Building Resilient Families

Happy New Year, listeners! We’re starting the new year off strong with Episode 16 of TechBridge Talks. 

On today’s episode , Adam sits down with Familes First CEO DePriest Waddy. Families First is a nonprofit based in Atlanta, Georgia that provides empowering solutions for Atlanta’s most vulnerable populations. They’ve been in operation for nearly 130 years, providing a variety of services to those in need. DePriest and Adam talk about adoption, building resilience within families, and how technology is crucial in understanding the stories of each person they help. Enjoy today’s show!

Transcript
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first is a nonprofit based in Atlanta, Georgia that provides empowering solutions for Atlanta's most vulnerable populations. They've been in operation for nearly 130 years, providing a variety of services to those in need. DePriest and Adam talk about adoption, building resilience within families and how technology is crucial in understanding the stories of each person they help.

Thanks for joining us. Enjoy today's show!

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Joining me on the show today. I have the privilege of talking with families for a CEO, the priest welcome to the.

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So I'm really excited to talk to you about, about your passionate, about what you do and about Families First. So let's start off with you, give a scan of the 32nd overview of who you are and what.

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Embrace, uh, uh, an adoptive or a foster child. So also thank you very much for that. That's a lot of love in the family. Uh, but um, about me, I've been the CEO of Families First, uh, going on three years now. And I, you know, when you're nonprofit executives, there, there are different levels of passion that you have, you know, for community service in my wheel house has always been around, uh, protecting children and, you know, Uh, accelerating families, uh, introducing them to resources that they need in order to do better.

And, and the reason why I love this work so much, and especially our new, our new strategic plan of work is because, you know, our families are hurting. I mean, COVID-19 has just turned everything on its back and the most vulnerable families are getting hit the heart. And so, you know, as you say, a family search has been around for over 130 years, and in order to be relevant in this space, you have to reinvent yourself.

And obviously we've done a good job of that multiple times. And so our new work and our new footprint, uh, has to do with how do we make individuals because individuals or families too. So even a family of one, but how do we make individuals. Um, how do we assess their resilience so that they could get up and get back out there after a setback?

Because you know, I've been in this work a very, very long time, and I've been in organizations where we've thrown everything in the kitchen saying to a child to help their child to do better, but children at their, at their core, they're going to look to their caregivers and their parents for those behavioral examples.

And so I'm excited about our new work because. Even though the child is the beneficiary. We're going to be looking strongly at that caregiver to see if they're doing the right things around parenting. And if they're not, or if they need some additional help, we're going to put together a cocktail of resources so that they can elevate themselves, you know, potentially get out of poverty and get stable.

And then that child is going to see mom and dad getting back on their feet from living in the car to get in sustainable house. To go on to, you know, to co-ops for food, you know, to go on, on a job interview and getting those resources for clothing and interviewing and resume building skills from other non-profits.

So it's a village to get families back on their feet. But we're quarterbacking and making sure that once those gangs, you know, hit a family or a caregiver, that those gains stick. And so they don't slip back to ground zero and that's what children need. They need some great examples. So that, that second, third, fourth generation and beyond can do better than the previous ones.

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Right. And those are the people that really need that additional support, that additional help to make sure that not only are they able to, to be able to gain financially, but then they can also have the time to just be a parent. I mean, they, you know, a lot of families at the poverty line they're working 2, 3, 4 jobs.

Just to stay at the poverty line. There's not a lot of parenting time involved there. And so I love that you're doing the, it sounds like you're doing wraparound services to make sure they're okay. And to help lift them up. Is that, does that, does that sound right?

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You have a flat tire, you know, if you're like me, you know, I'm, I'm, I'm fortunate enough to be able to call AAA because I don't know how to change a tire unless I pull out the owner's manual. And I probably be on the side of the road for about six hours. But a lot of our families, you know, if a carburetor breaks or even just running out of gas, then they're going to be late to work.

And they probably been late to work before, or they're late to get children from daycare. Whoever's keeping the child. If the workplaces is, is unforgiving, then there's a job loss. Then there's rent that has to be paid. If the rent's not paid, they're going to be evicted medical care. You know, if they don't have medical insurance, then now they don't have money to even go to the emergency room or, or, um, or one of the doc in the boxes.

So it just, it just, it just, everything just sort of falls apart and, and we want to make sure that. As we build what I call this resiliency muscle, um, that families are not so close to the guard rails to where they spill over. If something happens, they're all, there's always a little bit of pushing out there that we can help them to obtain.

Or some of our non-profit partners can kind of help them along the way. This is not a sprint. This is really a marathon level of. Because when a person or persons come in our doors, then they typically have some emergency needs that have to be taken care of first, before we could even get them to start talking about, you know, building, you know, resources for, you know, stable housing.

A lot of times they need emergency shelter. First. It's kinda like, you know, before you could even start thinking about a house, you gotta get a job and you got to get a bank account. And you got to kind of have to build that muscle around those baby steps to build up to some of the major things that you're trying to accomplish.

So we don't even try to overwhelm our, the families that we serve with these long-term gangs. We try to get them first, save the children, save, get, get, get the trauma reduced. Typically there is a mental health, uh, knee, and we have a behavior. Uh, us, uh, a cadre of support that we provide to our families.

And then once they start feeling confident and they start feeling as if they're ready to get back out there, then we start working with some goal setting and some other things, but we stick by them until the hand, even, even once they accomplished their goals, there was an aftercare regimen where we check in with them for up to two years, because there's nothing worse than being at the top of your game.

Your, excuse me, at the top of your game. And then, you know, something happens or you have a mental health trigger and then all of a sudden you're back to square one.

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You've held some high level roles at some really great organizations, you know, boys and girls clubs United way. What drew you to Families First and what keeps you excited and passionate about the mission?

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And I was, I was afforded the opportunity of, um, of, of. Uh, moving out of a corporate arena into nonprofit leadership. And you're not a way it was somewhat of a gateway, uh, to me to get to ignite that passion. So I started out as a loaned executive in the late eighties, you know, when I was a young executive.

And I took three months off to serve as a loaned executive for a capital campaign for the capital campaign that they have every year. Uh, I was with, um, uh, bell, south communications at the time. And so after that stint was over and I had worked with the CEO on that campaign, I just really got struck by the bug.

And then several years later, You know, I was able to move into several nonprofit roles that focused on, you know, education, you know, children and youth family services spend a number of years with big brothers, big sisters. Um, I was their number two guy in the mentoring space and I saw just phenomenal gangs that children with mentors.

And that became somewhat as a GuideStar for me to do other levels of work in accelerating families. And so I know that at the core of this work, fundamentally parents want the best things for their children, but conversely many parents don't know the pathways on how to get their children to a successful outcome as.

You know, through my network and, you know, folks who are passionate about this work, other nonprofit leaders, other corporate leaders, we've been able to do some phenomenal work around helping families to understand that reaching out and getting that help in hand is okay. Not only is it okay, but it is pattern forming for their children because I've seen homeless individuals go from, you know, Basically under minimum wage to six figure jobs with the right training, the right resources, the right mentorship.

And just, just, just with the right understanding that everybody's going to have setbacks. I've had my setbacks, you know, everybody on reserve has done or hit a Rocky Rocky Rocky place, but is how you deal with that setback and how you bounce back. It was really important to being successful.

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That's right. I love that. Love that. So as you know, and I think I mentioned this earlier in the intro, you know, TechBridge divides divides up our work across four pillars, hunger relief, homeless support, social justice, and workforce development. I'm just curious, kind of, where do you see Families First plugging in to each of those pillars?

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So we have to be there before. And this is how this is how we define social equity. Uh, first we want to make sure that our clients have access to, uh, mental and behavioral health and physical health, because most of our clients use the emergency room as their medical home. And we know that how expensive that is on the system.

And we know that is more an intervention versus a preventive, a system of care and as is typically not, not healthy to do that. So we want to make sure that first they're aware that there are resources to where, you know, preemptively, they don't have to go to emergency room. There's some things that they could do before they, you know, they hit that particular snack.

The second area is around housing. We want to, we want to provide a network of resources and convene the community to help individuals first get stable housing, because when you're living in our car, as I said earlier, can't really talk about owning a home. But once we get them stable, cause most of them, most of the folks that come through our doors are housing insecure, right?

So once we get them stable and they start. You know, taking their meds. If they need medication or regularly stand up therapists, we assign them a navigator or coach. So once they're really tuned into the sequence of, you know, doing what they need to do to get back on their feet, then the ultimate goal is for them to have a livable wage job and then ultimately home ownership and then you're building equity and then you're building generational.

Then you're there. You're, you're, you're increasing your skills. And so the narrative touches all of those boxes that are passionate to take bridge of churches, workforce development, because as our navigators are engaging with these families, they also have an audience with employers to help them to better understand, you know, how individuals going through poverty, how they operate, how they think.

And we want employers to be. You know, more forgiving and how they look at someone who comes in late, because they've got to drop their kids off at daycare and they might have that flat tire, or they might have some type of a setback or they may wake up and they might be dealing with some type of depression or some type of a mental health trigger.

As so as an employer myself, as I get to know my employees and do it throughout my career, I found that. These are real world situations that employees go through. And if they have, if they have an understanding boss, they can kind of help them to connect to better resources. Then you're less apt to fire an individual when they have a job.

And you're more apt to help an individual who is going through the right steps to get back on their feet, to give them a chance, versus just looking at that resume and checking off boxes. If they meet the criteria. Hmm.

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And, and, uh, can you give us like, kind of a broad overview of what that's been like, what your experience has been like and, and just kinda tell us more about that?

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One of the things we're really proud about is our toolkit around how we assess an individual's resilience. And so, uh, I'm going to break it down very simply, but it's a whole lot more complex than it is, but we look at three quadrants around resilience. The first is around, uh, connectivity to resources.

So if a person needs food, you know, how connected are they to a COVID. You know, if they need clothing, shelter, you know, to what degree are they connected to those basic needs than an individual, uh, kind of reaches out to speaks to those social determinants of health. What those basic things are, we need to survive.

So there is a, there's a quadrant in this resiliency, a toolkit that gives us a score for that. Then there's a score around, let's just say optimism, you know, If you are, I had a, had a setback and we were job insecure. I probably got a couple of thousand folks in my LinkedIn. And, you know, I'll call you and say, Adam, who do you know, um, I'm looking for a job, you know, or I'm I want to start a business or something like that.

But a lot of our families that we support really don't have that level of optimism, that if they hit a snag, they're going to be able to get back on their feet. So it's kinda like you wake up frozen because you lost your job the day before. And you know that there are jobs out there, but you get in your own head and you start saying, nobody's going to hire me.

I'm not worth it. I'm worthless. You know, I'm useless. And so to get a person around that negative speak around themselves, you know, feel it feeling data in their own skills and abilities that sort of speaks to that optimism score. And we want to make sure that through the work, through our behavior health center, that they're there, that they're feeling good about themselves.

Even in spite of a setback, you know, poverty is a state of mind. Hmm. And, and poverty is temporary, but you have to see it as a state of mind before you can rise out of it. Right. And then the third, the third score is something that I wish I had known about when I was raising my child, um, who now has her own family and children.

And I guess we did. Okay. But it's around connected connectivity, you know, think in terms of, if you were to. Train your children on how to build a network of resources and then individuals that they can tap into an early age. When I was a kid, I was very intimidated and I didn't want to talk to adults. I didn't even want to talk to my parents friends, but then as I got older and I realized what type of access visa does, could have had to influence my life even better than it was.

I realized that I could've been exposed to golf earlier. You know, I could have been exposed to, you know, any number of sports because you know, a lot of my parents' friends were athletes. Some of them were business owners. I could have been exposed to entrepreneurism machine younger. So when you think about that connectivity score, that's really a game changer.

And so when you aggregate these three scores, you build a profile as to what help an individual needs are harder to become more resilient. They may have some of one and not enough of another, or they might have too much of one and none of another in order to get back on their feet. So when TechBridge was really, really instrumental in helping us to achieve is taking this resiliency assessment tool and building a port.

So as we score individuals, we're able to segment according to race and ethnicity, neighborhood, zip code, and all those data points help us to develop a narrative around what individuals need as an aggregate. So that as I convene with leaders in the community, I can inform, you know, employers, I can inform politicians around.

What bridge has needed to be put into place on a macro level, but then I'm helping these individuals through my team on a micro level to become more resilient. So we're working it from a bottoms up approach and then from a systems approach from the top down, and this has got to be a true game changer in how nonprofits are viewing their clients.

Because right now we've got close to 29 prophets. They're using our resiliency assessment tool. And we're aggregating all of the data of their clients to build this story around what the community needs in order to be successful around resilience.

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And I love that you're using using data to ma measure and manage that. It's fantastic. So the priests last question. Uh, and, and maybe you kind of already answered it honestly, but, but what role do you see technology playing in Families First future and for the nonprofit sector as a whole?

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Now, when I was on the board, we had a challenge in that a lot of nonprofits were still working with computer equipment. You know, so, oh, that it wasn't relevant in the, in the tech space, in order for them to scale. I don't see that as being much of a problem anymore. I think that we've kind of listened to TechBridge and other organizations.

And I think the boards of directors of these nonprofits have really helped them to galvanize. To become more efficient based on a corporate paradigm, so to speak. And so that's been very helpful in bridging that gap of what that technology footprint needs to be in the average nonprofit. But for us, we find that technology is going to be very important in our future because this is a very expensive proposition to super impose, so much, uh, navigating on a.

And we can't do it with what I call sneaker net. We can't do it just with, you know, touching one individual with another individual on my staff. We've got a scale. And so we're using this technology to scale our work because it's aggregating the data. It is, it is working with us around a tele-health platform, especially during COVID.

You know, most of our clients that we see, you know, for the therapy sessions, we're seeing them on, on the computer or w or we're talking to them on the phone. And some of them need to see us multiple times throughout the week. And so technology plays a huge role in the scalability and build the economies of scale.

So there is not as expensive as it otherwise would be. If you were putting staff time in everything that you.

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Thank you for the impact you're making on families and on children and just for the great work. Uh, we really, really appreciate it. And thank you for joining us on the show today.

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I think that is gonna be, um, we're gonna have a lot of work ahead and a lot of great work and yet in transformed families for years.

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This podcast is produced by TechBridge to find out more about our work and how you can be a part visit TechBridge. That's TechBridge.org. Also make sure to follow us on social media. Thanks again for listening and tune in next week for more great content.