Transforming Families Through a 2Gen Approach

Categories: Stories of Impact, BELONGING AND CULTURE: Strengthening Families, Two-Generation Approach,

Mireya Morales has many convictions, but one stands above all:

“I don’t want my children to be statistics,” she says. “I want more for them.”

A child of Mexican immigrants whose educational journeys ended after primary school, Morales herself ended up dropping out of high school and starting a family of her own as a teenager.

“That’s what was expected of me: have kids, get married, take care of my husband.”

If that’s what was expected, Morales has surpassed expectations. Over the past 19 years she has propelled herself forward, earning her GED and associate’s degree all while taking care of two daughters, now nine and 17, and working.

She now works as an executive assistant at a local organization, a position that, combined with her husband’s income, has afforded the family stability—they are homeowners and have achieved a comfortable lifestyle.

But she’s not done yet. She intends to return to school to earn her bachelor’s degree, a goal that she has set for herself, in part to show her children what a commitment to education and continual self-development looks like.

Morales is one of nearly 300 parents who have enrolled in college programs as a part of the 2Gen (two-generation) approach to Parent Pathways supported by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, that creates prospects for children in part by providing opportunities to their parents.

A philosophy as old as the family unit itself, the 2Gen approach operates on an understanding that a simultaneous, intentional focus is on both children and the adults in their lives delivers powerful and transformative outcomes. Although it is common to see a focus on just one component, like implementing pedagogical supports for children who struggle at school, the 2Gen approach takes the holistic view, recognizing that two major predictors of children’s academic success are parental educational attainment and parental income.

While the term “2Gen” was coined in the 1980s, the concept became more popular through the work of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, which has been a partner of the Community Foundation since their team introduced the foundation to the concept more than a decade ago.

Seeding Stability

The philosophy rests on the assumption that when both parents and their children receive opportunities for growth, it leads to positive family outcomes. The disruption of intergenerational cycles of poverty transforms individuals and families, and over time it also strengthens entire communities, says the foundation’s Vice President of Community Impact, Kirsten Russell.

“The return on investment when we provide families with pathways to prosperity is remarkable,” Russell says. “In our society, most families have a goal of social mobility, but what is necessary for that mobility is economic security.”

Family prosperity is one of the main goals of the 2Gen approach, and a metric that is easier to track. Since the Community Foundation began to focus on this philosophy, 80 percent of the nearly 300 parents enrolling in college or post-secondary programs funded in part by the Community Foundation have completed their credentials, leading to an average family wage increase of $17,550 a year.

“We want to help a family reach their full potential. That’s really what the 2Gen approach is all about,” Russell says. “No matter how much time kids spend in the classroom, they’re going to go home at the end of the day. A holistic approach says we’re going to take a look at the family as a unit and determine their needs and how we can help all individuals succeed and provide a positive impact to their community.”

Providing pathways to education entails many things, but one primary support is scholarships that allow parents to focus directly on their studies, rather than worrying about juggling school with long working hours. While the Community Foundation provides grants and stipends to enroll in these learning programs, financial investment alone is not enough to ensure success.

That’s where a parent education navigator comes in. At Alta Vista Elementary in Sarasota, a key school employee named Mary Tucker is the linchpin to parent success. Tucker provides parents with information about adult career and education opportunities, helping them complete applications, and ensuring that barriers that could impede progress are reduced or eliminated. This can mean helping coordinate car repairs, childcare, or in one recent case, calling a plumber out to a family’s house. Oftentimes, hers is the first number dialed when parents encounter any impediment, and sometimes, all it takes is her caring and reassuring presence to remind parents that they are not alone. Tucker’s position was funded for many years by the Community Foundation and recently was formally adopted as an official position by the school; it is a model that could prove instrumental at other schools across the Sarasota County School District, Russell says.

Mapping a New Future

While 2Gen often revolves around parent educational pathways, many times, when children witness their parents hard at work to improve the family’s situation, it motivates the children to study hard and find their own success.

Russell often thinks back to a conversation with a mother and daughter that really resonated with her. The child had just won an award at school and was given the opportunity to choose a prize from the classroom “treasure chest.” Options included toys, jewelry, candy, and other items young children might be excited to receive. Instead of picking out something for herself, the child selected a sealed package of index cards. She explained that she would give the cards to her mother to use for flashcards and notes.

“Here you have a child who is being directly impacted by watching her mom go back to school. So much so, that instead of picking out a gift for herself, she picked out a gift for her mom, because that is what she needs to study,” says Russell. “It goes to show that one of the best indicators of the potential success of a child is where the parents are, along with their educational pursuits.”

Education is a foundational component of the 2Gen approach for both parents and children, but it is based on centering parents’ voices, which often means creating innovative approaches to education. An example is Summer Learning Academies conducted at Sarasota County elementary schools and other area youth-serving nonprofit organizations. These programs have many advantages for families: they help mitigate “summer slide,” which disproportionately impacts lower-income students, while also providing free or affordable childcare and longer hours, so parents can continue working through the summer and not be saddled with large summer camp tuition fees.

Innovations ushered forth through 2Gen strategies extend beyond learning opportunities to include providing access to anything and everything in a community that improves quality of life now and for generations to come.

In the case of Mireya Morales, she knows the hard journey she’s traveled will make it easier for her children.

“I tell them, ‘It’s like I was on a boat and had to paddle myself, many times with weights attaching themselves,’” Morales says. “For my girls, it’ll be different. They’ll have their father and me helping propel their boat forward.”

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Community Foundation of Sarasota County is set to host the region’s third educational summit on the 2Gen approach in February 2024, at Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota. The last summit occurred in 2018, with plans to host one bi-annually being derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This invitation-only summit is designed primarily for families whose lives are impacted by the work of nonprofit organizations and those professionals and experts in the field of health and human services whose work is connected to the 2Gen approach.

Additionally, the program will discuss and evaluate the national and local trends regarding families and the systems they work within.

Keynote speaker Anne Mosle, head of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, returns to Sarasota to open a dialogue between these families and service providers and help inform a community conversation about areas of focus to address in the coming years.

“We very much believe that we should not come up with the ideas and solutions, we bring the people and families benefiting from the services to the conversation and ask them what they need to fulfill their hopes and dreams for themselves, and for their children,” says Russell. “Opening the conversation to the families is truly transformative for a community, a family, and for any kind of system.”

Attendees will also hear stories from families directly impacted by Community Foundation of Sarasota County and the 2Gen Approach.