BuddhiBox is happy to support Connections to Success, a mid-western charity that seeks to break the cycle of poverty by assisting in continuing education and providing work opportunities to their community. The organization leaders were kind enough to answer some questions for us so we could share with our BuddhiBox community. We are also happy that one of the items you will receive in the June BuddhiBox was produced by women that are currently in the Connections to Success program. Don’t worry, we won’t share and spoil the surprise now. But make sure to watch the June BuddhiBox Reveal when it goes live on our You Tube channel on June 12th to learn more about the products in the June box.
What is Connections to Success? Why was it created?
Connections to Success is an innovative nonprofit created in 1998 to end the cycle of poverty for families in the Greater St. Louis & Kansas City area.
How did Connections to Success come into existence?
In 1997 Kathy Lambert read an article about Dress for Success New York. The article explained how Dress for Success provided interview appropriate attire to women in challenging situations helping them to be on the same playing field as anyone else. Understanding the need for this service locally, Kathy took a leap of faith and opened the first Dress for Success affiliate – Dress for Success Midwest – outside of New York City. Seeing his wife’s success with Dress for Success Midwest, that same year Brad Lambert opened Wheels for Success, which was aimed to overcome the transportation needs of families in the St. Louis areas. Seeing the overlap in mission, Brad & Kathy made the decision to merge their two programs in to one organization, Connections to Success. Through seeing the needs of the families that they were serving Brad & Kathy have created a curriculum that meets our participants needs where they are now and empowers them to get to where they want to be.
What is your mission statement?
The mission of Connections to Success is to inspire families to realize their dreams and achieve economic independence by providing hope, resources and a plan.
How many people have been through the program? How many are currently in the program?
Connections to Success provides a network of holistic services and lifelong support to empower people living in poverty to become economically self-sufficient. Our model, with lifelong mentoring at its core, delivers evidence-based results and impacts all areas of a person’s life. In 2014, Connections to Success served 2,000 low-income women, men and their families in the Kansas City Region (with similar, growing numbers since 2001).
Wow! That is a lot of people. What does the program involve? How long does it last?
Connections to Success targets low-income, high-need areas, where men and women joining or returning to the workforce face a variety of challenges to achieving success. We provide a system of support to offer career guidance, social skills-building, and financial education to help families overcome frustrated and hopelessness that often lead them to remain in impoverished conditions. Pathways to Success addresses these problems through a curricula of workforce readiness, employment and retention assistance, skills training, career development, and ongoing guidance and support by peer mentoring. We believe in life-long engagement that begins with our 4-week Personal & Professional Development Class (PPD). The goal of the PPD is to equip our participants with a life plan, employment strategy, and the support and skills to be successful. Once our participants have completed that class, they are paired with a Life Transformation Coach, who encourages them and walks along the road to economic independence with them.
Is there one success story that really exemplifies the program?
Anne Murray became involved with Dress for Success program back in the early 2000’s. “I was homeless, jobless, had low self-esteem, and my life was like a whirlwind because I didn’t have any direction.” Anne began attending our monthly Professional Women’s Group (PWG) and met women from all walks of life that she could relate to. After attending several workshops and meetings on personal & professional growth, she was suited with professional attire and coached on interviewing skills for a job interview. She landed the job! Today, she is a role model for her four children, she is confident in her herself, and she applies the leadership tools that she learned from the PWG meetings in her every day life. “As I look back over my life and reminisce on where I have been and where I am today, it’s simply remarkable to see how much I have grown. I am so proud to be part of an organization that empowers women and drives to see them succeed in life.” Today, all four of her children have graduated from high school, three have gone on to college and the fourth has joined the military. She has stayed connected and involved with the PWG and through her work she has implemented a program, Connections 2 Finance, which is a micro-loan emergency fund for the PWG members. Anne took the project a step further by receiving a grant from a local foundation for $5,000 to seed the micro-loan fund!
That is a great success story. I see some impressive statistics on your web site as far as job retention and increase in earnings. How does your organization measure program success?
The statistic are big ones! We also measure success by the amount of positive engagement with their children, and we track the number of participants, both women and men, who avoid returning to the criminal justice system.
- 75% of our participants will find employment
- 74% will keep their job for more than 1 year
- 82% will increase their wages after just 6 months
- 86% will not return to prison after 1 year (nationally 56% is standard)
The cost to taxpayers for one child growing up in poverty is over $4 million. In the past three years, Connections to Success has saved federal and state governments over $4 million by helping participants (coming from situations of poverty, homelessness, domestic violence and incarceration) become income tax payers and reduce government costs associated with public assistance. Connections to Success’ holistic service model delivers nationally recognized, evidence-based results of improving the lives of the families it serves while providing a 3-to-1 social return on investment compared to the cost of our services. Our program doesn’t cost, it pays.
What is the biggest challenge your organization faces with this work?
The biggest challenge we face is finding living wage jobs for men & women with minimal job skills that will not negatively impact their receipt of government benefits. We aim to move families to economic independence. However, as they make that journey they still need a “safety net” until they achieve that living wage. We also face the challenge of educating the public that our Dress for Success Midwest & Kansas City programs can operate solely on clothing donations alone, with our holistic mission, we walk with our participants along the whole journey. From finding employment to earning that living wage.
What are 3 things people can do to help?
- Volunteer as a mentor with our participants! We provide all of the men and women who come through our program with a support group of mentors that they can call at any time for what they need. Take your positive outlook and pour it in to another man or woman’s life!
- During our programs we provide our participants with a healthy meal. We always need meals donated by the community, you can prepare the meal then come and share it with our participants OR you can provide us with a gift card to go and buy the food
- Consider donating, whether it is clothing, a car, or a financial gift. You will be empowering a family to economic independence
What is coming up next for your organization? What initiatives are you working on?
Connections to Success continues to expand to meet the greater needs of the communities it serves. We are currently working with the state of Kansas to replicate our holistic model by teaching four existing organizations to do what we do, so that we can further the impact of not only our program but their programs as well. Our next expansions are targeted for the underserved areas of Ferguson, MO and East St. Louis, IL to fill gaps in services and strengthen the regional impact of our organization.
What keeps the leaders at your organization inspired?
Our leaders are inspired every day by the families that walk through our doors. They are seeing first hand that the parents who come to us and work with us to get their GED are not only going to on to get a college degree and become home owners, but their children are graduating from high school and going on to college. They are seeing the cycles of generational poverty being broken every day!
For more information and how you can help out please follow Connections to Success on Twitter and at their web site. Every time you purchase a BuddhiBox, we donate a percent of proceeds to charity. It changes each month! Visit www.buddhiboxes.com/subscribe-yoga to sign up.