East of the River volunteers distribute dry goods to Ward 8 families. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
East of the River volunteers distribute dry goods to Ward 8 families. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

Ward 8 residents are the first of neighboring wards to participate in THRIVE East of The River, a nonprofit based initiative to empower and assist families struggling with food and economic insecurities amid and beyond COVID-19.

Four District nonprofit groups, Martha’s Table, 11th Street Bridge Park, Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative (FSFSC) and Bread For The City, convened to create a five-month program of allocated resources for a series of anti-displacement strategies in support of 500 participating families across Ward 8.

“Economic insecurity has been huge. Nationally, we’ve been seeing a much higher unemployment rate in the African American community, people of color, than in the White community — and that is particularly true in Ward 8 east of the river,” said Scott Kratz, director of 11th Street Bridge Park.

THRIVE East of The River grew out of a brainstorming session last fall meeting when Kim Ford of Martha’s Table, Kratz of 11th Street Bridge Park, Dionne Reeder of FSFSC and George Jones of Bread for The City, tried to figure out how to maximize individual resources for a larger collective impact to the Ward 8 community.

Working directly with the Department of Employment Services and the office of the deputy mayor of planning and economic development, the team of agencies collaborates to deploy resources based on enhancing unemployment insurance consulting.

Because the THRIVE organizations already receive funding from federal and local agencies to operate their individual programs, they have turned to private fundraising to fuel the new grassroots initiative. So far, they have secured roughly $3.4 million dollars.

“COVID actually pushed more foundations and philanthropists in the direction of helping,” said Dionne Reeder, executive director and CEO of Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative. The impact of the pandemic and the swirl of protests growing out of the nationwide reaction to highly publicized incidents of police brutality combined to ignite “our philanthropist and foundations to really see their role in providing some financial support for the injustices that are occurring in a lot of our challenged communities.”

Each organization conducts their own research heavily focused on data identifying driving factors that push families to either success or desperation across Ward 8, carefully tailoring the project’s benefits to ensure they do not jeopardize recipient’s current federal subsidies.

For instance, one unanticipated impact of the pandemic is aiding families in the effort to make sure remote education is effective when the parents themselves lack the proper education to guide home schooling. Virtual learning has posed a major hurdle for scores of Ward 8 families.

“Our families are really afraid of the lack of education that they can provide their own children at home,” Reeder said, noting that with so many of the jobs they have secured are in the hospitality industry and in positions that are essential jobs leaving little time to supervise virtual learning for elementary and secondary school students.
“So now they are forced to have the oldest child who may be a teenager, home to provide support to that sibling for education,” Reeder said.

Partnering THRIVE East of The River organizations pride themselves on the empowering aspect of the program, giving recipients full leverage on how their funds will be allocated for their families, providing a push that gives residents a hand up, and not a hand out.

“A really important part of the project is that we trust our families to make their own decisions,” Kratz said. “These families know how to spend their money; they know how to budget. They know how to stretch that dollar as far as it can go, and we trust these families to make their own decisions. That’s been a core value of the project from the beginning.”

Although financial counseling is not required, Reeder heavily encourages participating families to have at least one session with FSFSC’s financial literacy coach. The executive director works to ensure they are providing their families with options on how to manage money.

Andrea Richardson, a Ward 8 resident and participant of the THRIVE East of The River Program, was introduced to the initiative the program by her Arc of DC case manager. Arc of DC targets people with intellectual and development disabilities achieve full participation in their communities.

“[COVID-19] put me in a disarray as far as my routine, and my consistency in how I was able to maintain my life. Being a part of this program has given me a rooting in being encouraged again, and to keep going forward in this time of crisis,” Richardson said.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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