Multi-Generational Programs – An Innovative Approach to Helping Low-Income Populations Overcome Employment Barriers

Jill Monte - Content Specialist ·

Q&A Interview with Terrene Cowan, Multi-Gen Coordinator – Chester, PA

More than 8 million people in the U.S. have fallen into poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic. The devastating effects – lost jobs, foreclosed homes, health issues and more – will last for years to come. However, at EDSI, we’re always striving to help others through innovative programming. One program that offers hope and help to low-income families is the Multi-Generational program, also known as “Multi-Gen.” In this blog, you will learn about how the program started, the framework of it, what makes it unique, benefits of the program and how to start a program in your region.

EDSI’s Assistant Director of Programs for the Chester, PA office gives us an up-close look into the innovative Multi-Gen program in the Q&A interview below.

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Terrene Cowan

Q1: Can you give me an overview of the Multi-Gen program and how it got started?

A1: EDSI applied for and received an innovation grant in Delaware County, PA in 2019, and the first Multi-Generational program was offered that same year. We had a desire to find a way to holistically meet the needs of not only job-seeking participants, but the whole family. It was then that the Multi-Gen program was born. Multi-Gen programs excel at addressing the needs of both parents and children, with the goal of creating opportunities that lead to family-sustaining wages and a strengthened family unit.

Q2: Who can participate in Multi-Gen – is there specific criteria participants have to meet?

A2: For our specific program, we recruit EARN (Employer Assistance and Resource Network) participants who are already registered in the American Job Center receiving general services, but anyone in any region can participate if their local AJC offers Multi-Gen.

The research-driven Multi-Gen model has proven successful with many difficult-to-serve populations, including individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues and the re-entry population.

Q3: How long does the program take to complete and what does the curriculum look like?

A3: Our programming runs for 8 weeks. Adults and children receive 2 hours of academic instruction and 1 hour of family mealtime twice per week.

Adults go through our Customer Service Boot Camp, which offers 16 two-hour modules and includes job-readiness workshops taught by CareerLink facilitators. Each graduate of the program receives a certificate credentialed by the PA Department of Human Services for Workforce Development Office. Even if participants aren’t interested in customer service careers, the curriculum offers hard and soft skills applicable to a wide variety of career pathways in many industries. Because of this diverse training and subsequent placement assistance, participants will qualify for jobs earning at or above minimum wage.

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Multi-Gen Graduates

Children (who are grouped by age) go through our Youth Curriculum taught by state certified teachers. Instruction focuses on grade-and age-appropriate academic lessons, including projects that build on their social and emotional skills. They also receive homework help/tutoring as needed. Middle-and high-school youth also engage in career exploration activities as well.

Q4: Has the program been able to continue during the Coronavirus pandemic?

A4: Yes, we were able to tweak the curriculum and provide access to resources and the family meal portion of the program in order to meet participants’ needs while in a virtual setting. For example, instead of having a meal delivered to our career center, we coordinated meal deliveries to each family’s house instead. Chromebooks and internet access were also provided to families in need.

Q5: What makes the Multi-Gen program unique?

A5: Family meal time is a big one – the program pays to have a catered dinner for families to share a meal together. This is much more than just free food. Shared mealtime reinforces positive family functioning and increases bonds, while improving communication and healthier eating.

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Other unique benefits of the program include the socialization among all the families. They often become a close-knit support network who offer encouragement and understanding to one another.

Q6: What do participants walk away with when the program is done?

A6: We have specific goals we are committed to helping adults, children and families walk away with:

Adults: improve job readiness skills and employability through an employer-driven curriculum geared toward high-priority occupations. Successfully completing the Customer Service Boot Camp instructional portion of the program leads to certification, and job placement often follows.

Children: Strengthen education and behavior through age-appropriate, activity-based learning and support.

Families: Develop and practice positive communication, parenting and life skills.

Q7: What do you find most fulfilling about your role in the Multi-Gen program?

A7: I really enjoy getting to know all of the families who go through the program. Playing a part in helping them overcome their barriers and gain the skills and confidence needed to secure employment that supports their family, is a great honor to me.

Q8: Why is a program like this important and how does it affect the overall economic success of a region?

A8: Multi-Gen has proven instrumental in helping people enter or re-enter the Pennsylvania workforce. We are doing our part to help lower unemployment! Since the program’s inception two years ago, 42 people have secured full-time employment. Our employment placement rate is 85% and we’re optimistic it will keep rising the longer we offer the program.

Another huge benefit of Multi-Gen is the impact it has on the children. Boosting the income of a child’s parents when the child is young is proven to be correlated with a significant increase in that child’s future earnings. Multi-Gen programs typically provide training and assistance to parents, which leads to employment at a minimum of $13.25 an hour for a full-time job, which will place them just above the poverty line for a family of four.

According to the Urban Institute, “Investments in multi-generational models could significantly reduce or even eliminate the investment required to support third and subsequent generations.”

Q9: Can you share a success story from someone who went through the program?

A9: There are so many inspiring stories to share. Families in every session gave testimonials about how impactful the programming and support was throughout the program.

Here, you can view a video of the Multi-Gen program.

Q10: In what regions is Multi-Gen currently offered and how is it funded?

A10: The program was first offered in Delaware County, PA but has since expanded to Montgomery, and Luzerne/Schuylkill counties. For help with program funding, you can check with government agencies, local municipalities or nonprofit organizations for federal and state grants that may be available.

Q11: Are there plans to expand Multi-Gen into other regions and how can a region start the program in their area?

A11: We hope more regions hear about the program and decide to replicate it in their local area. We would be happy to share insights and resources with anyone interested in learning more.

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