Mentoring makes FamilyForward unique
FamilyForward has been a force for good in the northwest suburbs of Chicago since 2003. With the partnership of our supportive community, we continue to empower low-income, working families to take control of their financial challenges. As parents work to reach targeted, realistic goals, they begin to build stability for their family. They begin to live a better life. They begin to have hope for a positive, secure future.
Our unique mentoring program is one of the critical keys to families’ success as they work to break the cycle of poverty. Here’s how:
Frequent check-ins and active communication.
Mentoring sets FamilyForward apart from other organizations. In many agencies, participants may check in with their case worker every so often, sometimes only once every few months. FamilyForward volunteer mentors meet with the family each week. Why so often? Because we know that two years can go by in the blink of an eye. Long-term goals cannot be met without constant progress on short-term goals, and the weekly meetings help keep the family on track. Don’t we all do better on our to-do list when we are accountable to someone else?
We understand that every family comes into financial distress for different reasons, and every family’s path to financial stability will look different. What works for one family might not work for another. Our customized approach results in each family having its own volunteer mentors to help figure out a plan that will work for them. As we often say, FamilyForward is transforming lives, one family at a time.
Targeted strategic problem solving.
Many families enter our program with income too low to support themselves in the long run. They work with their mentors on finding ways to grow their income. Do you need a higher paying job? Let’s talk about the job search, the resume, the interview. Do you want to go back to school to finish your degree or professional certificate? Let’s talk about how you can balance that schedule while still working and parenting. Do you want a side hustle? Let’s talk about what you can do in your spare time to bring in extra dollars. Our philosophy is that the way out of poverty is through work, more work, and better work.
Focus on finances.
Many families have expenses that outpace their income. FamilyForward mentors place a strong emphasis on household budgeting to help the family figure out what they can actually afford. Families work with their mentors to set spending goals and to learn how to live frugally, within a budget. Mentors also coach families on how to reduce their debt by identifying which bills to pay off, and in what order.
Every family who enters our program has no money in savings. In many cases it was the lack of savings that sent the family into a downward financial spiral after an emergency occurred. FamilyForward mentors coach the family on how to set aside money from each paycheck, even if it is only a modest amount, to start a rainy-day fund for future emergencies.
Our mentors talk a lot about money. But over time, as the mentors and the family develop a relationship, other issues may come up for discussion including, for example, car repairs and maintenance; the parent’s physical and mental health; the child’s physical and mental health; childcare arrangements; child support from the child’s other parent; advocating for oneself in the workplace; learning how to organize one’s time; and planning ahead. We know that all these factors contribute to a family’s financial stability, even when they do not have to do specifically with dollars and cents.
Two dedicated mentors with complementary skillsets.
Time and time again, participants in our program have talked about the benefit of having two people who are on their team — people who can give advice and encouragement, act as cheerleaders, and provide a consistent voice of reason. The moral support mentors provide is just as valuable as the money-management skills they teach.
FamilyForward mentors receive training from our staff and ongoing support from our professional case manager. The mentors are volunteers who bring a variety of skills and life experience to the program. The most important thing they bring, however, is a belief that every individual is capable of change and every family deserves hope.