Its group connection tools strengthen family engagement
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Terrence Trice sat in a financial literacy class amid a group of mostly single mothers holding infants and toddlers. He was there at the behest of Shaela, his wife of four years, and Parents as Teachers (PAT), an internationally-recognized leader in the early childhood development and home visiting field.
Parents as Teachers had convened 13 families to participate in its Show Me Strong Families (SMSF) community outreach program called Goal$ and Assets: Family Conversations about Money. SMSF is one of the Parents as Teachers 1,300 community engagement programs administered from the organization’s national headquarters here. It offers Goal$ and Assets as a six-week ongoing series designed to foster group connections and support family well-being by increasing financial education.
Terrence, 28, was the lone male enrolled in the series, held at The Heights in Richmond Heights, Mo. This Thursday was graduation day. The class eagerly awaited their certificates of completion and gift cards to open bank accounts, rewards for finishing the series. Terrence and Shaela, 25, attended with daughters Shaina, 6, and Tayaina, 6-months-old, a binary dynamic that was noticeable to all.
Of the class, Terrence, a north St. Louis city resident and St. Louis Public Schools product, said: “I thought I knew about handling money until my wife came home from the class and asked me to put together a budget. I realized then, that I had forgotten everything I thought I knew about money managing. In fact, when I used to get paid, I would give my money to my wife to manage.
“You see, I was raised to keep all my money in my pocket and spend it on whatever,” he lamented, adding, “but this program taught me how to make a budget and list things I needed money for; more important, (sic) it gave me an outlet to stay off the streets.”
Terrence’s circumstances are not that atypical. His tumultuous childhood only foreshadowed how he would cope with maturity. Like so many facing financial challenges, his road to discovery was a rocky one. His mother died when he was a child and his father dealt with problems that prevented him from being a permanent fixture in his life.
Consequently, Terrence wound up in group homes – where he met Shaela, who also had been living on the margins. He languished there for 10 years until he broke the cycle as an adult, and began climbing the ladder out of hopelessness. He toiled in menial jobs and darted in and out of street life until he married Shaela. Together they forged a path toward self-improvement. The Goal$ and Assets classes gave them the chance to meet other young parents, some with similar circumstances.
Donna Givens, manager of community partnerships and groups at Parents as Teachers, set them up with group connections, part of SMSF’s formula for strengthening families. Givens’ talent for connections is emblematic of her job. She orchestrates group connections to give single, teen or stressed out parents the opportunities to build support networks.
“We use group connections to provide parents with learning experiences that give them the ability to parent their children around other families,” Givens said.
To date, SMSF has partnered with more than 400 families with nearly 500 children using the Parents as Teachers evidence-based home visiting model. The model delivers a program of services with 35 years of proven experience in increasing early learning, development, and the overall health of children by partnering trained professional educators with parents from the time of pregnancy until the child is born and enters first grade.
These interactions have positive outcomes for preventing child abuse and neglect in the long run and ensure that children are ready and prepared to learn when they reach school.
According to recent Census reports, annually about 5,000 mostly impoverished, local teens and young adults become new parents. They face financial hardships and other factors like higher rates of depression, food insecurities, and histories of surviving abuse and social isolation. These issues make it difficult for them and their children to succeed and often lead to child abuse and neglect. The Parents as Teachers home visitation model seeks to reverse that trend by helping fortify families.
Collaborating with like-minded organizations is a cornerstone of the Parents as Teachers home visiting model and an integral part of SMSF. Recently, City of St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones visited a Goal$ and Assets class as part of the city’s Office of Financial Empowerment initiative. Through the program, the city conducts free workshops on credit building and money and budget management.
Givens said Jones’ inspirational message resonated with the parents and helped educate and empower them to make better choices with their money. “We were thrilled to have Ms. Jones as a guest speaker,” Givens said, adding, “Our parents, as well as our parent educators were stimulated by her genuine compassion for their circumstances.”
Parent educators are trained in the Parents as Teachers model. Many of them are parents who have used Parents as Teachers services. They help other parents navigate life’s ups and downs through personal home visits and, together, set goals for the parents to achieve. “They walk alongside with the families as partners every step of the way,” Givens said.
Tara Ervin is one such parent educator. She has been working at Parents as Teachers for 15 months and serves 20 families. She goes into their homes at least twice a month for up to two years and helps with child development, kindergarten readiness and goal setting.
“It’s really rewarding to see families grow towards self-sufficiency,” Ervin said. “I like to think we play a vital role in helping them reach their goals and aspirations.”
The Thursday afternoon financial education class at The Heights had finally concluded. One-by-one, the young parents accepted their accolades. Terrence, holding Tayaina, had laudatory things to say about Ervin and Show Me Strong Families. He credits them both with making his life better.
“She’s been in my life a long time,” he said of Ervin, one of his most vocal and ardent supporters. “Thanks to her and this program, I can handle my own money and don’t have to rely on my wife to budget it for me. Now, I can save money for my kids and the whole family. That makes me feel really good.”