You would never know the obstacles Sophia Depenbrock has had to overcome if you met her today.
Her infectious smile and positive attitude paint a very different picture from where she was just a few years ago. There was a time she considered living in a homeless shelter with her two young kids.
Depenbrock’s world turned upside down when she and Mike, the father of her children, separated. Although it was amicable and he remained supportive, she suddenly had to figure out how to make ends meet on her own, care for two young children and continue going to school full-time while also working.
It was enough to overwhelm anyone but Sophia was determined to make sure her and her children beat the odds.
Depenbrock is not alone. Nearly one in three people in our region struggle to meet basic needs due to poverty and nearly 200,000 children are growing up in poverty. The federal poverty level for a family of four is 24,000 per year but, self-sufficiency is only possible when that family of four reaches 200% or $48,000 per year.
For Depenbrock, even with Mike’s support, the cost of housing, childcare, school, food, and meeting other basic needs while working a minimum wage job was almost impossible. “I just wanted to be able to support myself and my kids on my own. I didn’t want to have to depend on anyone else or government assistance.”
Despite not wanting to ask for assistance, Depenbrock felt it was the best option until she could finish school and start a career. She was still living with Mike while trying to figure out a plan for her and the kids but she kept running into road blocks. There was a housing waitlist, childcare assistance funds had run out for the year, and she was denied food stamps. She ran out of options until someone mentioned Brighton Center.
To help families like Sophia’s reach their hopes and dreams, Brighton Center has built a national network of collaborators and best practices. Through this network, the Center has deepened and broadened its work while blending and braiding both funding and services to serve the whole family. All things are interconnected – the success of a child is interdependent on the success of their parent(s) or caregiver; the parents’ success on the support of their family, friends, and community.
Brighton Center’s partnership with the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) has provided the Center with two opportunities for greater impact. Through the Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) model, Brighton Center piloted a strategy to seamlessly bundle services that are proven to not only stabilize a family in crisis but also lift them out of poverty and on the path to self-sufficiency. Depenbrock and her family utilized services in all three service areas of the FOC, which includes financial coaching, workforce development/education, and work supports.
Through the Bridges to Career Opportunities strategy, Brighton Center has enhanced skill training and adult education to be a more hands-on, real-world experience which directly simulates a job site. This allows trainees to enter the workforce with the knowledge and skills they need to become productive employees.
Brighton Center’s innovative practices and success in partnering with families to overcome poverty and reach self-sufficiency has attracted the national attention of funders and organizations such as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Ascend at the Aspen Institute who invest in funding, research, and evaluation of whole family/two-generation strategies.
“Ultimately, the partnership that Brighton Center develops with families not only integrates services while offering an array of national best practices but also recognizes that families know their situation best and are capable of making decisions that impact their lives. This partnership is based on mutual trust and respect as families make their decision to change and strive for a better future or improved quality of life,” said Melissa Hall-Sommer, Senior Director of Family Economic Success at Brighton Center.
Through the bundling and integration of services, Brighton Center has intensified the focus on whole family/two generation work which is a proven strategy to address the multiple challenges families living in or at risk of experiencing poverty face. This directly aligns with United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s recent announcement of an enhanced focus on lifting families out of poverty through strategies that bring multiple services together to support a family on their journey toward self-sufficiency.
These bundled services have had the following impact during Brighton Center’s last Fiscal Year (July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017):
- 85% of those who successfully completed Brighton Center’s Center for Employment Training (CET) secured employment
- On average, graduates of CET saw a wage gain of over $14,440 per year
- 94% of children enrolled in Brighton Center’s Early Childhood Educational programs for a year demonstrate progress or age appropriate development in multiple domain areas
- 100% of individuals attending financial education workshops increased their knowledge of and skills with budgeting, credit, and banking
- 91% of individuals enrolled in financial coaching paid their bills on time
Today, Sophia lives at Brighton Center’s Northern Kentucky Scholar House, a supportive environment that includes life skills workshops and educational supports for adults enrolled in post-secondary education and an on-site 5 STAR rated child development center where both of her children are thriving. Sophia’s daughter Natalie, who recently started kindergarten, was ahead academically before she even started. Trevor, age three, is also ahead and has benefited from quality early childhood educational experiences.
For Sophia, the future is looking bright.
She just received her Associates Degree and will continue her education with a Bachelor’s degree program in Mortuary Science. After she graduates with her Bachelor’s Degree she plans on using the money she has saved as a result of receiving financial coaching through Brighton Center to put a down payment on a house.
“They not only gave me a home to live in, but they are also teaching me how to do it on my own. Brighton Center has given me the building blocks to create a foundation that can get me ahead. I am building a future for my kids and me,” Depenbrock said.