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Mixing, mingling, and motivating: Introducing the FSS Program Coordinating Committee

Way Finders’ Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program revolves around—with great effectiveness and success—a one-on-one mentorship model. Clients work closely with the same staff person for up to five years in pursuit of their goals for greater economic mobility.

But, twice a year, the FSS team likes to mix it up. That’s when they host meetings of their Program Coordinating Committee (PCC) with the goal of encouraging participant feedback to help shape the future of the FSS program.

“We don’t even want to call it a meeting! We’re just getting together to have a conversation, staff and participants are mingling. We are really relaxed, we are drinking coffee, we’re having little fruits. It’s very casual,” said Family Self-Sufficiency Advisor Evelyn Baez, of the atmosphere the team strives for. “We hold it at the Springfield Housing Center in the midmorning, so participants can drop off and pick up their kids at school without issue. We try to be sensitive to that.”

At each meeting, staff invite a cohort of program graduates and participants to share their thoughts and reflect upon their milestones and experiences. Conversations may touch upon specific barriers that the program could better address or changes to policies or procedures that could be beneficial—plus topics that people are keen to learn more about.

“Participants don’t know each other, but by having these meetings they get to know at least one or two other people in the program,” said Family Self-Sufficiency Program Specialist Sonia Colon. “In hearing people’s testimonials, they know, ‘Oh, I’m not alone. She’s already doing that. She went through that already.’ They motivate each other.”

Baez, who attended a PCC training offered through the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, brought back information and best practices to her manager and team.

“The PCC is really driven by the participants and we’re there to facilitate and to listen. We’re there to connect them with the vendors and the resources that they need,” said Baez. “It’s also a space for the exchange of information, we start the meeting by sharing some FSS program updates, to keep our partners updated. And it’s a chance for participants to meet other Way Finders’ staff. At the last meeting, our director was there, the vice president was there.”

“Every staff member on the FSS team is part of the meeting—including Family Self-Sufficiency Advisors Melanie Costales and Luz White. We divide up the responsibilities. Like the agenda, who’s going to present, who will coordinate the participants, who will introduce the vendors. Each time, we invite at least one agency or institution to present, based on participant proposals from the previous meeting. It could be an employment agency, a welfare agency, an education institution, a shelter provider,” said Colon.

What has surprised Colon the most is how engaged the participants have been. “They keep asking, ‘When is the next one?’ They want to keep attending, and we welcome that.”

At the May 2024 meeting, three staff from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) presented their various programs. When they heard references to a DTA app, Baez and Colon took note—this was new information for them to pass on to clients and colleagues.

“I also learned that people can use SNAP food benefits at food vendor trucks,” said Baez. “I’d known that SNAP benefits were accepted at farmers’ markets. But I thought that was really good to know that there’s an allowance every day to go toward food trucks, because it makes sense, if you’re homeless you’re not going to have a kitchen to cook and prepare food. There are many people in that situation, so maybe not for our clients directly, but if someone in their network is in that situation.”

At the end of the May meeting, some participants were asking questions about starting a small business.

“So, we thought, ‘Oh, let’s invite Common Capital to present at our next PCC meeting!’” said Baez, of the shaping of the October 2024 meeting agenda to include Way Finders’ subsidiary, which specializes in creating economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income people, women, people of color, and immigrants in western Massachusetts.

Shout out to FSS team for the fantastic work—thank you for your commitment to evolving and improving the program in pursuit of helping clients reach their goals!