Imagine going through a first and second interview for a job that is the beginning of your career. Now imagine getting a call on the Friday afternoon of your second interview. Furthermore, imagine having to answer a few more follow up questions over the phone while your heart is beating out of your chest. Ok, relax, you got the job. WAHOO! Now imagine trying to keep your composer while your boss tells you that your first week on the job will be in Washington DC at a national conference about asset building. Well that was my first experience with CAP Utah. I am writing about my first week on the job, the CFED “Ideas to Action” Asset building conference.
This conference was a wonderful way to kick off my time with CAP Utah. It was much better than coming to the office and going over HR details that typically bore me to death. The conference was informative, and I left even more motivated to start my new position. Let me highlight some of the things I took away from the conference.
Child Savings Accounts (CSA) is an important tool to create social behavioral change in regards to savings. The city of San Francisco started a program 3 years ago called “Kindergarten 2 College” (K2C). What the program does is start a savings account in the name of every kindergartner within the San Francisco Unified School District, with the amount of $50. This is an opt out program as opposed to an opt in program, making it easier for families to begin saving. The program has various incentive based variables attached to the account. They include incentives for attending financial education classes, match based incentives, and whether or not the child receives free or discounted lunch. I learned many new ideas to bring back to Utah to start here in our community.
Mayor Cory Booker of Newark is the man! That dude brought the house down at the lunch break on Thursday afternoon. He spoke of how the attendees at the conference were modern day freedom fighters helping those in need break the barriers of poverty. I overheard whispers of “he should run for president”. He gave a very powerful and motivational speech. I encourage everyone to check it out:
One final practice I took away from the conference was in regards to financial opportunity centers. These financial opportunity centers concentrate their efforts on building wealth through integrated services. The Community Action of Duluth provides bundled services around employment, financial, and income support. The outcomes showed that clients who used the bundled services that the center provides increase financial stability significantly.
The most important thing that I took away form this conference was the network of people who are willing to help get pilot programs up and running. Everyone was there to review best practices and to use those practices in their communities. I am energized from the enthusiasm and commitment that the conference exhibited.
What a first week!
As one person says farewell, I say hello!
My name is Blake Perez and I was recently hired as the Financial Integration Coordinator for CAP Utah. I am truly grateful for this amazing position that allows me to utilize my skills to a make positive impact in our community. There is a lot of work ahead and I plan to work tirelessly and compassionately to achieve the goals CAP Utah and myself have.
A little about myself…
Let me first tell you about my recent weekend. My girlfriend and I put an offer in on our first house. We love the house, and have our fingers crossed in hopes of our offer being accepted. It was really exciting talking with her on Saturday about the possibilities. While she was talking about how big of a step it is, I proposed to her and she said YES! Big steps weekend! I couldn’t be happier…a new job, a future wife, hopefully a new house…a lot to be happy and grateful for.
Earlier this year I graduated from the University of Utah with my bachelor degree in International Studies. It is a fitting degree because I dropped out of college to travel the world, but travelling also brought me back to school. I have been to many countries across the globe and learned many great lessons from my travels. I love going to Latin American countries, and hope to convince my Fiancé that Colombia would be a great honeymoon destination.
During my last two years at the U, I had the opportunity to become involved with the Bennion Center. The BC is the service center for the university. I learned what service was all about during my time there. The BC helped me discover a field of work that is rewarding and challenging. They laid a fantastic foundation for me to build upon, and, now at CAP, I am beginning to build upon that foundation. Visit their website www.bennioncenter.org
Once again, I am truly grateful to be in this position and look forward to working to accomplish CAP Utah’s goals and vision.
Over the course of a year I am working with three Community Action Agencies to assist them in assessing the needs of their communities looking at areas of education, health, employment, income, housing, transportation and nutrition.
While each needs assessment tool I review provides me with a little more insight on how to best do this, I can’t help but be concerned about what use the final assessments we create will really serve.
Are service providers, local government officials and members of the community really going to read them?
In practice will they be used as reference tools for future program planning?
I think my skepticism is natural and healthy based on the fact that many completed needs assessments are put to little use, and rather than serving as living documents they are often condemned to occupy dusty office shelves.
As I work to develop assessments in different communities and work with different stakeholders, I am realizing that while a needs assessment can become a living document if it is used as a manual to make decisions, or if it is re-tooled and re-worked on a periodic basis to reflect changes in the community, one of the greatest opportunities to make it alive is through the process of its creation.
You see in effectively assessing the needs of a community one needs to engage partner agencies, community members, service providers, local officials and service recipients in community conversations to add depth and understanding to the most relevant data on the needs of the community. By strategically engaging diverse community stakeholders in the process the data begins to take life, and things start to happen.
The many exciting things that start to happen don’t wait for the final product to be printed! These include; increased awareness of diverse community needs, networking opportunities, identification of synergies/ways to reduce duplication, new collaborative efforts and re-thinking programmatic decisions.
Adapting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote that “life is a journey not a destination,” I’d like you to think about the possibility that “meeting community needs by engaging in community needs assessments is more about the journey than the destination.”
Before coming to CAP Utah I worked several years as an afterschool program coordinator and spent a lot of time working directly with clients. In addition to working with children and their families I often worked with volunteers, teachers and other local organizations.
The demands for one’s time as a program coordinator or direct service provider are seemingly endless (whether as a social worker, food pantry coordinator, employment counselor or Head Start teacher).
In addition to ones core duties there are always phone calls and e-mails that need to be attended to, personnel issues to be managed, meetings or trainings to attend, special events, partners to coordinate with, reports to funders to be done, flyers to be made etc. The list of duties goes on and on.
Community Action Agencies know well the work loads and challenges associated with direct service and case management – challenges that are going to continue as budgets get cut and needs increase. Agencies are having to learn to do more with less.
So where do they get the time to plan, and innovate and come up with unique solutions to the problems they are facing? The reality is that often times planning time is very hard to come by, and managers and coordinators have to eek it out where they can. Sometimes this may be done by blocking out time in the normal work schedule. However it also comes in the form of keeping a notepad on the nightstand to write something down when it comes in ones sleep or working on a Saturday to get some planning done as it’s the only way to work uninterrupted.
As Community Collaborations Coordinator at CAP Utah, I play a very different role from that of a direct service provider. CAP Utah’ mission is to assist Utah’s nine Community Action Agencies (who run food pantries, HEAT programs, Head Start, employment assistance, emergency services, etc.) in their efforts to end poverty in their communities through training and technical assistance. I have no staff or facilities to manage, no board to coordinate, and no clients calling me late at night needing assistance.
The opportunity then is to assist Community Action Agencies (currently I am working with three) with some important planning activities such as:
Assisting agencies in planning for the future
Assessing community needs and resources
Helping agencies build strategic relationships with other comm. organizations
In order to effectively assist our partner agencies we need to demonstrate that we indeed have their best interests in mind – and show that we will first seek to listen and understand. If we can do this, the hope is that the resources we bring to the table can be utilized to help Community Action Agencies as they evaluate the needs and resources in their communities and support them in their ongoing efforts to implement strategies that will most effectively bring about positive change. This is my goal for the New Year!
I don’t reflect on the past as much as I should. I am always looking to the future, but, as I approach my third tax season here at CAP Utah I wanted to reflect on a couple of really important and hard things that I’ve experience over the last year(ish).
The challenge of change.
The two biggest wrenches thrown my way over the last year were the loss of Casey (our beloved regional coordinator for SL and Tooele) and drastic changes in funding. I think for a moment or ten this year I couldn’t breathe. I was worried and I was stressed about my own capacity to handle the change. Could I be successful? Would I still be able to grow a program? How would I get everything done? And the honest answer is that change is hard, even for someone like me who really believes in the necessity for it. And to be even more honest, I didn’t always get everything done. But at the end of the day we did things different. We changed the budget and we did the best that we could and I have never for a second thought that low-income Utahns would suffer and that is all that I can ask.
I have so many thoughts on this subject I’m going to let Webster help me:
collaborate |kəˈlabəˌrāt|verb [ intrans. ]
work jointly on an activity, esp. to produce or create something : he collaborated with a distinguished painter on the designs.
Based on the past year I would define it as such:
collaborate |kəˈlabəˌrāt|verb [ intrans. ]
work jointly on an activity that is unclear, confusing, difficult to understand, esp. to produce or create something wonderful after a long and continuous struggle : She collaborated with many organizations, individuals, and co-workers to create a chance for low-income Utahns to succeed. We hope it works.
I think the assumption that collaboration is always simple was my gravest mistake. I thought it was going to be easy and once I understand that it’s hard – it will get easier. Talk about a Catch 22! I have to remind myself that when push comes to shove I am working with people who believe in doing more and doing better. When I am confused, stressed, or overwhelmed my partners in that collaborative battle are right there with me. Aren’t you all lucky! AND in the end that makes us all more alike than we think.
A piece about passion.
I’m approaching my 3rd tax season and not yet even close to knowing enough. My first season I was overly optimistic, had so many ideas I thought I might explode and I felt invisible. My second season I worked to improve my first season and now after a few seasons, some hard lessons, and exhausting hours my ‘umph’ has changed. This is where MY passion kicks in. It is easy to be enthusiastic at the beginning – it’s when after a long day or month or year I wake up and I go to work and I give 100% that’s how I know just how passionate I am. I want to be reliable and I want to provide the best program I can. I don’t always seem excited and I don’t always have the energy to sell taxes as the new sexy. What I do always do is think about families in need, about how I serve them, about how I can create opportunities – and luckily no matter my mood that is still what drives me.
Over the last year with all the change and collaboration I look to the New Year knowing that it may not be easier but I believe that together we can make a real difference. I’ve never been in this business to make myself feel better but make one person’s life better. To put it all in words: Poverty in Utah is real. It doesn’t have to be.