Relationships matter. They really matter.
For Niki Davis, it took more than money to move from homelessness to homeownership. A college educated artist, when she walked into LIFT’s DC office after a decade of financial and emotional stressors, she was skeptical.
She recalls that it had been a long time since someone treated her with dignity and respect—like a human being. Over the course of a year, she and her Advocate—a LIFT volunteer—partnered weekly to get her off of shaky ground. What began as a goal of finding a shelter became a journey to homeownership, with Niki and her Advocate working side-by-side to navigate the maze of mortgage lending. Today, Niki owns her home and is feeling more empowered than ever before about her future. She didn’t come to us seeking only financial help. She sought collaboration, and LIFT became her social network.
To hear Niki tell it, LIFT worked for her because, “There’s something much more empowering about working collaboratively. [The volunteer Advocates] had a great zest and enthusiasm—a young generation without the experience but the brainpower and hope and no loss of spirit, because it hasn’t been beaten out of them. It’s a different pace, a complete positive belief that it can get better. That let me get out of any sense of hopelessness.”
What Niki’s story underscores—and what we’ve seen in many of the stories from the 100,000 families we’ve worked with—is the importance of connections in driving success. It took cash for Niki to secure her mortgage and make ends meet, but it also took her plugging into and activating the network of people around her to ensure that her dream became a reality.
At LIFT, we help people build the personal, social, and financial foundations they need to get ahead. In fact, we believe that having confidence and connections are so important that it actually accelerates the financial gains a person is making.
When people are plugged in—have a social network, friends, people who they know will have their back—it can make the difference between giving up and pressing on; between getting a job opportunity or not. It can also make the difference between having a safe, stable home and living on the street.
I know this—not just from my work at LIFT—but because I lived in a homeless shelter in DC when I was a kid. It was a converted old Hotel called The Braxton, and back then, times were really tough. But, even before Facebook and Twitter, I had my own social network of sorts that rallied around my family. I had the support of DC’s most iconic organizations like Martha’s Table, Central Union Mission, Bread for the City, the Capital Area Food Bank, and my church. This network ensured that we were able to eat, get back and fourth to school, and get housing faster than the 10-year waiting list for Section 8 housing would allow. These organizations and many more helped my family get answers to problems that seemed too intimidating to answer on our own. They were my social network much like LIFT is to the community members we serve. I didn’t have to go through being homeless by myself and today I have the incredible privilege of telling the stories of hope that need to be told to thousands of people every day.
The result of LIFT’s focus on relationships and connections—the transformation that occurs between two people working together in trust—is real and tangible.
We are actually measuring whether things like confidence and connectedness have an impact on our Members’ ability reach their goals. We call that measurement Constituent Voice (CV) and you can learn more about it here. Essentially, it’s an evaluation and measurement tool we use to unearth the critical keys to our Members’ success. What we are finding so far supports the power of social networks in social services.
We’re seeing that members with top CV scores are twice as likely to achieve things like getting a job or securing stable housing. There is consistent correlation between the quality of our relationships and our members’ achievement of economic outcomes. This is telling us that relationships matter.
We are also finding that three of the top five most predictive indicators of ultimate economic progress aren’t financial in nature – they’re social connectedness, belief in oneself, and confidence. This is also telling us that relationships really matter.
For anti-poverty organizations, it is clear that if we ultimately want to help people establish financial security we must bolster confidence and build social capital.
Think about what this could mean for closing the opportunity gap and for the strength of the anti-poverty movement as a whole. If we allow ourselves to imagine the possibilities, we can envision an America where Niki’s zip code, or my own, or yours, wouldn’t determine the trajectory of our lives.
When relationships are formed, individuals thrive, communities thrive, and collectively we ALL thrive as a nation. Having each other’s backs should be a given. Those relationships are the thread that keeps struggling families tethered to hope.