Helping Fairfield County women succeed, in the classroom and beyond

Jun 09, 2016

Originally appeared on CT Post Blog

The Family Economic Security Program: Empowering Women & Families to Build Brighter Futures

Across our county, more than 20,000 households are headed by single women with children who are under 18. Of these households, 44% are living in poverty, making survival an immediate and pressing challenge. The remaining 56% of households also face an uphill battle: the cost of living in our community far exceeds the median income for women.

That leaves too many women living the metaphor of barely keeping their heads above water – chronically juggling bills and carrying tremendous stress as they struggle to sustain their families. The constant battle to cover housing, food and essential bills consumes vast amounts of energy, making it difficult to break the cycle. There is little time to strategize, plan and pursue an education and career that can serve as a launching pad for financial security.

Family Sustaining Pay for WomenBy linking education, support and opportunity, we can create proven pathways to economic security.

Fairfield County’s Community Foundation has partnered with local philanthropists to open doors of opportunity through The Family Economic Security Program (FESP), supported through our Fund for Women and Girls. Based on a successful 5-year pilot carried out in partnership with Norwalk Community College, the Family Economic Security Program offers low to middle-income students a wrap-around system of support to help balance the financial, social and logistical pressures of day-to-day living and attending college.

Students at CollegeThe program helps low and moderate-income students enrolled in community college to persist, earn their degree and find family-sustaining employment by providing resources in five key areas:

• Coaching – Academic, financial and life coaching.
• Career Services – Skills training, internships, job readiness and job search.
• Financial Assistance – Scholarships, financial education and credit repair.
• Income supports – Benefits screening, guidance on family tax credits and free income tax preparation (VITA).
• Peer support – Group experience, personal development workshops, family and cultural events.

The goal of FESP is to not just to educate women, but to provide a multi-faceted support system that can lead to long-term financial security. Our pilot program showed that helping students to overcome barriers to college and future employment leads to higher graduation rates, improved personal finances and asset building. Research also shows that when first-generation college students earn a degree, the next generation of family members and beyond are also much more likely to pursue higher education.

This week, the first group of students in our enhanced FESP program earned their degrees.

FESP Graduate, HCC Class of 2016Last fall, we partnered with Housatonic Community College to form an enhanced Family Economic Security Program to support low- and moderate-income students with dependents as they attend the college. We’re proud to report that on Thursday, May 26th, five of the current 50 students in the program graduated.  One graduated with honors; two who didn’t expect to graduate were able to cross the stage to collect their diplomas, thanks to the help of their achievement coaches. And another student who originally started at the college in 1991 also earned her degree. Perseverance does pay off! We wish these students all the best in their future endeavors.

You can help us to reach our shared goal of supporting 400 Fairfield County students to achieve degrees and move into family-sustaining careers by donating to the Fund for Women & Girls.

We believe in the power of women as agents of change. From Olympic playing fields to schools, workplaces and neighborhood homes, women have shown that they have amazing reserves of power, strength and resilience. Research also shows that for every woman we support, we impact four children. By creating an environment where women can thrive, we can effectively build a brighter future for our entire community. Together, let’s make a difference.


About Fairfield County’s Community Foundation and the Fund for Women & Girls

As a trusted nonprofit partner and thought leader, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation brings together community organizers, business experts and philanthropists to solve our region’s challenges. Our goal is to create a vital and inclusive community, where every individual has the opportunity to thrive. Established in 1998 by a group of visionary women, our Fund for Women and Girls has helped more than 9,000 women and girls to develop confidence, find their voices and achieve economic security. On April 7th, we hosted our annual Fund for Women & Girls Luncheon with World Cup champion Abby Wambach, a vibrant event that serves as our only fundraiser of the year and helps to support our Family Economic Security Program. To learn more, visit us on the web.

Together we thrive.