Category Archives: Education

What Sticks: Learnings from Fedcap’s 11th Solution Series

Lessons Learned written on chalkboard

On Wednesday, March 30th, Fedcap held its 11th Solution Series—a forum for discussing and forging new strategies and solutions to address the top issues facing people with barriers to economic self-sufficiency.

Each time we hold a Solution Series, I am struck once again by our tagline: The Power of Possible. The “power” comes from gathering a community of business executives, representatives from government agencies and academe, policy makers, providers, and consumers of our services united in the purpose of finding innovative ways to alter the stigma—and the lives—of those of us who face barriers. The “possible” is the creation of an open forum where issues are discussed and the audience leaves enlightened and energized to continue to seek precise and realistic solutions to the tangible and intangible issues that challenge those with barriers. These events are among the many reasons why I love my work and am reminded that every day, our work is improving the lives of those we serve.

The Solution Series on March 30th was one of our best ever. Our goal was to gather a panel to discuss strategies and solutions for supporting individuals in the workplace recovering—or struggling—with substance use disorder or mental illness. Over 150 people, representing 65 businesses came together at the top of the Mutual of America building on Park Avenue in New York, and upwards of 100 attended via live-stream from all over the country. Facilitated by Chief Strategy Officer, Lorrie Lutz, the panel included Matt Sisk, Deputy Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, Brooke Wilson, the director of Resources for Living at Aetna, and Jim Salzano, the CEO of Easy Spirit (a Nine West holding).

Each speaker brought a different perspective to the issues of recovery in the workplace. Brooke Wilson spoke of “presenteeism”—the concept that there are people who show up for work every day, but they are really not present—not contributing at full capacity because they may be wrestling with addiction or mental health issues. She outlined specific things to look for as well as ways to help educate managers, leaders, and co-workers about the warning signs of presenteeism. Brooke’s work at Aetna has been to transform what was formerly known as the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) into a much more open and accessible resource called Resources for Living—with great results including a sizeable increase in people taking advantage of the myriad services offered.

Jim Salzano spoke of his obligation as a leader. He believes that as CEO, his job to serve everyone in the organization to ensure they have what they need—including access to services should they need them. He spoke about creating a culture of support—of trust and vulnerability—that will erase the shame and stigma of mental health and substance use challenges—and replace it with support, education, and access to necessary help. He spoke of the line between “ability” and “disability,” and the wobbliness of that line—suggesting that it may be too rigid to box people into either category.

Matt Sisk spoke openly about his own struggles with addiction in a high-powered post and about what it is like to now sit on the “other” side of the desk, leading a large staff of people and supporting those who need it most with education and access to services.

I am energized by what I learned on March 30th. Joe Giannetto, our Chief Operating Officer, closed the meeting by highlighting the ways the landscape is changing for mental health and addiction and that society’s perspective is undergoing a renewal and hope for the betterment of everyone. I agree with him. I believe that change occurs one conversation at time. The Solution Series is one such conversation. I welcome more conversation and more dialogue about the possibilities for continued movement away from stigma and toward support and integration.

What do you think?

SS 2016

L-R Brook Wilson, Aetna, Jim Salzano, Easy Spirit, Mark O’Donoghue, Fedcap Board Chair, Matt Sisk, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Christine McMahon, CEO Fedcap


Power of Possible

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.  Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” –Helen Keller

As I reflect on 2015, I consistently marvel at what can happen when people unite in a common, optimistic purpose. This year, as a result of collaboration among our family of organizations, we helped make it possible for 70,000 people to  change the course of their lives, their work, and ultimately, their legacy, through job placements, educational services, training, a variety of assessments, and behavioral and health services. I am proud of the commitment I witness every day by my colleagues who work alongside our customers. Our staff is dedicated and hardworking, joined in their common vision to improve the lives of those we serve through innovation, creativity, problem-solving and action. I am humbled by the work I witness, done in service to our customers. But even more, I am humbled by the optimism, the faith, the hope, and ultimately, the courage it takes for those we serve to invite change—especially change that will have far-reaching, long-lasting consequences for generations to come.

I have done a lot of research on change theories. I have learned that the majority of people—even those faced with life-threatening illness or danger—do not opt to step away from what is familiar into what feels like dangerous and unknown territory.

What does it take to effect change? Change starts with vision, with hope, and with optimism. It starts with imaging what is possible. For many of our customers, it means stepping away from the constructs of history and stigma to imagine a world where opportunity is equal, where there is a chance for economic independence and where it is possible to change the course of one family’s story.

Change cannot happen without vision, hope and optimism. But it takes sustainable action to truly drive change. Action looks like showing up for class or work day after day, even with transportation or child care issues. It means pushing through the stigma of a past history to create a new future and believing in success. It means trusting someone when trust has been missing before now. It means believing there are choices when the course may have seemed prescribed for generations past.

As I look to 2016, I am ever more optimistic about what all of us can achieve working together. We have plans that reflect our commitment to work that is sustainable, relevant, and which will have the greatest impact on the greatest number of people. The power of possible is boundless. I am excited to share this journey with you. I believe that together, we can imagine—and create—a new paradigm for independence, dignity and joy for many thousands more people. What do you imagine is possible?


A Savings Account Can Change a Life of a Young Person in Foster Care

The statistics for youth aging out of the foster care system are startling:

  • 24,000 young people age out of the foster system each year.
  • 1 in 5 become homeless.
  • Only half will be employed by age 24.
  • Fewer than 3% will earn a college degree.
  • 71% of young women will become pregnant.
  • 1 in 4 will suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder.

We know that one of the key issues for youth aging out of care is lack of support for fundamental living skills, including high school completion, finding employment, accessing health care, securing housing and living arrangements, and support the world of adulthood.

Few young people today are “adult” based on the traditional markers of adulthood: leaving home, finishing school, starting a job, getting married, and having children. A new FC Pictureperiod of life is emerging in which young people are no longer adolescents but not yet adults. Changes in the world around them have altered the very contour and content of early adult life. Many youth transitioning from the child welfare and juvenile justice systems receive little to no instruction or support about how to survive and thrive in the adult world, and often face a losing battle. Ultimately, serious problems occur in the lives of youth in care, because they leave the system without having been provided by their appointed caregivers, the necessary beliefs, aspirations and tools required to succeed.

It was these realities that led Fedcap to “dig deeper” into the concept of building a platform for self-sufficiency for young people in care—adding a forth pillar to the traditional child welfare construct of safety, permanency and well-being. Over the past six years, Fedcap has identified five core elements that lead to self-sufficient lives: 1) inspiration and belief in self-worth, 2) support in establishing bold goals, 3) understanding how to access educational pathways, 4) learning to manage emotional triggers and tapping into personal strengths, and 5) building networks of professional support.

Let’s briefly explore the concept of inspiration.   Did you know that a simple savings account can serve to inspire a young person in care to go to college? And because 70% of youth in care say that they want to go to college, and less than 10% actually matriculate and of those, fewer than 3% graduate—this seems like a critical area of focus.   One of the first steps towards preparing a child for college is ensuring that he/she aspires to go to college. Simply put, children who start planning early to go to college are more likely to enroll in college. Several rigorous Random Control Studies show that starting children with college savings early in life can have positive impacts on their socio-emotional development and impact their long term academic success. The research in this area finds that children develop ideas about their higher education plans early on; that college savings help children think of themselves as college-bound; and that savings accounts help children build a financial plan around paying for college. Children with $500 or less saved for college are 3 times more likely to enroll and 4 times more likely to graduate.

The savings account as one of many strategies Fedcap employs that says “we believe you can go to college, you can succeed”.

Imagine the impact—economically and socially—were we to ensure that every child in foster care had a college savings account.   What would it take; what could it take?

I believe it is possible to change the statistics and outcomes for youth aging out of care. What do you think?