People of Hope – Angela Burgess

These days there is a lot of poverty in the world, and that’s a scandal when we have so many riches and resources to give to everyone. Pope Francis

Angela Burgess is on a mission to help families escape the poverty trap and find hope for their futures. I met this exuberant carrier of hope through the Houston non-profit RaiseUp Families organization. After being a long-time donor, she became the executive director in 2020. In that role, she combines her Christian values with over twenty years of experience in the field of wealth management, insurance, and nonprofit development.

She is passionate about guiding families out of the poverty maze, which has been the agency’s focus since 1994. RaiseUp Families has successfully stabilized hundreds of families struggling with the tough times that can overwhelm anyone. The COVID-19 pandemic, medical bills, car repairs, and other problems stretch a tight budget to the breaking point. That starts a chain reaction that compounds problems until the family is desperate and destitute, often resulting in evictions. That leads to children changing schools or missing school altogether, which impairs the child’s education and social development as relationships with teachers and peers are disrupted.

Lack of Cash Leads to Frequent Moves

Cash deficit families move often, sometimes to take advantage of an apartment move-in promotion that gives them a break on utilities; other times, being evicted for failure to pay the rent. RaiseUp Families works with clients to catch up on overdue rent and utility payments, to avert eviction so that the children continue attending their current schools. Maintaining a consistent school routine maximizes the child’s chances of thriving, which is a key component in overcoming generational poverty.

Angela’s enthusiasm is contagious and inspiring. “I’m convinced that money comes from unexpected sources when you focus on the work,” she said while discussing the funding required to help client families. The results of the agency’s virtual April 2020 spring fundraiser illustrate her point. By the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was spreading, and the agency decided to cancel its annual in-person spring fund-raising luncheon.

Over the next four days, Angela pulled together a virtual replacement event. “We raised the same amount of money as the previous year, without having to spend money for a venue and food, so really, we came out ahead in the budget game.”

Forced to Rethink the Program

The COVID pandemic also put a crimp in how the agency interacts with clients who could no longer come to the office, where staff helped them increase their income while decreasing their expenses. Angela explained, “Because of privacy policies, schools and apartment complex owners were unable to make referrals. I called the Houston Apartment Association and asked, ‘How can we help each other?’ Soon we were able to expand our mission to all the Houston area and began working with clients face-to-face via Zoom.

Their creative workaround for the COVID challenge got picked up by reporter Amy Davis at KHOU, which generated 800 calls for information. All this attracted the attention of an anonymous donor who liked what the agency does. His first check for $75 was followed by another for $3,000 and then by a note inquiring about what RaiseUp Families needed most. “He gravitates towards places that help children and animals. I believe that if you do the right thing, God will provide.”

The anonymous donor then gave another $250,000, enabling the agency to expand its services to around seventy families by the summer of 2021. By 2022 that number grew to eight-five families. Nearly a hundred percent of those families managed to keep their children in the same school system. Equally significant, families that completed the program experienced an average income increase of sixty-one percent and stay in stable housing after completing the program.

Family and Career Training

Angela grew up in Iowa City, Iowa, and attended college in Pella, IA, (home to Pella Windows), with thirty-four churches and four bars. In college, she majored in Spanish and Communications. She spent a semester in Washington, D.C., working as a lobbyist for farm workers and cranberry farmers. There she honed her persuasion skills. She puts past experiences to good use in Houston, where being bi-lingual is definitely an asset. Her training in financial management and generosity started at home, where banking runs in the family. Her father and grandfather were bankers, and her mother worked in a savings and loan firm.

Eventually, she went to work for Smith Barney (now Morgan Stanley) in Chicago, where she said, “I kept encouraging people to restructure their portfolios to include donations to charity. I wanted to help people connect their money with their mission, to know what’s best for the donor, the family, and the charity. I love talking finance.”

Spreading Hope

She said she learned her first financial management skills from her parents. “I came to realize that my parents were disciplined in exactly one thing: deciding whether something was a need or a want, and not giving in to the temptation of wants. Growing up in a middle-class family, my parents repeated these words to me time and time again: ‘It’s not how much you make, but how much you spend.’

Many of the families we serve were never taught that principle. Combine a lack of basic money management tools with one, large unanticipated expense or loss of a job, and suddenly a family drops from barely getting along to extreme hardship.”

After Angela moved to Houston in 2014 with her husband Gary Burgess for his position with the Houston Morgan Stanley office, she launched Broad Oaks Consulting. At that time, in 2018,  she was a donor for RaiseUp Families and worked with victims of assault and rape, which she found gratifying. She says, “I’m good in a crisis.”

Angela has applied her boundless energy to mentor girls through Big Brothers-Big Sisters, serves as a guardian ad litem with Child Advocates, and maintains a prison ministry through Order Malta, a Catholic lay religious order. She says, “My motto is everyone has time to save a life or change a life.”

Inspired by Faith

Though Catholic now, she was raised in the Presbyterian church with parents, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother who were all people of strong faith and did a wonderful job enriching her life with Jesus’ teachings and love.

“When I left home, I began seeking a church home that provided the same grounding my childhood church had and, after many years of searching, found the Catholic Church. At age twenty-four, I became a Catholic, finally finding a community in which I felt I belonged.”

A significant part of her work with RaiseUp Families consists of nurturing current donors and expanding the organization’s impact on the community. Houston earned the dubious honor of being the city with the most evictions once the onset of the pandemic set in. Apartment managers were eager to partner with people who could help them keep their tenants and still collect the rent.

She knows what it’s like not to have the funds for rent. “I’ve sat at my kitchen table at two o’clock in the morning, calling my credit card company to ask for a cash advance so I could pay my rent that month. I know how tough things can get.”

Expanding Hope and Help

Today Angela and her staff continue to dispense hope by ending poverty one family at a time. Thanks to support from donors, community partners, and a wonderful, forward-thinking Board of Directors, RaiseUp Families has doubled the size of staff under Angela’s leadership. The agency has restructured its HandUp program to help clients achieve even better outcomes. The agency anticipates that by June 2023, they will have served TWICE the number of families as in  2021 and 2022, with client incomes also increasing.

Angela’s new goal?  “I want to see 60% of our families reach the income “happiness index” of $70,000 in household income within three years of entering our HandUp program.  To date, about 10% of our clients are achieving or exceeding that mark within 12-18 months, so we have our work cut out for us, but we’re on the right track!”

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