The Pascale Sykes Foundation on Thursday hosted the Working Together for Working Families conference at Rowan College of South Jersey Luciano Center in Vineland where “luminaries in the field of strengthening America’s working-class families” were brought together.
Lesley Stahl, the broadcast journalist and co-editor of CBS 60 Minutes, was the conference’s keynote and shared stories from her career. After four decades as a reporter, Stahl says the most vivid and transforming experience of her life was not covering the White House, interviewing heads of state, or any other of her stories at 60 Minutes. It was becoming a grandmother. And she was thankful for all the lessons her mother instilled in her.
“I have looked back at how I was able to have a full career,” Stahl said. “I credit my mother for having a career. So many women are told by their mothers they cannot have a career.”
Stahl reinforced the theme of the conference, which was how the foundation’s Whole Family Approach is strengthening America’s low-income families—and is a preventive rather than a crisis-driven approach.
“The nuclear family has been disrupted,” Stahl said. “My daughter lives in California. I live in New York. It is not healthy. Children and grandchildren need to feel they are protected.
“The biggest change in our lives is technology: social media and YouTube,” Stahl said. “I am seriously concerned that these children are living online and it is dangerous. Parents think they can protect their kids but they cannot.”
I credit my mother for having a career. So many women are told by their mothers they cannot have a career.
– Lesley Stahl
Stahl was interviewed by Elizabeth Murray, an author and underserved youth advocate who was born into extreme poverty and became homeless at the age of 15 after her mother died of AIDS. Despite these obstacles, Murray began attending the Humanities Preparatory Academy and graduated in two years. She was awarded a New York Times scholarship for needy students and accepted into Harvard University.
Murray is the co-founder and executive director of The Arthur Project, a program that pairs professional mentors with at-risk youth through the duration of middle school.
Helping families get ahead
A morning session featured a series of Whole Family Approach grantee-led breakout sessions, including a Design, Data and Outcomes breakout session moderated by Ross Whiting of The Walter Rand Institute and Amy Castro-Baker, an assistant professor at The University of Pennsylvania.
Whiting gave a presentation about using a whole family approach to evaluate families in New Jersey. He said that when the whole family works together to support each other’s goals, long-term change, stability and well-being become a reality. “The whole family process helps families to get ahead,” Whiting said. “The whole family process strengthens families.”
Social service agencies and educators discussed ways to improve the lives of children. And other major issues centered on education, social services, health care services, abuse in families, tax credits, housing, income disregard, and poverty.
Castro-Baker discussed anxiety among New Jersey residents who cannot afford health care. She said that empowering families with the tools to reach their goals and stay out of poverty has far better long-term benefits than intervening after they are in crisis.
The afternoon panel, entitled The Whole Family Approach: The Big Picture, went beyond social services and discussed other unique aspects of the Whole Family Approach that have contributed to its success, including public transportation and economic initiatives.
Teaming for transporation
Ronda Urkowitz, executive director of Cross County Connection, served as the panel’s moderator and was joined by Ashley Putnam, director of the Economic Growth & Mobility Project (EGMP), a strategic initiative of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia; Steve Fittante, president of the Loredo Policy Research Group Inc.; and Bernadette Blackstock, president of the People for People Foundation, a former foundation grantee.
“Low-income New Jersey people are dealing with problems due to not owning cars and not accessing public transportation,” said Blackstock. She said her organization has helped more than 20,000 families.
“One of the biggest problems for low and moderate-income people is transportation,” Blackstock said. “We found that if you provide transportation it has to be affordable. That makes it easier for someone who is working a minimum-wage job.”
Fittante said to ease the problems with funding public transportation South New Jersey created a partnership between New Jersey Transit and the Pascale Sykes Foundation to provide transportation.
Nadine Manning, director of the Genius Kids Academy & Learning Institute, which partners with early head start childcare programs, said most parents do not have access to transportation. “There is a need for more shuttles in Cumberland County,” Manning said. “We have a creative curriculum that we teach daily.”
Jim Donio an entrepreneur and philanthropist, discussed how the Pascal Sykes Foundation is being used in southern New Jersey, and how socialization and connectivity matters. “We have worked in Hammonton with every resource possible,” Donio said. “Hammonton several years ago was not known as a destination.”
Other foundation grantees that participated in the conference included People for People Foundation, Bigs & Littles NYC Mentoring, South Jersey Transportation Authority, Greater Bridgeton Area Transit, English Creek-Tilton Road Community Shuttle, Pureland East-West Community Shuttle, the 54/40 Community Shuttle, NJCC and New Jersey’s Heartland.