March is “Make A Difference” month at HowWiseThen. My guest, Angela Burgess, Executive Director at RaiseUp Families in Houston, writes about how this non-profit helps families who struggle to juggle their financial obligations. RaiseUp Families helps chronically financially challenged people find an escape route from the grinding stress of running out of money before running out of month. Thank you, Angela for taking time to tell us about RaiseUp Families.
“It’s not how much you make but how much you spend.” Growing up in a middle-class family from Iowa, my parents repeated these words to me time and again. Neither of my parents held a college degree and neither of them made what would be considered a significant amount of money. And yet our bills were paid, we took a nice vacation every year, and we never wanted for anything.
As I grew older, 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.
The High Cost of Lessons Not Learned
How fortunate I was to have been brought up in a household where I learned this from a young age. Most families – especially those from disadvantaged communities – never learn this simple principle that can mean the difference between surviving and thriving.
Since 1994, RaiseUp Families has been laser focused on ensuring childhood learning by stabilizing families. When a family falls behind financially, the effects can impact generations.
Parents who must choose between paying the rent, the car note, auto insurance, utilities, or purchasing groceries to feed their children experience an enormous amount of stress. That stress is passed to children who sleep less, worry more, struggle to pay attention in school, and oftentimes act out.
The Price Children Pay
Pre-COVID, the average American family was just $600 away from an eviction. Most low-income families live paycheck to paycheck so one car repair, one major medical expense, or the loss of job (or a global pandemic) can easily force a family out of their home.
One of the unintended, and unnoticed, consequences of an eviction is the interruption in a child’s education. When a family is evicted from their home, most families seek temporary assistance from a friend or relative. Children often miss weeks or even months of school during this time and once a family finds new housing, children are usually enrolled in a new school district. This type of disruption places them significantly behind their peers academically.
The trauma of losing their home coupled with leaving a school, teachers, and friends they know to begin in a new school – usually with a different curriculum – and new children and faculty is devasting to a child’s development.
We All Pay When Children Suffer
One in four children in Harris County live below the federal poverty line ($26,850 annually for a family of 4), totaling more than 300,000 children. Low-income students drop out of school five times faster than their higher income peers, and 28% of Texas students fail to graduate from high school. Statistics like these can feel overwhelming. What can any one of us do to make a difference?
Affecting change starts by partnering with those who are dedicated to breaking the cycle. RaiseUp Families addresses the social, economic, and educational divides in our community through our signature nine-month “Hand Up” program. Rooted in personalized and comprehensive case management, we begin by conducting a needs assessment with each new client that informs their self-sufficiency plan.
Individual Support Key to Change
While clients work on individual goals and seek or retain employment, RaiseUp Families assists with basic living expenses, such as rent, utilities, transportation, childcare, job-related education and training until the family is able to cover these expenses.
Every month, clients bring bank statements, receipts, and paystubs to meet with their Case Manager to go over their budget. Case Managers help clients identify wants and needs, and make a plan to reduce spending on wants and make better choices around needs.
Whether as a couple or single parent, RaiseUp Families clients are required to accept an active role in overcoming obstacles with the support of case managers by participating in financial literacy courses, job skills training, job search and interview development, parenting and life skills courses, individual counseling as needed, and peer support groups to ensure a stable home environment that allows children the long-term opportunity to succeed in school.
A Hand Up; Not a Hand Out
Our Hand Up program creates sustainable change evidenced by our outcomes. In the past fiscal year, our clients experienced an average 35% income increase. Only 46% of clients held full-time employment upon entering our program, while 72% had secured full-time employment upon exiting. 100% of our clients remained in permanent housing one year after graduating our program, and 100% of their children remained in their same school or school district.
Every one dollar invested in RaiseUp Families generates approximately $20 in social benefit. This includes both future lifetime earnings and avoided social costs for children, who are less likely to drop out of school simply by having a stable home environment.
An Approach That Works
Most rewarding of all are the stories our clients share with us.
“My daughter has always struggled in school,” Cynthia told us. “She is the kid who is constantly acting out and distracting others. Today, she came home so proud because she received her first award in school – ever. I know it is a result of being in the RaiseUp Families program. I am less stressed because my bills are caught up for the first time in ages, and I have a plan to move forward. She sees that, and it makes it easier for her to focus in school.”
Blessed to Be a Blessing
Through the support of good people who believe in lifting families up out of poverty and providing them with the tools and resources they need to create the life they have always wanted for their children and themselves, our program changes lives for generations. RaiseUp Families is 100% privately funded to allow maximum flexibility in meeting client families’ needs.
One of my favorite sayings has always been, “If I knew better, I would do better.” I am fortunate that, when it comes to personal finances, my parents taught me “better” from a young age. Not everyone had that opportunity, and that’s where RaiseUp Families comes in.
What can you to do shrink the social, economic, and educational divide in our community? Support RaiseUp Families or our partner organizations. Your gift will change a life.
I met with several groups in February – in person or on-line – to talk about the amazing Mayflower story. Contact me through my website to make arrangements to speak with your group. Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures available now wherever books (in print, digital, and audio) are sold, including these places:
Bookshop.org (Supporting local Indie Bookshops)
Autographed copies available from BlueWillowBookShop.com/book/