Featured Story, October 2022

Tami enrolled with Families Forward in South Paris in 2017. Since that time, she has held a variety of jobs, taken some
college courses, and faced many significant challenges. During the pandemic, she struggled with finding suitable childcare for one of her children who experiences behavioral issues, so she decided to take college classes from home. Unfortunately, Tami had to drop out of classes and move into a homeless shelter with her children due to domestic violence. Once she had settled in a new apartment, Tami met with the staff and decided that she wanted to work with children. They connected her with the local school department where she later attended a substitute teacher training session. She told staff that she loved the training, and she started working as a Substitute Teacher and Education Technician at the end of the 2021 school year.

At a meeting with staff, Tami shared that she had always felt uncomfortable about her teeth and masking during the pandemic had made it easier for her. They helped her start the process of getting dentures and she was fitted for immediate dentures to be used after her surgical procedures. Not long afterward, Tami and her children lost their apartment and all their belongings including her dentures in a fire. The Red Cross helped the family and provided some financial assistance toward her new dentures. Tami contacted staff because she was unable to cover the remaining balance. Staff worked with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and her dental provider and arranged to get the balance covered.

Tami was thrilled to send us a photo of her new smile with the following message:

“I will never be able to find the words to thank you enough for getting me through this! I already feel like a whole new person and really couldn’t be happier! I truly appreciate it so much! It really is life changing.”

Erica Overcomes Barriers, Gains Employment Helping Others Do the Same, with Support from Fedcap Inc’s Families Forward in Maine

After fleeing a domestic violence situation, Erica received critical support from Fedcap Inc’s Families Forward in Maine and gained employment and economic stability for herself and her daughter.

Erica traveled cross-country from California to Maine with “a backpack of barriers,” including the need to get her and her 18-month-old daughter away from domestic violence.

Erica dreamed of starting a new life but was overwhelmed by her past. She held an associate’s degree in substance use counseling, but in order to practice in Maine, she needed to study for a state certification exam. It had been seven years since she had been in college and three years since she had worked in the field. And, at home, she was living with her parents, her grandmother who has dementia, and her very active toddler. Finding the space to focus on studying for the exam was a tremendous challenge.

“I remember sitting on my parents’ front porch, watching my daughter play in the yard, and asking myself, ‘where do I start?’”

Sometimes a person just needs that one other person to believe in them, to help them set goals and break them down into achievable steps.

For Erica, that person was Danielle, the case worker from Fedcap Inc’s Families Forward program who was assigned to Erica after she signed up for TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families). “We’re here to help individuals realize The Power of Possible,” says Danielle. “We help individuals figure out solutions to their barriers and coach them so they see that their past doesn’t have to affect their future.”

Families Forward is offered to Maine residents in partnership with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Family Independence for people enrolled in its TANF/ASPIRE program. The program’s goal is to help families in Maine achieve a more economically secure future through access to employment, training, and education as well as community resources.

“Danielle showed me empathy and kindness, and it was the first time in a long time that I did not feel judged or like a complete failure. I developed goals with Danielle, goals that I would have put on the back burner if it weren’t for her.”

A New Community and a New Purpose

Danielle connected Erica with the Aroostook Recovery Center, where she volunteered 18 hours weekly as a recovery coach. Erica was also allowed to use Fedcap Inc’s Houlton computer room, giving her the time and space she needed to study – and a lot more. “Fedcap was my community. I was new to the area and did not know anyone. Having a reason to get up and get dressed to go somewhere and to do something productive meant the world to me. Everyone in the Houlton office welcomed me with open arms. I felt like a human being. It gave me hope that I could overcome my circumstances.”

Families Forward provides layers of services to help participants overcome multiple barriers to meet their goals. The program goes beyond goal-setting and helps individuals break down each of the barriers to achieve their goals. For Erica and Danielle, it meant that Danielle checked in with Erica regularly to help her stay on course with her studying. “Danielle had faith in me when I had no faith in myself,” says Erica.

On the date of Erica’s exam, Fedcap Inc. paid for the gas for the 100-mile drive to the Bangor test location. The program also paid for childcare coverage so that Erica’s daughter was safely looked after.

“I passed my substance use counselor certification exam and Danielle was the first person I called to tell.”

After Erica landed a job with Aroostook Mental Health Center, and Danielle continued to ensure that Erica had what she needed to succeed.

Helping Others Break Down Barriers

Erica was so profoundly moved by all the support she received to overcome the limiting beliefs and day-to-day challenges that could have held her back that she decided she wanted to become part of the Fedcap Inc team, which is not unusual for the program. Thirty percent of the Maine-based staff have been participants in the program.

“Even though I had worked so hard to get back into the field I am passionate about, I still was yearning for something more,” says Erica. “I told Danielle if there was ever a position open, I would like to apply, and in January 2022, I was given that opportunity.”

Erica is now helping others realize The Power of Possible. “Today I get to be a part of the team that helped me piece my life back together. I get to work with individuals who need help getting back on the paths they were destined for. I know what it is like to have barriers and not know where to start. Today I get to assist with overcoming such barriers. Today I get to give back as a Families Forward staff member.”

Workforce Development Efforts in Maine are Putting People to Work

Families Forward offers job training and on-the job-experience, with an emphasis on education, skills development, wellness planning and employment.

Families Forward is the new name for Fedcap Inc.’s program to provide an array of services to individuals receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits throughout the state of Maine. Formerly known as Breaking the Cycle, Families Forward offers job training and on-the job-experience, with an emphasis on education, skills development, wellness planning and employment focused on assisting program participants in achieving their long-term goals.

The name change reflects the program’s emphasis not just on individuals but on families. “The new name better captures our two generational approach,” said Serena Powell, Executive Director of Fedcap Inc. – Serving Maine. “We want families to have more economic security and savings, so that their children can go to college or enter job training programs. We want folks in our programs to achieve meaningful careers, and the new name lets everyone understand that the end game is about the future of families we serve.”

Other recent changes also help to clarify the vision at the heart of Families Forward. The program’s Career Plan, formerly known as the Family Contract Amendment, is designed so that participants can set goals for various pathways, based on their evolving needs, as they progress towards their long-term career goals.

“We wanted to emphasize that we are about getting our people on a career path versus just finding a job,” Serena said. “We want folks to earn family sustaining wages, and we want them to engage in credentialed job training program or go to college, where they have opportunities for advancements in growing industries here in Maine, including health care, hospitality manufacturing and IT.”

Families Forward offers economic literacy classes to help families create educational savings accounts for their children. The agency has also added several new positions. Including a Director of Assessment and Education Services and a Director of New Mainer Services, to focus on growing resources for the state’s growing immigrant and refugee populations. Close to 35 percent of those served by Families Forward are immigrants or refugees from about 25 different countries, mostly in Africa and the Mideast.

The new director will focus on ensuring that services are meeting the needs of New Mainers, such as learning English skills and adapting to life in Maine. One Families Forward partner, Catholic Charities of Maine, have embedded cultural navigators throughout the 16 Families Forward offices in Maine. The cultural navigators are bilingual, and work with people who have been in this country less than three years. “They work beyond our traditional hours, providing another layer of case management and support for entire families,” Serena said. “They might take a family to get furniture or look for an apartment on a weekend. They help with any resource a family might need.”