New streamlined service offered by Community Concepts

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ROLL OUT — The two-generational model, or 2 Gen, by Community Concepts launched at the end of September at the Paris Fire Station with current and potential community partners, SAD 17 representatives, local organizations and federal and state representatives in attendance.

PARIS — Community Concepts recently rolled out a new program to not only streamline services for Mainers in need, but to offer clients as much assistance as possible to break the cycle of poverty.

The two-generational model, or 2 Gen, launched at the end of September at the Paris Fire Station with current and potential community partners, SAD 17 representatives, local organizations and federal and state representatives in attendance. After planning for more than a year, the program kicked off in Oxford County first since most of Community Concepts’ programs run here.ROLL OUT — The two-generational model, or 2 Gen, by Community Concepts launched at the end of September at the Paris Fire Station with current and potential community partners, SAD 17 representatives, local organizations and federal and state representatives in attendance.

Community Concepts CEO Shawn Yardley said the 2 Gen model is “fascinating” and came from some work that’s happening at the national level with Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

“What we are trying to do really is identify all the programs when a person comes in … that would support them moving out of poverty,” he said.

People who visit Community Concepts for help will automatically be shown what other services they are eligible for, but their children, too. The 2 Gen model streamlined and simplified the intake process to help Mainers and families in need.

“The big thing that is really good about 2 Gen and integral to families living in poverty is the wraparound service,” said Sandy Albert, director of Housing Improvement Services at Community Concepts. “We go and help the parents – while we’re there, it would make sense to talk about the child.”

The new model is about helping two generations move and stay out of poverty.

“The goal is to have a more potent impact on reducing poverty in our communities by getting at the generational root of the problem,” Community Concepts Chief Operating Officer Mary-Rita Reinhard said in a press release.

Yardley noted Community Concepts deals with 60 different funding streams for various programs, all of which have their own eligibility requirements. At times, this can be overwhelming for clients.

“We end up asking the same questions of a person, which is inefficient,” he said. “It’s a burden on the people coming in for the services.

“People think it’s easy to get all these benefits. It’s a lot of work on both sides,” Yardley continued. “It’s not about creating a culture to enable people to remain poor. The vast majority of people really want to get help by the system so they don’t need it anymore.”

Yardley and his wife are such an example. When he worked as a caseworker and his wife was a school teacher, it did not make sense for her to work only to have her paycheck go toward the childcare for their three babies in diapers. During that time they received Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits. Since then, Yardley has dedicated his life to helping others climb out of poverty.

Community Concepts staff in various program areas, including counseling, homeowners, LIHEAP and Head Start, have met over the past year to create the new program.

“What we tried to do is come up with common language and common information and we even did a very simple computer program [for] presumptive eligibility. It gives us an idea based on what you’ve told us what you’re eligible for [and] not eligible for,” Yardley said.

Community Concepts also uses the Crisis to Thrive Scale, which is a self-sufficiency matrix that covers the organization’s 10 domains of assistance ranging from food to housing to transportation.

“People are encouraged to complete the scale and then it really identifies what the issues are from their perspective,” Yardley said. “This identifies where they might be able to get help.”

This includes connecting people with outside agencies since Community Concepts does not run all of the assistance programs in its coverage area of Oxford, Androscoggin and Franklin counties.

Yardley noted compassion and empowerment are the driving forces behind 2 Gen, which also allows Community Concepts employees to make better use of available resources.

“The customer is empowered to choose what they want to do based on their own needs and where they’re at at any given point in time,” he said. “You can help families overcome something that is an immediate crisis [and then] focus on things that will sustain them going forward to help them truly move out of poverty instead of relying on the system.”

LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) is a great program to coordinate with since it helps thousands of Maine households, Yardley said. The need for such programs is “a symptom of an under-resourced family.”

“The LIHEAP program fills that gap and that need, but it just as well could be food,” he said. “If they had help with food, they would have more money for heat.”

Yardley and Albert emphasized the need for more community partners and “public policy to help funders buy into this idea.”

“We’ve done it with existing staff. … We’ve used some very precious limited discretionary dollars to fund a little bit of a capacity in the spirit of a pilot to show that it will work,” Yardley said.

He is hopeful about Senator Collins’ bill she introduced earlier this year called, “The Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act.” (See sidebar)

“I am really excited. If Senator Collins’ bill could get some traction, it would have federal agencies talking to each other and encourage what we’re trying to do for universal intake,” he said.

The goal is to expand it to the Lewiston Community Concepts office in the next few months and in the next year, cover the organization’s entire service area in Oxford, Androscoggin and Franklin counties. In doing so, the kinks will be able to be worked out from what was learned in Oxford County.

“Our hope is that this model will work on the micro level but also inform on the macro level what we need to do different,” Yardley said. “It’s not about making it easier for poor people. It’s making it easier for poor people to get out poverty. That benefits all of us.”

He added “everybody wins” when people are self sufficient.

Anyone interested in funding and/or working with Community Concepts on the 2 Gen program can contact Chief Marketing Officer Candace Sanborn at csanborn@community-concepts.org or 207-333-6452.

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Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act

WASHINGTON — In February, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, introduced the bipartisan Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act that focuses on combating poverty by empowering parents and children and allowing more flexibility for states, local governments and tribes in creating partnerships to invest in families living in poverty.

“Just as a child’s ZIP code should not determine his or her future success, neither should bureaucratic inflexibility make it so difficult for families to get the help they need to escape intergenerational poverty,” Collins said.

“The Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act I authored with my colleague, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), would equip both parents and their children with the tools that they need to succeed and become self-sufficient,” she continued. “This multigenerational method already has a record of success. Our bill would help promote these effective programs to increase the economic security, educational success, social capital, and health and wellbeing of whole families.”

If passed, the legislation would:

  • authorize a five-state pilot program to provide additional flexibility for states and local governments to improve the administration of programs using two-generation models.
  • create an advisory group on multigenerational poverty to coordinate efforts across federal agencies aimed at supporting vulnerable families and to make recommendations to Congress on ways to improve coordination of anti-poverty programs.
  • incentivize public-private partnerships to harness philanthropic and private-sector investments to implement proven social programs.

The bill is waiting to come before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.