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As the Adams Morgan neighborhood in Northwest D.C. has continued to gain new development and lose diversity, a number of service organizations have established themselves in the area to serve low-income residents and mitigate the effects of gentrification. Despite their presence, many families lack the resources to find what services are available. Recognizing this disconnect, five local organizations joined together to promote economic stability and social mobility.
Their initiative, dubbed Platform of Hope, launched in 2018 and specializes in helping families navigate the web of service providers in the D.C. area. The program is nine months into its pilot phase and plans to begin working with its second cohort of families in September.
“What was heard from the families was really this feeling of, ‘We know that these services exist, or we think that these services exist, but we can’t access them,’” said Judy Estey, Platform of Hope’s vice president. “Whether that be ‘we can’t get a bank account’ or ‘we can’t get a job’ or ‘we can’t get into housing.’”
A solution to this problem was to create a network of assistance providers in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, due to the area’s struggles with gentrification and its negative effects on minority and low-income residents. Centralizing these different services in one place, she says, makes it easier for those in need to find and utilize them.
“There are tons of people doing great things in this area,” Estey said. “We’re not trying to compete with them. We’re just trying to help people access all of the amazing resources that are already out there.”
The program consists of a “collective impact model” in which organizations collaborate to provide different resources to D.C.’s low-income community. This could mean anything from financial advice to health care. For the current cohort, Platform of Hope has partnered with the Sitar Arts Center, Jubilee Housing, Jubilee Jumpstart, Mary’s Center, For Love of Children, and Capital Area Asset Builders.
When a participant first joins Platform of Hope, they meet with Family Care Lead Sylvia Stokes to identify their goals and a plan for how to achieve them.
“I meet with everyone at least once a month,” said Stokes. “But they can come in and see me whenever. I try to practice an open-door policy.”
Each participant fills out a chart identifying their goals in 12 different categories, which include Adult Education, Savings, and Mental Health, to name a few. Every time they meet with Stokes, their progress is updated to provide them with a visual interpretation of their achievements.
Stokes advises her clients on how best to complete these goals and what resources exist to support them.
“If they need help opening a savings account, I will refer them to someone who knows about financial literacy. I often refer people to therapists as well,” Stokes said. “If they have a disability or anxiety condition that keeps them from meeting with people alone, I will go with them.”
For Christinah, who has been working with Platform of Hope since September of 2018, the coaching process has been instrumental. She plans to begin graduate school in the fall.
“[Stokes] helped me pick out my classes and figure out what would work best with my schedule as someone who has a kid and works full-time,” said Christinah. “But the main thing she gave me was support, always reminding me that I can do this and that I will do well.”
Outside of resources, Platform of Hope emphasizes the importance of interpersonal connections. The organization holds “Family Saturdays” that allow parents from each participating family to connect with one another and develop social networks.
“One of the problems families have when they’re struggling or in and out of shelters is this sort of social erosion,” Estey said. “People are already dealing with racial and economic oppression in their daily lives, and they have nobody to rely on outside of their families.”
Research has shown that low-income families tend to have fewer social ties than their higher-income counterparts. According to the Brookings Institution, this could be due to stigma and shame associated with poverty, as well as a lack of access to social resources. Many places where people make friends, like work or higher education, aren’t available to some low-income people.
For Christinah, meeting people through the program was instrumental to her mental health.
“My family is overseas in Africa,” she explained. “Being a single mom, without anyone to talk to consistently, is really very hard.”
According to Christinah, about half of her fellow participants are in the same situation, with the rest of their families living outside of the United States. Because of this, the group makes an effort to meet once a month.
“I have made some good friends, and more importantly, my daughter has made friends,” Christinah said. “My biggest worry as a single mom is making sure that she has kids her age to play with. We needed a sense of community, and that’s what Platform of Hope has given my family. I wanted that so much for me and for her.”
As the organization prepares to start working with its second cohort next month, Estey has high expectations for its growth and potential. The program plans to recruit additional partner organizations to match the evolving needs of its families.
“My goal is to always keep growing,” Estey said. “We meet with families regularly to figure out what issues they want to be addressed, and then we try to find an organization that will join us and provide that need. My hope is that we’ll keep adding more partners and keep being able to provide these families with everything they need.”
As for changes she hopes to see, Christinah doesn’t have many issues with the program. “It’s helped me so much. I could talk about it for days,” Christinah said. “Low-income or not, everybody needs a program like this.”