August 9, 2017  |  Boston & Cambridge Civic Engagement Education Financial Health Health

Telesha Mervin

I have lived in Cambridge for 17 years and heard about FII from two different people in my community. I was intrigued by the simple yet powerful idea of having a support group who would act as an accountability system — where you can share your dreams and goals and be accountable to do the things you need to achieve them.

Exactly what FII was confused me at first — it was unclear what FII did, what was expected of me, and what they provided — but I was encouraged by all of the amazing things other families were doing on the website. When I attended a welcome session for new family partners, it all clicked for me. During that event, it was clear that staff are intentional about stepping back and allowing families to take the lead in using that space to connect with each other. I spoke out and asked a lot of questions. After hearing from others, I left the meeting with a better understanding of what group interactions and dynamics could look like and what the potential could be.

We used that momentum to have our first successful meeting. Similarly, I took the initiative instead of waiting for staff direction. We finally got everyone together and worked to meet each group member where they were. Safrya, my friend and fellow group member, and I started to assign roles. Now when we meet, we do so with an agenda and take notes. Everyone is responsible for something and we make sure to follow up.

I told my group Phenom 5, “Listen, you have power and knowledge that you don’t know you have, we all do. This is an opportunity to get better and reach the goals we want.” I knew that whatever goals each person had, they were important, even if different than mine, and that we would support each other. I started bringing inspirational quotes and we decided to start meetings with something each person is looking forward to.

Now, we really dig deep into each others’ business — keeping it respectful and confidential. Our meetings are a space to release mentally and move forward. We are now really the Phenom 5! We identify everyone’s hopes and dreams, get excited about them, and support each other.

During one meeting in particular, we set goals for our families, the group, and ourselves. Afterwards, we talked about those goals, made a list and then analyzed it for how our goals overlapped and were connected.  Out of that discussion was born the idea of “Phenomenal Youth,” a youth-led and adult-supported group designed to develop the next generation through mentoring, education, and peer-to-peer supportive relationships. This idea came out of a passionate discussion we all had around being mothers and women and we came up with different ideas for the group to improve the community. Launching in November, we plan to teach youth in our community how to advocate for themselves, and we will work to find grants to support their goals.

Currently, our group is focused on health-related goals. We also set a group goal for each of us to take our families on vacation by end of the year. All of us are on track to hit those goals. For myself, I am proud that each member of my group opened up savings accounts with a minimum of $500. Some members didn’t have one at all. Everyone’s credits scores have improved, our mental health has improved, as has our general well-being.

"...you have power and knowledge that you don't know you have, we all do. This is an opportunity to get better and reach the goals we want.”

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