Mix two determined local government leaders, an innovative philanthropic foundation, and a host of partners equally committed to building economic security for families—and you get a recipe for success.

Backed by funding from The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, Hollie Cost, Mayor of City of Montevallo and Bridgette Smith, Councilmember, City of Vincent, are leading a group of multi-sector organizations changing how Shelby County serves its most vulnerable population: women and their children.

Vincent Councilwoman Bridgette Jordan-Smith (left) and Montevallo Mayor Hollie Cost (right) are working with The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham to find sustainable solutions to address poverty in Shelby County where approximately 1 in 5 single women with children live below the poverty line despite Shelby County being the most affluent county in the state.

Shelby County is the most affluent county in the state of Alabama, yet approximately 1 in 5 single women with children live below the poverty line. Thrive Together Shelby County and its two-generation (2Gen) approach is changing this.

Inspired by the Aspen Institute’s research, 2Gen is a national, research-informed model that intentionally integrates and aligns often-isolated services for children and adults simultaneously in ways that break the cycle of poverty for the entire family. 2Gen helps children and families get the education and workforce training, social supports like parenting skills, and health care needed to create a legacy of economic stability and overall well-being that passes from one generation to the next.

By removing unnecessary silos and integrating antipoverty programs, streamlining services, and working across generations, 2Gen efforts are informed by and make more sense for children and families. 2Gen ensures programs meant to empower children and families are equitable in their offerings and availability and are rigorously measured to confirm they work.

“Our residents and local nonprofits do a wonderful job of donating food, volunteering to help others, and responding to immediate critical needs,” Mayor Hollie Cost of Montevallo said. “But historically, we have missed the mark in offering sustainable solutions that serve to elevate residents equitably. This is why we were so interested partnering with The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham to bring 2Gen to our community.”

The City of Montevallo is one of 19 members of Thrive Together Shelby County, a 2Gen collaborative network providing seamless, wraparound services to low-income women and their families with the goal of ending generational poverty. Thrive Together organizations include community colleges, public and private job training initiatives, and social services.

Bridgette Jordan-Smith, councilmember with the City of Vincent, said Thrive Together will open doors for many Shelby County residents and the city itself. “It extends our services and reach well beyond our city border. Our residents will have access to a wider variety of opportunities and Vincent has been able to solidify its relationship with some incredible partners.”

Thrive Together Shelby County is one of three collaboratives to grow out of an 18-month strategic funding initiative by The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham targeting resources and support to public and private organizations committed to improving service delivery to disrupt poverty. Similar models operate in Jefferson and Walker County.

“Since 1996 The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham has utilized strategy-based philanthropy as a tool to accelerate economic opportunity for women,” said Melanie R. Bridgeforth, President & CEO of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. “Our investment in Shelby County is about transforming systems to disrupt cycles of poverty and it demonstrates the value-add of public and private sectors coming together to solve social problems. This work is spurred by investments from foundations and corporations in addition to public funding partners like the Shelby County Commission.”

Families participating in Thrive Together Shelby County can begin the intake process at multiple locations. The primary entry portals will be Shelby Emergency Assistance, Montevallo Head Start, and Montevallo Boys and Girls Club. Secondary entry portals include schools, churches, libraries, DHR and Safehouses, among others.

“By combining a virtual intake and data collection service with personal on-site coaching, families in need of services can access a more seamless system as opposed to the disjointed, time consuming process they’re used to,” said Councilmember Jordan-Smith.

“We like to say there is no wrong door for a family,” Mayor Cost said. “A family’s path will include access to supports like postsecondary education, child care, transportation, asset building, workforce training, health and wellness, and whatever else the families tell us they need during their intake interview. And rather than driving all over the county like they often do now, participating families will be directed to services in closer proximity to their homes.”

No matter their entry point, every family will receive coaching to help them access resources, build skills, and reach personal, family, and career goals. The coach builds on family strengths and offers individualized supports as well helping to identify and address obstacles to success.

“Throughout our history of funding 2Gen programs, we have learned that a quality family coach is necessary for long-term success,” said Jacob Smith, Grants and Research Director and Thrive Together project lead for The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham.

Over the previous 18 months, Thrive Together Shelby County organizations worked closely with a team of national experts from the Aspen Institute, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham mission strategies staff, a local coach and incorporated advice and feedback from families who have participated in similar pilot programs funded by The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. The Family voices were critical in informing the team’s understanding of the needs of the families in their service area and how best to redesign their delivery approach.

“As a funder, we are committed to bringing and investing in innovative and scalable solutions that accelerate economic prosperity for all. We value and look forward to expanding opportunities to bring public and private entities to the table to solve social problems,” Bridgeforth said.

Mayor Cost echoed: “By fully integrating a comprehensive range of services and coaching families through a pathway to prosperity, I am confident that Thrive Together Shelby County will be transformational to families in our county and ultimately across the state, if and when adopted more broadly.”


 

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of The Alabama Municipal Journal, a publication by the Alabama League of Municipalities.

The Alabama League of Municipalities is a nonpartisan membership association of nearly 450 incorporated cities and towns. Since 1935, the League has worked to strengthen municipal government through advocacy, training and the advancement of effective local leadership.

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