The Forever Promise of a 2Gen Approach

Categories: Two-Generation Approach, Students, Education,

There’s an old saying:
“A parent is only as happy as their least happy child.”

For many, this sentiment rings true as an illustration of the interdependency of parents and their children, cementing the notion that parent and child well-being are inextricably connected.

It stands to reason, then, that the most effective way to propel families out of instability is to support them holistically and concurrently, with a focus on the needs of children and the adults in their lives that’s simultaneous and intentional.

This is the basis of the 2Gen (Two-Generation) Approach that has been at the root of our Community Foundation for more than a decade. In February, the foundation hosted the third regional 2Gen Summit to explore creating systemic change that interrupts intergenerational poverty by supporting whole families.

Held at Florida Studio Theatre, the Summit convened practitioners, nonprofits, donors, parents, and policymakers to examine current local and out-of-area programs that support a 2Gen approach. National experts from Ascend at the Aspen Institute and five of their Fellows shared ways to expand existing human services, education, and cultural programs into an integrated and coordinated effort that puts families at the center of the work of our dynamic nonprofit community.

While conventional interventions for vulnerable families often focus on either children, with educational supports, or adults, with social service support, the 2Gen approaches intentionally consider the whole family together to provide wraparound services and opportunities for self-development that lead to economic and social asset building.

“When you empower families, you provide the opportunity to achieve their potential and create a foundation that can be built upon through generations,” said Roxie Jerde, President and CEO of the Community Foundation. “It is magical to witness the transformation that families can make when supports are offered to parents and their children simultaneously and with the intention to achieve educational success and financial stability.”

Since 2012, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County has partnered with Ascend at the Aspen Institute, a catalyst of the 2Gen approach and a convener for diverse leaders working across systems to build intergenerational prosperity and well-being. In that time, the Community Foundation invested nearly $90 million in 2Gen strategies.

At the Summit, national experts in whole-family support systems delivered content and facilitated panel discussions with local Sarasota and Manatee County practitioners of 2Gen programs, along with local parents who have benefited from—and now lead—2Gen opportunities.

These parent leaders and the insight they offer was enlightening at the Summit and the basis for a new grant cycle that was announced that day: the Parent Leadership Grant cycle. Intended to encourage the inclusion of voices of those who have lived expertise, the grant invites nonprofits to center parent voices through creating Parent Advisory Councils, opening board leadership opportunities to parents, conducting training specific to understanding the day-to-day dynamics of parents seeking a better life, and more.

The Need is There

At the Summit, the foundation presented its new Community Indicators Dashboard, a new tool that offers third-party data on critical indicators of wellbeing (education, housing, health and economic strength) from reputable sources through graphs and charts that allow visualization of trends and projections. The dashboard allows for a deeper understanding of where needs exist and how factors of well-being are interdependent, providing philanthropists and practitioners with information that’s vital to formulating strategies for disruption.

Currently, in Sarasota County, 52 percent of students enrolled in public schools, or 26,520 children, qualify for Free or Reduced-priced Lunch; and 38 percent of all households in Sarasota County live at or below the ALICE (Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, but Employed) threshold, meaning that nearly 75,000 families in the county struggle to afford necessities like housing, transportation, utilities, and childcare.

Further, 33 percent of Sarasota County households are rent-burdened, defined as spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. The crisis of affordable housing, already crippling too many families, stands to expand as the county’s population is projected to increase by 40,000 people by 2031.

Back to Basics

The notion of empowering families as a means of building strong communities is not new; the link between individual and collective success has been recognized around the globe for centuries. But a systemic approach to whole family development, along with the term “2Gen,” took root in the 1980s, and re-emerged in the early 2000s, building momentum as a solution to shifting economic, demographic, and social realities.

“The research is clear that the top predictors of a child’s academic and financial success later in life are their parents’ income and education level,” said Kirsten Russell, Vice President of Community Impact at the foundation. “It makes sense to focus on parents as an integral part of helping children reach their full potential. The Summit is designed to help us take the great work the community has already accomplished to the next level.”

The Community Foundation’s commitment to 2Gen approaches is evident in initiatives focused on strengthening families through education, economic support, health and well-being, and social capital.

Initiatives since 2012 address the six components of 2Gen:

Early Childhood Education:

A foundation of success starts with the earliest years. Since 2012, Summer Learning Academies, founded by Joe and Mary Kay Henson at Alta Vista Elementary school, free summer camp-like programs held at public schools that provide academic support and meals for students, have boosted youngsters’ kindergarten readiness and overall academic achievement while enabling their parents to work with no cost burden or disruptions. The Strauss Literacy Initiative has provided professional development for teachers in the science of reading as well as tools to identify and intervene with reading challenges such as dyslexia. A partnership with the Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County has provided access to technology and weekly coaching sessions to evaluate and enhance teacher child interaction, specifically in language. The data collection measures early literacy skills of beginning readers.

K-12 Education:

EdExploreSRQ provides access for all students to hands-on, experiential learning opportunities, and the Student Emergency Fund helps students facing economic crisis attain items and services necessary to their education like glasses, shoes, clothing, food, transportation and more. Thanks to many generous donors, our community foundation is a leading regional provider of scholarships based on need for both high school graduates and “adult” students returning to school age 24 and older. Recognizing the needs in the community for sustaining support, in recent years, many scholarship opportunities through the foundation are renewable. Further, acknowledging that pursuing education as a parent comes with unique needs, like childcare and help with navigating other life expenses, implementing a Parent Success Program has been key to the Community Foundation’s 2Gen strategy.

Social Capital:

While individual motivation is critical to progress, collective input is often key to the most successful outcomes. Social capital— the networks of trusted relationships that enable society to run effectively—is a necessity. Through Parent University, a component of Summer Learning Academies, and cohort-based educational opportunities, parents have an opportunity to meet with other like-minded people that can form bonds that build social capital. The Parent Education Navigator is a role initially funded by the Community Foundation, now a position supported by Sarasota County Schools, that helps parents navigate the complex system of resources as they re-imagine their possibilities.

Economic Assets:

Shifting economic realities are placing stability further out of reach for many families—nearly 40 percent of single-parent Sarasota County households are rent-burdened. Investments in affordable and workforce housing, such as Lofts on Lemon and Family Promise of South Sarasota County Parkside Cottages, have enabled affordable, dependable, and safe housing for many families. The enduring safety net Season of Sharing, which in 24 years has distributed over $38 million to more than 50,000 families, has covered one-time expenses, like rent or mortgage, utilities, and other necessities so that families can rebound from economic setbacks. Beyond assisting when family budgets are tight, 80 percent of the nearly 300 parents enrolling in college or post-secondary programs funded in part by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County have completed their programs, leading to an average family wage increase of $7,000 a year.

Health, Including Mental Health:

With one in six adults in Sarasota County living without health insurance, the need for affordable and accessible healthcare is dire. The Community Foundation has partnered with several nonprofits delivering quality healthcare and counseling services to parents, families and children—either free or based on ability to pay—such as The Florida Center of Early Childhood, Forty Carrots Family Center, Samaritan Counseling Services, NAMI Sarasota-Manatee, Children First, and more.