, which she needs to transport her children to school and herself to work, but it is an older model and is often in disrepair. While she meticulously budgets and works hard to save each month, most of what she puts away is spent repairing her car time and again.
I have told the stories of people like Tiffany hundreds of times before, and it is because of the Tiffanys of this nation that I cannot remain silent today.
Springboard To Opportunities was formed under a holistic vision and belief that, if we want to break cycles of generational poverty, we must begin looking at the bigger picture. Quality schools, health care, stable housing and food assistance are all essential pieces of this picture, yet one anti-poverty program on its own cannot solve the whole of the problem. But when we bring these programs together and provide families with well-rounded, supportive services and a strong safety net that allows them to seek new and gainful employment, go back to school and work toward their goals, we can experience real change and disrupt poverty cycles.
However, the budget released Tuesday morning by the White House takes the exact opposite approach, proposing not just to cut one or two services, but rather cut funding to almost all of the essential services families like Tiffany’s need to survive.
What will Tiffany do when her 3-year-old daughter is sick, and she can’t afford treatment or medication? What will happen when her car breaks down again, and there are no savings to pull from, because her grocery costs have skyrocketed after losing her SNAP benefits? Will she then be fired from her job due to lack of transportation?
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney has suggested able-bodied adults on benefits simply need to go back to work. But in reality, Mulvaney’s budget will make it harder for low-earning parents to keep the employment they already have.
And what about Tiffany’s children? Her oldest son has a part-time job and helps his mom care for his sisters every chance he gets. He has been thinking about attending college, but what if the cuts to federal student aid take away that opportunity? Tiffany’s daughter spoke with confidence and poise while giving the welcome speech recently at her second-grade graduation, but will her teacher recognize her emerging voice if classroom sizes get larger and already struggling teachers find themselves burdened by more budget cuts in public schools? Will this brilliant little girl receive the extra support we know low-income children need to be mentally and physically prepared for each school day?
Then, there’s Ms. Lily, who lives a few buildings down from Tiffany and sometimes watches her kids when Tiffany works late or has to get the car fixed again. Ms. Lily worked for almost 50 years after finishing high school, mostly at low-paying jobs with dry cleaners or tailors. She has no 401(k) or retirement plan from her past employers and was barely able to save during all her years of service. While President Trump claims he won’t cut into her Social Security check, she also relies on SNAP benefits to buy her groceries, because her small Social Security check is simply not enough to survive. Will Ms. Lily be expected to go back to work, despite her age, just so she can eat?
The president and his budget director have never met Tiffany or her three children. They have never taken the time to listen to Ms. Lily’s story or learn of the burdens placed on her each day. Nor have they taken time to look at the growing body of evidence that work requirements do not cut poverty rates, while powerful initiatives like SNAP, school lunch programs and the Earned Income Tax Credit actually do.
Those of us in Mississippi have met Tiffany and Ms. Lily. One in five households in the state receive some form of SNAP benefits, while close to one in four Mississippi residents receive health care through Medicaid. These are our neighbors, coworkers, classmates, families and friends. These are people we interact with and care for daily. They are us.
The White House’s proposed budget is not just bad policy; it is based on assumptions and biases that are flat-out wrong and predicated on their personal prejudices. Policymaking is only successful when it is connected to the voices and stories of the people affected, and the Trump administration has failed to listen. I have been committed, since Springboard’s inception, to a vision that not only provides supportive services for our families but also offers a platform for their voices to be heard. Today, I am more committed than ever to telling the stories of Tiffany, Ms. Lily and millions of others like them. I ask that you join with me; collectively, our voices will be loud enough that those in power are forced to listen.
This is not the America my ancestors envisioned. America is not great when we leave the 41 million Americans who receive SNAP benefits without food. America is not great when we deny 7 million citizens on Medicaid access to health care. It is certainly not great when 50.4 million public school students are offered sub-par education so a handful of students can attend private schools. Making America great again requires creating policy and enacting legislation that works in favor of families-upon whose backs this country is built — and closes the gap that separates millions from high-quality education, opportunities for success and good quality of life.
So, yes, President Trump, let’s lay a new foundation for American greatness, and let’s start by treating all of our neighbors with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Link to article
Springboard to Opportunities is a member of a new, groundbreaking national network led by Compass Working Capital. The goal of the network is to expand the scope and impact of the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program – a powerful employment and savings program for families who live in federally subsidized housing. In addition to Springboard, the network includes Maine Housing and the Portland (Maine) Housing Authority.
What is the FSS Program?
The FSS program is grounded in an understanding of the numerous “poverty traps” that make it difficult for low-income families to build sufficient savings and assets to escape poverty. One such poverty trap exists for families who live in federally subsidized housing. Eligible low-income families typically pay 30% of their income toward rent, a formula designed to ease the rent burden for the poor while efficiently allocating larger amounts of subsidy to those who need it the most. However, an unintended consequence of this structure is that it discourages some residents from increasing their income since they worry about paying more rent and losing other benefits – an effect which also makes it difficult for residents to build savings. HUD established the FSS program in 1990 to address this work disincentive. The FSS program fundamentally shifts the incentive structure by allowing participants who increase their income through work to capture their increased rent payments in an escrow account, held by the housing authority, which can be accessed upon successful completion of the program. Participants can utilize their savings to achieve their financial goals and reduce their reliance on public assistance. To graduate from the program and retain the escrow account, a participant must be employed and not enrolled in TANF (cash welfare) for the previous 12 months. The average escrow at graduation is $6,600.
Springboard staff recently attended a training in Boston with Compass Working Capital staff. Our goal is pilot the FSS program at two of our Mississippi-based communities.
Aisha Nyandoro, CEO of Springboard, has an op-ed in the Clarion Ledger on Sunday, September 18. Aisha discusses the important, challenging work of helping families in supportive housing become successful in work and life, despite all of the obstacles. Significant policy reform is urgently needed so that families won’t continue to take one step forward and two steps back.
“Imagine this: You finally get a minimum-wage job working 40 hours a week. This step toward economic security will cost a $200 to $300 rent increase (on average), the loss of your utility reimbursement and possibly the added cost of child care if there are no vouchers available. Also, your families’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits will decrease. All of these changes will occur within the first two months of your new employment, without an opportunity to get acclimated to your new financial obligations. This scenario is the reality for the more than 5 million Americans that live in supportive housing.
Despite this knowing, nonprofit leaders like me keep stepping. What other choice do we have? We keep working to empower families, hoping against hope that we are not setting them up for failure in a system full of disappointments. We keep working because we know that the risk of doing nothing is too great. We are stuck in what Quaker author and On Being columnist Parker Palmer calls the “tragic gap — the gap between the hard realities around us and what we know is possible — not because we wish it were so but because we’ve seen it with our own eyes.”
Springboard to Opportunities is excited to provide our “radically resident driven” model at Timbercroft Townhomes in Owings Mills, Maryland and Windsor Valley in Edgewood, Maryland.
Springboard’s signature programs include POWER Divas, a platform for self-expression, life and social skills development, and empowerment for young girls transitioning from childhood to adolescence; the Home Buyer Road Map, a step-by-step plan to assist residents in beginning the path to home ownership; and Super Summer Camp, a fun and educational camp for young residents to build a bridge from one school year to the next.
Timbercroft is the first Enterprise Green Communities Certified development of Wishrock, a national affordable housing developer. Timbercroft, a multifamily affordable housing development, was recently redeveloped, resulting in reduced energy use, improved building durability, and a healthier living environment.
Carin Prescott, Springboard’s Senior Community Specialist for Maryland, is seeking nonprofit partners for Springboard’s year-round programming in three areas: Springboard to Learning, Springboard to Success, and Springboard to Community. If your nonprofit is interested in becoming a community partner at Timbercroft or Windsor Valley, please email Carin at firstname.lastname@example.org
With the addition of Timbercroft and Windsor Valley, Springboard to Opportunities works in eight affordable housing communities across Maryland and Mississippi.
Trendarious, aged 10, had looked forward to the morning for weeks, and, on Saturday, April 17th, he awoke eagerly to execute the Run For Our Community 5K he and his young peers at Lincoln Gardens and Commonwealth Village had dreamed up and organized. Their hard work came alive early in the morning as they dressed in lime green Springboard shirts and orange traffic vests, hanging up hand-painted signs and welcoming the guests.
La’Keria, aged 14, stood alongside the mayor, Tony Yarber, the superintendent of JPS, Cedrick Gray, teachers from Dawson Elementary School, Springboard supporters, and engaged Jackson residents as they ran together in a path around her neighborhood. Money from registered runners went back into her community, an important decision she voted for alongside her friends earlier this year.“My favorite part was going door to door to tell everyone about the event, so that the whole community could know that we were holding the 5K walk to raise money for our community and for the children’s hospital. Because we raised the money ourselves, we felt really proud.”—Joshlyn, 11
Shantiece, a 9th grader at Lanier, waited at the finish line, greeting La’Keria and the others as they crossed, handing out the necklaces she created to each individual as they stepped off the route and into a growing crowd of supporters at Lincoln Gardens.The finish line was unlike that at a typical race. Instead of a concern for times and winners, each person that crossed the line was greeted by a group of young boys and girls thanking them for being part of the special day. The racers did not retreat to their cars, but, instead, lingered. The crowd at the finish line grew exponentially, community blossomed as cheers and laughter became the soundtrack of the morning.
Following the race, everyone joined for a community block party at the finish line at Commonwealth Village Apartments.
One Springboard mom, Akerie, described the tangible atmosphere of support, “from the stage to the participants, everyone continued to motive each other, which helped me [as a runner] press on.” She particularly appreciated the effort the kids and teens put into the event. It bursted with excitement and love.After the race, the crowd joined the Springboard block party in the community, where new and old friends ate, chatted, and danced together. There, Trendarious, Le’Keria, Shantiece, and many others spent the day living out a powerful idea: that community blooms where children plant the seeds of hope, and are given the tools to help it grow. The Run for Our Community 5K and Block Party provided that space, full of light and joy, designed by the minds of children, capturing the hearts of their community.
ToLeadership Greater Jackson, United Way of the Capital Area, and everyone who participated in the 5K, you helped our youth celebrate and support their community. The fact that so many joined this event speaks volumes about good neighbors, growing communities, and a spirit of giving.
Keshia lives in Lincoln Gardens, an affordable housing apartment complex in Jackson, Mississippi. She has lived in Jackson her whole life, and is the mother to four young children Asiah and Arenah (11), Aren (8) and Amayah (6).
Keshia is a dedicated and loving parent. As a matter of fact, last year she was named “Mother of the Year” at her children’s elementary school.
But as her children grew older, Keshia also recognized, that there were limits to how she could help them develop.
Having never been taught technology in school, Keshia would ask her children to help her use the internet, rather than being able to offer that guidance to them herself.
Fed up, Keshia signed up for the Mississippi Public Broadcasting Parent Academy, hoping to learn some basic tools to utilize technology.
Each week Keshia walked her family down the street to Commonwealth Village, another affordable housing apartment complex in her neighborhood, for the Parent Academy meetings funded through the Ready to Learn grant.
Keshia joined other parents in classes that focused on using technology in the home as an academic tool and got practice working with her children through interactive computer activities on the PBS Kids website.
Keshia discovered how to assist her children in learning through play. Aren, in particular, began to ask to access the pbskidsonline website when he arrived home from school.
While Keshia gained new skills, she points to her son, Aren, as the true success story.
At the beginning of the year, Aren tested below grade level in reading, threatening to get stuck behind the 3rd grade gate in Jackson Public Schools.
But through school support and the new tools Keshia gained through the Parent Academy to help her son on vocabulary and reading comprehension, Aren began to thrive.
Keshia speaks with pride as she reports his recent success on the STAR assessment, where he scored at a 5th grade reading level.
For Keshia, the success of Aren is why the Parent Academy mattered, because as a mother she now feels empowered to help her children use technology to be the best students and young people they can be.
World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) is an international movement that encourages adults, teens, and children to gather together in community to celebrate literacy, storytelling, and the power of words. Organized through LitWorld, reaching over 80 countries and one million people, WRAD is a strong statement to the world that all people have a right to literacy and to sharing their own stories.
This year Springboard to Opportunities is helping to bring the celebration of WRAD to Mississippi for the first time, through five STO communities. This is a powerful and important statement in Mississippi, a state where, according to data from 2013, 79% of fourth graders could not read at proficient levels. More shocking is the breakdown of that statistic with 85% of low-income Mississippi fourth graders falling below the proficiency line*. This is the highest rate in the nation.
Low rates of literacy at all grade levels in Mississippi are tied to economic disadvantage and access to opportunities. Furthermore, according to Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report, the gap between higher-income and lower-income children is continuing to increase*.
On March 4, for WRAD, however, Springboard communities are gathering together to show the value they place on reading, writing, and storytelling, and the effort they are taking to better their own communities. While LitWorld LitClub meetings provide resources to girls aged 10-12 each week, for WRAD all community members will show the importance they place on the power of reading and writing. Exemplifying the Springboard goal of breaking the cycle of generational poverty, whole families will be tied together in this event as parents and kids celebrate together.
Within each Springboard community, residents will celebrate WRAD in different, yet meaningful, ways. At Lincoln Gardens and Commonwealth Village there will be Poetry Cafe’s, sharing the exciting and engaging poems from Shel Silverstein. At Overlook, three special guests, including a local librarian and teacher, will read stories aloud and lead writing activities. While at The Village Community, children will go through various stations, acting out parts of books and recreating scenery from literary imagery.
Springboard recognizes the challenge that Mississippi lays at the bottom for all makers of literacy in the country, and is implementing programming such as WRAD to help residents change this, a part of their larger mission to help community members advance themselves in work, school, and life.
Despite finding themselves in an unequal, slow to change Mississippi, Springboard communities are making a powerful statement this week that literacy is valued. Furthermore, connecting these communities to the international fight for the right of all people to share their own stories, takes on special significance in Mississippi, as high-risk, low-income children and their families prioritize reading together.
Scene: The Village Apartments Community Room, December 18, 2014
Moms, hand-picked from each community, are gathered and chatting. Springboard staff is waiting with anticipation of what is about to be shared. Enter Jennifer Estrada and Yaya Yuan, who take themallon the adventure that is LitWorld.
LitWorld, a nonprofit organization that exists to empower young people around the world to author lives of independence, hope, and joy, has been searching for a Southern United States partner. They have found what they were looking for in Springboard To Opportunities, “local leaders who share [LitWorld’s] core values and [LitWorld’s] belief in grassroots, on-the-ground work that empowers children and families.”
In preparation for this partnership, Yaya and Jennifer, LitWorld staff members, led us in a LitClub training that was both fun and informative while challenging us to stretch ourselves beyond our borders creatively and personally in order to provide our girls with the best possible experiences. By the end of the afternoon, the room was so full of energy from the moms, Springboard staff, and trainers that we left with smiles and hugs but most importantly, loaded with information and enthusiasm for the days ahead.
We are excited to announce that all Springboard communities will host parent-led LitClubs for 11 and 12 year-old girls as a part of LitWorld’s “10,000 Global Girls Initiative, which supports high-risk, high-potential girls” in improving their senses of self and future outlooks while developing capacity for community engagement and achieving academically. Springboard anticipates nothing but success for our residents with the implementation of this program and looks forward to growth that is certain to occur for both the girls and moms in the communities.
“Grit” may be a new word for many of the 11-17 year old girls involved in our POWER Divas program at two communities in Jackson, Mississippi, but it is a trait that they know they want to develop.
The purpose of this program is to coach young girls in high-risk environments to better understand themselves by learning and practicing life and social skills while developing a sense of purpose in an effort to Perfect Our World & Environment Responsibly (POWER). The premise is this: if girls can positively effect change in themselves and their immediate surroundings, they can make a difference on a broader scale, and ultimately, change the world.
In the third week of the ongoing 10-week program in partnership with the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence, our POWER Divas at Commonwealth Village drifted into the community room at 4:00 PM, throwing backpacks to the ground, giggling about experiences at school, and pulling chairs together into a circle.
This scene occurs weekly at Commonwealth Village and neighboring Lincoln Gardens. The girls arrive for one and a half hour sessions organized through Springboard to Opportunities, eager and willing to share and grow together. As they explore themes of conflict resolution, time management, saying “no” in relationships, and the risks of being a people-pleaser, the Divas grow more comfortable with each other and with themselves each week.
There is no grade, academic credit, tangible reward, or incentive for participation. The POWER Divas program is not mandatory, attendance isn’t sent to parents, and no girl is required to attend; yet the group has formed a unit and bond that brings them together each week.
POWER Divas is successful, in part, because the program comes to the girls and not the other way around. Participants do not need transportation — the meetings are in their small neighborhoods, easily accessible from the school bus stop. Engaging girls shouldn’t be separate from where they feel in control. These young people want this support and need programs like POWER Divas to be incorporated into their lives in a manner that is accessible, comfortable and safe.
These girls attend each week because they have that grit that cannot be underestimated despite poverty and other obstacles in their lives. They show perseverance and an inner-resolve to better their lives and the courage to recognize that their community can and should help them with the process. These POWER Divas explore their strengths and address areas for improvement in a protective and kind atmosphere that is close to home and with their peers, who are constant in their school and social lives.
After sharing journal entries and concerns with the groups in the third week, we played a game to get the girls up and moving while reminding them of the commonalities and differences in the group. Seated in a circle, the girls were instructed to call out a statement, to which they stood and switched chairs if it applied to them. They called out things like being born in Mississippi, hoping to go to college, loving to dance, and being the oldest sibling. One Diva called out: “change places if you like coming to this group” and every single girl stood up quickly and rushed to find a new chair.
Though still at the beginning of the program, I am personally inspired by these gritty girls who recognize the importance of self-awareness and development and, most of all, are enjoying and embracing the process of becoming a POWER Diva.
LaKeisha, affectionately known as Keisha by family and friends, and her family have shown immense growth since they began participating in programs provided by Springboard to Opportunities. We have seen brighter smiles and behavioral shifts in the group as a whole. LaKeisha (age 29) and her four children, Amayah (age 6), Aren (age 8), Asiah (age 10), and Arenah (age 10) are now a model family at Lincoln Garden Apartments. Last school year, Keshia enrolled her children in Dawson Elementary School’s Afterschool Academy sponsored by Springboard and has re-enrolled them this year; she also registered them for the on-site summer mini-camps with Springboard. Additionally, she is a recent graduate of the 16-week Nurturing Families program provided in conjunction with our partner Mississippi State University and is participating in our Cash for Caps program, which will provide the support she needs to attend college.
We recently interviewed the family to get their take on the programs offered by Springboard To Opportunities. This is what they had to say.
What are your thoughts about the parenting class in which you participated?Keshia:It’s awesome! It works! I’m a better parent.
How have the programs provided by Springboard helped your family as a whole?Keshia:The programs have made us closer. It makes me feel like hope is within my reach.
What do you [children] like best about the afterschool program?Asiah:I like that we have soccer sometimes on Friday.
Aren:[I like] when the lady reads to us.
Arenah:I liked going to the computer lab and graduating Academy of Reading and Academy of Math.
What was your favorite thing to do this summer in the mini-camps?Aren:I liked the cooking and eating the cheese things. [Baked Mozzarella Bites].
Arenah:I liked the soccer program.
Asiah:I liked the Kitchen Works and making the bagel pizzas.
We enjoy watching the transformation of this family and look forward to seeing them develop as a unit through the support of Springboard To Opportunities.
Nonprofits often start with a vision — for a better future, to see certain needs met or to see the world change in some beautiful, positive way.
When Springboard to Opportunities began, there was a vision, too. We wanted our work to be radically resident driven. That meant involving the people we want to help in the conversation.
Springboard to Opportunities is designed to meet people’s needs where they are. Because of that, no two projects look the same. So far, we’ve partnered with the residents of two affordable housing communities in Jackson, MS: Commonwealth Village and Lincoln Gardens. While affordable housing gives people a home and a place in which to live and raise families, it is not enough on its own to meet the needs, everyday challenges and long-term goals of residents.
From the answers to these questions, we developed programs to address the specific and unique challenges of the families we work with. If residents’ needs evolve, so will our programs. Nonprofits have to meet the real needs of real people — not give them what we think they need. In our programs, we do not make decisions based on theories or limited perspective. We actively involve the communities we serve in the conversation alongside policy makers, social workers and advocates. We believe that those affected by programs and policies should have not only have a voice in the process, but be the central focus. Their stories, daily challenges and future ambitions are our priority.
As we expand our work from Jackson to the rest of Mississippi and beyond, we know that no program will be just alike. Springboard to Opportunities is here to help people with limited resources solve their most pressing problems in life to chart their course towards achieving their big life goals. The commitment to a radically resident-driven model that brings hope and agency to those we work with — and together, we can break the generational cycle of poverty.