By Julie Van Domelen, Executive Director of EFAA
About a year ago, EFAA embarked on a discussion about how to cultivate greater client voice and empowerment as a way to help improve EFAA’s services and support families on their path to greater self-sufficiency and resilience. Engaging those who come to EFAA in making sure that our services are relevant, impactful and tailored to their needs is a basic tenet of good program design and implementation. This requires creating ways for EFAA to get feedback and engage in consultations with the community members who come to EFAA.
However, the idea of empowerment extends beyond that. Folks that have few resources and have often been at the receiving end of assistance can feel as though they have little voice and control over their lives. The ladder of empowerment shown below shows the progression from consultation and participation through to creating power in people’s lives to be the agents of their own development.
The Ladder of Empowerment
How I interact with EFAA helps me become a stronger advocate for myself in my community. = “I am in the driver’s seat of my life”
I participate in the design and implementation of EFAA services and governance. = “I am a co-owner”
I give feedback to EFAA on the services I receive. = “I have voice”
I come to EFAA for services. = “I receive”
EFAA spent the year, with technical support from the Denver Foundation, exploring how we as a safety net might better promote empowerment and why this was important. I want to share with you some of what we achieved.
What’s in a name?
EFAA changed its language from ‘client’ to ‘participant’ to better reflect an engaged citizenry and not just passive recipients of services. You will note this change in all of our communications.
Getting an earful.
This year, EFAA has included participants in discussions around programs, including as members of the Food Pantry Task Force developing an updated Nutrition Policy, as focus group participants giving orientations on how the new Keep Families Housed rental assistance program is working, and providing their input into the design work for EFAA’s evolution of family resource center activities.
Putting participants in charge.
An experiment was conducted at the North Carr Housing site which put participants in the lead for identifying and prioritizing ideas for implementation of a grant for the playground on the site. Residents, both parents and children, living at the Lafayette site came up with a list of their ideas and figured out how to implement the ideas, including volunteering their time to keep the project going. Feedback on the engagement process was very positive.
Creating opportunities for giving back.
Everyone has gifts with rare exception; people can contribute and want to contribute. In June 2017, EFAA’s Program Committee approved a Participants as Volunteers Policy which creates opportunities for EFAA participants to now be able to engage as volunteers.
Making participant engagement and empowerment a strategic goal for EFAA.
In May the Board of Directors approved the updated FY15 – 19 Strategic Plan which included the incorporation of specific guiding principles and goals around participant engagement.
Over the next year(s) we will be deepening this work as we find ways to cultivate greater engagement and empowerment of the people we serve.