September 25, 2018  |  Chicago In the News

Chicago Sun Times Covers FII Launch: New initiative seeks to help people help themselves to escape poverty in Chicago

by Manny Ramos

September 25, 2018


In 17 years, the Family Independence Initiative has enrolled 3,000 families — four people per household on average — and is operating in 14 different cities across the country. Now the initiative is making a move into 10 neighborhoods across Chicago. With a $2.6 million backing from and the City of Chicago, the organization hopes to combat poverty and improve the quality of life for 1,000 families on the South and West sides by giving money directly to them while also strengthening their social ties.

“Being homeless took something away from me,” (Shoniqua) Kemp said. Family Independence Initiative “and my family partners has replenished what was taken from me.”

“We recognize that everyday people are creating solutions to the very problems inside of their community and rather than investing in programs to address those issues, we invest directly into the people that are creating those solutions,” Jesús Gerena, the initiative’s chief executive officer, said.

The initiative enlists community groups to recruit five to eight families from their neighborhood. For two years, these participants commit to providing monthly financial reports and attend monthly community meetings. Participants can earn up to a $3,200 stipend as long as they remain committed to the program.

“People have a really hard time letting go of the perception that working-class families living in poverty can’t support themselves,” Gerena said. “There is no trust in their abilities that they can do better.”

But the initiative is about more than the small stipend. It’s about trusting communities to know what is best for the people who live there. The organization takes a backseat in managing the program and leaves the majority of the decision making to the community. Residents look to each other for support systems through filling out financial journals, community meetings and an online social network platform called UpTogether. Through the data shared on UpTogether, families are given reports and charts following their progress. The data-driven approach identifies trends and help families find necessary resources to help with their upward mobility.

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