By working with the child and parent as a whole family unit, the 2Gen approach creates a legacy of educational success and economic prosperity that passes from one generation to the next.
The 2Gen Approach
You can invest in a child or you can invest in a parent. But when you invest in a child and a parent intentionally and simultaneously, you begin to build sustainable impacts and results across the region for families struggling to make ends meet. This is the philosophy behind the 2Gen Approach, a program out of Ascend at the Aspen Institute that has been embraced by philanthropic partners like Community Foundation of Sarasota County (CFSC) for the past decade. Since 2013, CFSC has invested in educational programs to benefit low-income children in north Sarasota County, while also providing comprehensive support for their parents.
When CFSC first began implementing the 2Gen approach, Alta Vista Elementary School was the pilot school through Suncoast Technical College (STC). A full classroom was built on the Alta Vista campus, so parents could attend classes to become certified nursing assistants (CNAs) using grants at the same time and location as their children attended school, removing major barriers to parent postsecondary education. Over the years, additional training and programs have been added and hundreds of families have been served.
“We’ve loved the concept from the very beginning and we’ve been really embracing this whole approach in the work that we do,” shares Kirsten Russell, CFSC’s Vice President of Community Impact. “One of the things that impacted me pretty early on in my time here was listening to a child tell a story. The child had won the prize for the week for good behavior, and she went into the prize box and picked out flashcards. When asked why she picked out flashcards, she said, ‘Well, it’s because my mom’s in school too and this is how she studies.’ And that was just a beautiful connection to see.”
Russell shares that while each part of our county is unique, north Sarasota County tends to have a lot of single moms who grew up there and for whatever reason, their hopes and dreams were shattered at some point. With the help of the 2Gen program, these women are able to reimagine their futures. “By providing the stipends and the support needed for these families to put food on the table and keep their lights on, we are allowing the parents to focus on their academic or workforce development.” says Russell. “Whatever path you take and whatever your life looks like, there are individuals who make up families, families make up neighborhoods, neighborhoods make up our school system and our community. And when each of those pieces are successful, it means our community is successful. We all want this to be a place that we’re proud to call home and by pouring into the people that make up this community, the return on investment is incredible, but it’s also sustainable.”
A Partnership with Many
While CFSC is very much the funder of the 2Gen programs, Russell shares that it takes a lot of collaboration with several different partners to really run the programs and work with the families. Some of those partnerships include the Housing Authority, Women’s Resource Center (WRC), Parenting Matters, Harvest House, the local school district, Take Stock in Children, Suncoast Technical College, State College of Florida, and so many other organizations that are pouring into the idea of the whole family approach. And, of course, the Aspen Institute remains important to the success of the programming. In fact, on February 6th, CFCS is holding their third Summit in which they are working with Aspen to bring national and local voices together to discuss the innovative practices that support families on their generational journeys to economic stability and educational success. “Hundreds and hundreds of families have been touched in some way, and through different organizations,” shares Russell. “So whether it’s UnidosNow helping our Hispanic population understand how to navigate the school district or Harvest House providing housing and mental health support or Boys & Girls Club offering after-school and summer programming, so many families are being served on some level.”
Regina Morris, Case Manager As Case Manager at Women’s Resource Center (WRC), Regina Morris works individually with clients in the program to prioritize their needs and help them create a plan. This plan typically includes linking them to resources within the Center and/or other agencies in the community. “Once the parent receives their scholarship stipend, she will come to me to figure out which bills can be paid based on the amount of money rewarded,” Morris says. In addition to help with bills, WRC offers mental health support, coaching, resume writing and various workshops that all the participants in this program have access to at no cost. “Once they’re done we hope they’ll remember us and stay with us,” Morris adds. “I’ll be here as long as they want me.”
Mary Tucker, Parent Education Navigator While going back to school and changing the path they’re on might seem impossible to struggling families, help is available and reaching out for it is the first step. Very often, the connections between a parent and support systems are made through referrals from school or community members when they hear the parent say, “I can’t pay my electric bill” or “I can’t pay rent this month.” Through different conversations, the parent may get directed to Mary Tucker, parent education navigator now in her 8th year in the role. Tucker works closely with parents with children attending Alta Vista, Emma E. Booker, Gocio and Tuttle Elementary Schools who want to go back to school themselves. “It’s all about making sure they are successful so I try to meet them where they are and find out where the barriers are to them achieving that success,” she says. “It may be that they need help with FAFSA, school applications or career counseling. Whatever it is, we are there to help.” As many of these families are often dealing with some level of trauma, it is important they have trust in Tucker to help treat the trauma and change the trajectory. Since children are in elementary school longer than they are in middle or high school, the parents usually come to see Tucker as a stable person that they always have access to during their journey and they begin to build a relationship and feel comfortable asking for help.
Jamie Kattrein, Director of Community Impact In her role as Director of Community Impact at CFSC, Jamie Kattrein leads the foundation’s two-generation approach and works with organizations to develop opportunities that benefit and support the whole family. “I have the incredible role of working with our 2Gen moms to ensure that the support they need to achieve success and to follow on their path to stability is at their fingertips,” she says.
A Career In A Year
The five women we meet next have tried to gain an education in the past but between family responsibilities and financial difficulties, they haven’t been able to achieve their goals until now. With the help of 2Gen partners, these adult learners are part of the LPN Cohort which started in February 2023 and will end in February 2024, giving them ‘a career in a year’. “We always say that we don’t work with the willing, we work with the very willing, because at the end of the day, it’s hard work,” shares Russell. “Just because it’s not your funds and it happens to be philanthropy that’s going to support you, does not mean it’s easy. It’s a lot of work to go back to school. These programs are challenging. They’re rigorous. So we want to help someone who really wants to do the work.” While very grateful for their mentors and support systems, they have also become a group of strong women relying on one another to get through a very challenging year-long program.
Jalysa Davis has often wanted to go back to school for a career in healthcare but there was always something holding her back. “With the help of Ms. Mary, I knew it was finally the right time,” she says. “I have three boys but once I had my daughter, I knew it was different. I want to be a strong woman and a good role model for her.” Davis has plans to become a registered nurse in the future.
Samantha Huffman is a returning student who started the program last year. Now that her 16 year-old daughter is able to help out with childcare, she feels confident that she’ll be able to complete the program this year. Huffman also plans to come back for the RN program. “I’m very thankful for these ladies taking a little weight off our shoulders so we can do this,” she says.
Vanshell Monix felt like she was on a roller coaster for a long time when trying to go to school and start a career. Now that her children are older, she feels that they are more self-sufficient and she can focus on this more. Her long-term goals include becoming a registered nurse in women’s healthcare.
Taren Battie couldn’t imagine ever making it back to school. After a friend referred her to the program, she applied, was accepted and connected to all the resources she needed, including a computer, uniform, shoes and backpack. Battie says the journey has been mentally hard but she tells her children, “Let me get through this year and I promise, it’ll get greater later. They are trusting in me and so I need to trust in myself.”
Shanel Sipla After losing her 52-year-old mom last December, Shanel decided to get back to school. The journey was tough from the start, she says. She was using her mom’s car but it broke down. As the mother of four daughters, one who is completely disabled, she felt hopeless. Her classmate Taren came to her rescue by driving her to class every day. “When I have a career in nursing I’ll be able to better care for my daughter in the long run,” she says. “I am so grateful for these ladies giving us a little cushion because without them and my classmates, this would be so much tougher.”
Adrianne Leutzow had a rough childhood. Bounced around in youth shelters and group homes, Leutzow fell in with a bad crowd and found herself in prison, missing out on the first few years of her two oldest children’s lives. Faced with debt upon her release and a suspension of her drivers license, Leutzow recalls feeling desperate with no way out. And then she learned about the 2Gen program which allowed her to continue her education, send her children to summer camp and spend much needed time with her family. Now the mother of five children ranging in age from six-16, Leutzow is adamant about setting a good example for her kids and helping others who find themselves in bad situations. She is grateful to the 2Gen community partners who have given her so much assistance, but also to other parents in the program who have become her support system and her friends. Her advice to other parents who fall upon hard times: “Keep putting one foot in front of the other and take one step at a time. Get an idea of what you want and anything is possible. Along the way, connect with whoever or whatever is available around you and don’t feel shame, guilt or fear about sharing what is going on in your life. You can’t get the help you need unless others know what you’re dealing with.”