Crittenton Women’s Union: A Path to Economic Self-sufficiency

They help 1,300 people a year and run one of the largest emergency and transitional housing programs in the state, serving 350 families a year.

The Crittenton Women’s Union is a Boston-based non-profit organization that combines a mission of direct service programs, independent research and public advocacy to help low-income women attain economic independence. CWU was formed after a 2006 merger of Crittenton‘s Educational Union and the Women’s’ Educational Union. The organization serves a total client population of 2,500 to 3,000 women with children through its housing, education, and training programs, and its family support services.

According to their website, liveworkthrive.org, the CWU facilitates five direct service programs for low-income women. The Career Family Opportunity program is the first of its kind, helping single parents build the foundation necessary to achieve economic independence. This program offers mentoring, peer support groups, cash incentives, counseling and skills training. CWU also has a GED program which provides secondary level education and includes life skills, work skills and computer training. The Emergency and Transitional Housing program includes shelter facilities and transitional housing for homeless mothers and children. The Boston Neighborhood Healthy Families is a home-based program that provides first-time parents under 21 years old with education, parenting and life skills to prevent child abuse and neglect.

“Each program provides different services and serves different groups,so demand varies,” said Stephanie Nichols, director of communications for CWU. “Our GED program serves mainly young people 16 years and older, as does our Healthy Families program for first-time parents 21 years or younger. Our Woman to Woman career development course offers computer training, job readiness preparation, and college and career counseling to all ages.

“We launched the Economic Mobility Institute, which includes a menu of trainings, in the fall, and we expanded the class offerings in the spring. CFO Boston is at its capacity of 26 with a seven-person waiting list. CFO Cambridge is halfway to being filled. “

CWU also conducts research into the economic, political and social barriers facing disadvantaged women. It translates this research into web-based tools for low-income families to use. One of the CWU web tools is the Economic Independence Calculator. Using this calculator, families can determine how much it would cost to live in individual cities and towns in Massachusetts.Another web tool offered by CWU is Hot Jobs for Women. This tool helps users locate careers which require two years or less of higher education or training. Hot Jobs also chooses careers that would provide the level of income needed by a single parent with two children, based on the Massachusetts Economic Independence Index. CWU has also established an advocacy council, a network and a blog to help inform and educate policy makers, community leaders and women at risk.

The Emergency and Transitional Housing and the Career Family Opportunity programs are just two examples of the CWU direct service programs that have grown in numbers and received public praise for helping families since the 2006 merger.

“CWU has a capacity to house 135 families at one time, however, and cannot accommodate more than that,” said Nichols. “We serve a total of about 350 families a year. We work closely with our families to move them into permanent housing and, once permanently housed, we continue to provide them with support services to help them stabilize their lives and work towards economic self-sufficiency.

“We cannot accommodate more than these numbers. We are operating at full capacity.”

The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless recently released statistics gathered from the Department of Housing and Community Development. These statistics showed that as of March 2011, there were 3,300 homeless families in the state assistance program, compared to 2,000 in March 2008. This represents a staggering 50 percent increase.

With the goal of helping single-parent low-income families attain economic independence, the Career Family Opportunity program opened in South Boston on November 10, 2009. This was the first program of its kind in Massachusetts, offering family support services, education and life skills training. This program has grown from a core group of 17 families to 26 families as of 2011.

One year following the opening of CFO Boston, CWU teamed up with the Cambridge Housing Authority to bring the CFO program to Cambridge. The Cambridge Housing Authority was looking for a partner to implement the HUD Moving to Work program, which gives low-income families incentives to participate in job training and education, then assists them in obtaining employment and becoming self-sufficient. CWU was a good choice, due to their program experience and familiarity with HUD initiatives.

“Cambridge Housing Authority participates in the Moving to Work program of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development,” said Nichols. “Moving to Work provides funding to designated housing authorities across the country to develop programs that will help people become economically self-sufficient and no longer need public housing subsidies. CHA was looking to create partnerships for this kind of programming and learned about the CFO program in Boston.

“Cambridge has no waiting list,” said Nichols. ‘They are only half way to being filled.”

Mayor David Maher commented in an October 2010 CWU press release that CHA partnering with CWU is an example of the non-profit sector joining forces with local government for the good of their constituents, and that real people benefit from the results.

CFO Boston statistics released by CWU for 2009 and 2010 show positive results for its members. CFO members are breaking the cycle and working towards self-sufficiency, with 80 to 90 percent entering into continuing education and 60 percent working on finishing high school. These two goals are small but important stepping stones toward attaining a job and becoming self-sufficient.

Robert Sondak is a Spare Change News vendor and staff writer. Robert has a Bachelors Degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston, College of Public and Community Service (CPCS). Robert also minored in Urban Planning and Advocacy.

(Photo: Participants in Career Family Opportunity, a groundbreaking program launched in 2009 by Crittenton Women’s Union to help low-income families achieve economic self-sufficiency within five years, engage in one of the many workshops the program offers.)

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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