Throughout our deep partnership with Missouri Division of Youth Services, the Five Domains of Wellbeing has become more and more embedded in the state’s juvenile justice system and is supporting youth in successfully transitioning back into the community and making sustainable, positive change. FFI collaborated with DYS to develop The Five Domains of Wellbeing for Youth and Youth Involved in the Juvenile Justice System, a new resource for anyone engaging with and advocating for these youth, with specific guidance for juvenile justice staff who wish to reinforce existing and develop new practices and systems that support wellbeing.
The Full Frame Initiative has new opportunities to join our amazing team! We are looking for a new Human Resources Manager and an Administrative Assistant in our Greenfield office, and a Training & Capacity Building Manager and a Community Engagement & Capacity Building Manager in Missouri. Work with us to increase access to wellbeing to break cycles of poverty and violence. Are you, or do you know, someone who thrives in a fast-paced environment, is passionate about social change and eager to grow with a growing organization? Apply now or share widely with your networks! Learn more on the Jobs & Internships page.
On Saturday, January 21st several FFI staff members participated in the Women’s March in Washington, DC and in sister marches in Boston and Greenfield, Massachusetts and in New York City. The pictures and reflections posted on FFI’s Twitter and Facebook page are testimony of the multitude of reasons people marched that day, including for the rights of undocumented immigrants, for the rights of individuals with a disability, and for the right to have control over our own body. I was in New York City with hundreds of thousands of people who were marching, standing, and dancing together for equality and freedom as we made our way west on 42nd Street and north on 5th Ave or through adjacent side streets and avenues when that crowd was too robust to move. While we were a part of the millions of people around the world who marched for a myriad reasons that day, the future of our democracy is not teetering on whether or not we all show up when it is time to march for change in public policy. Our democracy depends on our willingness to pay attention to and not be agnostic about how our individual decisions can affect the wellbeing of others. Colloquially, wellbeing is often described as what can occur after one has moved through the hierarchy of needs—physiological, safety, belonging/love, esteem, and self-actualization—psychologist Abraham Maslow identified. Wellbeing, however, is not achieved when one is able to maintain a state of self-actualization nor is it a destination point. It is a state of being that requires the weighing of assets and consideration of tradeoffs. Our collective wellbeing depends on the decisions we make as individuals as we weigh assets and tradeoffs.
The Sunday before the Women’s March, on January 15th, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 88 years old if he were alive. Would he think the marches would result in meaningful positive change for the marginalized? What assets and tradeoffs would he argue need to be weighed? Would he be skeptical? The August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom he helped lead included a “What We Demand” statement with ten points including “comprehensive and effective civil rights legislation from the present Congress—without compromise or filibuster—to guarantee all Americans access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, and the right to vote.” The March resulted in increased momentum for the civil rights movement, which resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. While it is too early to know what the Women’s marches will produce, what I do know is that despite federal legislation and resources, we are still fighting—over 50 years later—for many of the demands from the March on Washington to be met. Although according to the University of California, Los Angeles’ Civil Rights Project’s 2014 report Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future that “there has not been a major national study on school segregation, its costs, and solutions for almost 50 years, since the 1967 report requested by President Johnson, Racial Isolation in the Public Schools,” it has been argued that schools in the United States were more racially segregated in 2015 than they were in the 1960s. Civil rights legislation was signed 10 years after the US Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka. Brown vs. The Board of Education overturned the 1896 US Supreme Court decision in the Homer A. Plessy v. John H. Ferguson case, which upheld state racial segregation laws (e.g., Jim Crow Laws) of public systems including education and transportation. Racial segregation under the ideology of “separate but equal” systems was standard doctrine in laws across the US until the Brown vs. The Board of Education decision. In addition to the consequences of legally sanctioned racial segregation, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, in the The New York Times Magazine article, “Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City,” details how individual decisions made by well-meaning individuals about where to live and which school to send their child to can affect other students’ and families’ access to opportunity and various forms of capital—including credential, cultural, and social. Because of individual decisions that uphold unjust systems, coupled with other mechanisms such as discriminatory employment and housing policies and practices, some schools in the US are more racially and economically isolated than they were when the marchers demanded the “desegregation of all school districts in 1963.” More specifically, in the interview “How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By ‘Individual Choices’,” on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, Hannah-Jones argues that individuals can make good decisions for their children and other people’s children too. Making those decisions requires weighing assets and tradeoffs, which can cause tension when trying to reconcile one’s beliefs and values with one’s actions. Being willfully blind to the collective results of our individual decisions does not invalidate school demographic data that reveals that we are making decisions based not only on what we desire for our own children but also based on our beliefs about other people and their children. We are making decisions that secure or maintain advantage for our own child while ignoring or being indifferent about systems that are unjust for other people’s children. No matter what the circumstances, we all want the same thing—wellbeing for ourselves and for those we care about. The harsh reality, however, is we are maintaining a country that is not only segregated educationally but also racially, economically, politically, residentially, and socially. Being civically engaged is not the same as resisting nor is resisting the same as offering alternatives to systems that value the wellbeing of one group at the expense of another. In “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” Dr. King wrote: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” In short, even the most social justice-minded individuals might be making decisions that are contributing to the country being more separate and more inequitable.
In a recent letter to allies, “Increasing Access to Wellbeing in Small Spaces and Interactions,” Katya Fels Smyth, FFI’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer, reflecting on the legacy of Dr. King on his national holiday, wrote about the ways she can increase access to wellbeing for others in her day to day interactions. Our collective right to wellbeing is dependent upon us not only resisting the policies, procedures, practices, and norms that do not uphold and/or that undermine the mandates of the Constitution, but it is also dependent upon our commitment to making individual decisions and taking deliberate actions that increase access to wellbeing for some of the individuals and groups of people we marched as a member of or in solidarity with. We cannot wait. We must act with urgency and have the moral fortitude to not only speak truth to power while we march but also while we make individual decisions. Onward?
La Tonya Green, PhD is FFI’s Director of Evidence and Knowledge. She is responsible for generating knowledge and evidence about the applicability and effectiveness of the Full Frame Approach and the Five Domains of Wellbeing.
FFI is delighted to announce that international activist and longtime ally Juan Carlos Areán has been elected to our Board of Directors. Juan Carlos was one of the first people to join FFI’s council of advisors in 2008 and has since been an active advocate for our work through his anti-violence, gender equity and racial equity work.
Juan Carlos is an internationally recognized activist, public speaker, trainer and facilitator, and published author. Since 1991, he has worked to engage men across different cultures to become better fathers, intimate partners and allies to end domestic violence and achieve gender equity. He is presently the Director of the Faith and Community Based Youth Violence Prevention Initiative at Futures Without Violence. Previously, he served as Director of the National Latin@ Network at Casa de Esperanza and as a Sexual Assault Prevention Specialist at Harvard University.
Juan Carlos is a founding member of the United Nations Network of Men Leaders to combat violence against women created by former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He has served as an expert in many media outlets and has led hundreds of workshops and presentations throughout the United States, the Americas and the Caribbean, as well as in Europe, Asia, the US Congress and the United Nations in New York and Geneva.
A person of many interests, he has a Master’s degree in music composition and is an ordained interfaith interspiritual minister.
FFI is thrilled and honored to announce we have received a multi-year grant from the Kresge Foundation. This investment of operating support will help us to grow dramatically and sustainably in the coming years, expanding our infrastructure and operations and leveraging additional investments so that we can eventually work with over 50 nonprofit organizations and systems seeking to create the conditions that provide more equitable access to wellbeing for people and communities living at the intersection of poverty, violence, trauma and oppression.
“Full Frame Initiative shows how human services organizations and policies can evolve to advance person-centered supports that increase access to opportunity for people,” said Sandra Ambrozy, senior program officer with The Kresge Foundation’s Human Services Program. “With our investment, we hope that FFI will be able to scale and expand its model and approach and build the case for a wellbeing framework in the human services sector.”
For me and perhaps for you, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was particularly relevant, resonant and poignant this year. In the face of forces and messages that can erode people’s access to wellbeing, we’re all called on to take peaceful action to hold the line. Many of us are joining larger conversations, groups, events and public statements, and there is an energy around many of these that is positive and infectious. Some of us are reclaiming our activist voices, and others, like my kids, are just discovering theirs for the first time. I find myself newly hopeful but (I think) not naive.
Yesterday, as news of activist voices in protests, counter-protests and marches dominated, I took a moment to reflect on where so much of access to wellbeing is enhanced or blocked: in seemingly small, invisible actions that are important and meaningful that have nothing to do with political party or polarities.
As an imperfect person, some of these are harder for me to do consistently than I like to admit, which is exactly why I need to engage in them: I need to own where my deep, fierce commitment to access to wellbeing isn’t always matching up to my actions. Hard work. I’d love your company.
So here are my first two commitments for January:
1) Have a conversation with someone who sees the world very differently from how I see it, do less than half the talking, and really listen for how that person’s perspective makes sense even if I disagree.
Why this increases access to wellbeing: Our drive for social connectedness to others is strong, as is our related need to feel we belong. But this drive can create echo-chambers and bubbles, and that fuels division.
2) In settings and situations where I feel safe as a straight, white, middle-class woman, taking a moment to try to identify whether there are things occurring that might make someone else feel less safe, and remedying those as much as possible, even if that pushes me to be less comfortable.
Why this increases access to wellbeing: Safety is a combination of external situations and our personal perspectives and histories. What is safe for one person many not feel or be safe for another person.
The response to my earlier post, Why It’s Time for a National Right to Wellbeing, was inspiring and galvanizing, and reaffirmed FFI’s deep belief that it is, indeed, the time for a right to wellbeing. So I invite you to join me in taking your own first steps in the small spaces of individual interactions in addition to whatever actions you’re taking in a larger sphere. FFI is working on simple ways to collect and disseminate actions people across the country are taking to build access to wellbeing; in the meantime, please feel free to share by email, Twitter (tag @FullFrameInitv and we’ll retweet it!) or on Facebook (@FullFrameInitiative).
You can also help seed a national right to wellbeing movement by sharing Why It’s Time for a National Right to Wellbeing with your friends, colleagues, allies, and those with whom you disagree, too. And please share with me resonant posts, organizations and work.
FFI is pivoting quickly to steer into this work more intentionally and explicitly. We all need to keep calling for change, and being the change we want to make in this world.
I look forward to hearing from you again.
Too often, we treat wellbeing as something that’s nice to have. An extra.
It’s not: wellbeing is vital. It’s what we’re all hardwired for.
When it’s treated as an extra, we’re sicker, lonelier, less safe. Our families fare worse, too.
When it’s taken seriously—when systems, services and communities enable us to access wellbeing and to follow our inner drive for wellbeing—we have the fundamental ingredients for health and hope.
That access to wellbeing requires infrastructure. Not roads and bridges, but the places and spaces that support social connections and belonging; where the color of a young person’s skin or the language in which a parent prays for a child doesn’t increase or decrease their safety; where people actually can be agents in shaping their destinies, and more. This is the infrastructure of wellbeing.
The Full Frame Initiative is dedicated to increasing access to wellbeing for the people and families who have been struggling at the margins, often for years or generations. People who are caught in systems designed to solve specific problems that, in reality, often create new roadblocks to wellbeing, furthering downward spirals instead of helping people break cycles of poverty, violence, trauma and oppression.
Imagine a young mother mandated to attend parenting groups that conflict with her job, so she loses her job and then she can’t afford home heating oil in the winter. Her kids get sick when she tries to heat the house by turning the stove on all day, and the spiral continues.
This was never the intent of the parenting class mandate, but it is the impact when we don’t have the required infrastructure to support real change and progress.
Right now, more and more people in America feel the onramps to wellbeing are blocked or riddled with potholes, and their attempts to move forward only create more problems and less wellbeing.
We—together—can fix this: we can build a national wellbeing infrastructure so that everyone has equal opportunity for wellbeing, including those who are now the most marginalized. For that young mom, this means that instead of a mandated parenting class that creates more harms for her and her family, she is supported in finding a way forward that is meaningful and sustainable for her.
For FFI, this means continuing our groundbreaking work with government systems, nonprofits and communities that seek to transform themselves to be more effective, efficient and aligned with what people need and crave.
We can’t do it alone. It takes allies and advocates, champions and friends.
And it takes funding.
FFI’s work is more urgently needed and more relevant than ever. If you believe that wellbeing is essential, please give generously to pave the potholes and remove the roadblocks so that everyone has equal access to wellbeing.
Katya Fels Smyth
Founder & CEO
The presidential election surfaced fissures that carve deep into the ideal of a common identity of America.
We at FFI are chilled, frustrated and outraged by the illumination of hate and base instincts of division and intimidation, and we are scared for and with each other and all the people across our country who are less safe than they were two weeks ago. We stand in solidarity with the many people writing and speaking about these real fears.
We are committed to being part of not just something that restores, but a movement that actually moves us all forward.
And we believe that an essential piece of the puzzle is wellbeing: a set of core needs and experiences we universally seek, in combination, and that we universally need for health and hope.
We all seek to be in relationships where we get and give value, to feel a sense of belonging to things bigger than we are; we need to know that core parts of our identity don’t expose us to danger or hatred; we need to know there are rhythms in our days and stability we can count on; we need to see that our actions and our work matter: that we have impact and can shape our future, our relationships, our environment; we need to be able to meet our and our children’s needs for food, clothing, shelter, school, health care, and more without shame or danger. And we all seek progress for ourselves and our loved ones, but in ways that don’t create havoc in other parts of our life.
These universal needs bind us all. Far from a nice extra, wellbeing is vital.
What the election surfaced is that across the country, and far more pervasively than many otherwise knew, people feel their wellbeing is thwarted and threatened. One possible response is to keep turning on each other and on the systems and institutions that should protect us, but that so many Americans no longer trust.
FFI rejects this, and we believe that many of you do, too. It’s a zero sum game if one person’s wellbeing is only increased when someone else’s is diminished.
The other possibility is actually a responsibility.
We all have a responsibility to steer into the magnificent and sometimes disquieting truth that we are more alike than we are different—not to excuse hate, vengeance, intimidation and oppression, but instead to address it head on and disarm it. To see each other in the full frame of our lives and align our interactions, practices, policies and institutions with what is required to provide equitable access to wellbeing. To create a space where one person’s wellbeing enhances another’s—not a zero sum game, but an exponentially more powerful and positive one. To leverage this moment not to get us back to where we were two weeks ago, but to really increase access for everyone, particularly those who grapple with poverty, violence, trauma and oppression.
FFI’s purpose is more relevant than ever. We will continue to support change that brings a wellbeing orientation to organizations, systems and communities, and we will accelerate our work to, in coalition and collaboration, assert a national right to wellbeing.
We cannot and must not do this alone. If you believe that we all have a right to wellbeing, please be in touch as we, together, shape a bright, urgently needed way forward.
For the last 18 months FFI has been engaged with four project partners and three California community-based teams in a collaborative initiative to apply asset-based strategies in addressing multiple forms of violence and oppression. Throughout the project, partners and teams explored what it really takes to move away from a problem-defined, deficit-based approach in order to improve access to wellbeing for the people, families and communities living through violence and oppression. This project summary shares the asset-based methodologies that were explored and lessons learned throughout the project.
I am an activist who became a social scientist because I wanted to engage in more complex investigations of the systems that disenfranchise and marginalize vulnerable populations. Through these investigations I believed I could gather the evidence to make compelling arguments about how systems could reduce their harm and more effectively fulfill their responsibility to ensure all groups in society full, fair and equal treatment. Over the course of my career I have been a part of research and evaluation projects throughout the United States, mostly involving individuals with low income, low education attainment and who are of color. While engaged in the research I often thought about the late New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s statement, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” I thought of my role on the various research and evaluation teams as occupying that folding chair for disenfranchised and marginalized populations who were not invited to the table. However, what I know now is that occupying a folding chair at the table is not enough.
Several years ago I was the only person of color on a team of three individuals evaluating a workforce development program operating in a midsized city in the midwestern United States. Although the city is predominantly white, most of the participants in the program were of color—mostly Black and Latino. In addition, the administration and most of the program staff were of color. Throughout the latter half of the evaluation, the program director told the evaluation project manager that she was not comfortable with how the evaluation was being framed. The evaluation manager explained to her that the evaluation was already in process and that the integrity of the research would be compromised if a different frame of the evaluation were employed at that point. While I was not a part of the early conversations of the framing of the evaluation, nor was I in a decision-making position on the team, I believed my seat at the table could make a difference. I believed my participation could influence data analysis and recommendations and ensure that the realities of the study population’s lived experience would be central to the study.
The actual result of the evaluation was findings and recommendations that recreated policies and practices that were in alignment with best practices of program delivery, but not the lived experience of the program participants.
One recommendation was that the program be more flexible; however, the evaluation did not consider what “flexible” meant to the program participants. It did not ask what a participant might have to give up in order to meet the program’s requirements, or weigh if the tradeoff would be worth it for them in the context of their whole selves. For example, although adjustments were made to the program curriculum to be more flexible (e.g., participants were given more time to meet soft skill training goals), other policies were left unchanged. The program’s strict policy for program participants to be on time for classes, meetings, and counseling sessions created undue burden for some program participants, even while staff were reporting concerns about retention. Despite the new flexible curriculum, one particularly determined program participant could not sustain her participation in the program; the new flexible curriculum did not increase her access to the program.
The participant, who had been living in a shelter, managed to acquire a bike to get to and from the shelter and the program. Throughout the fall she was on-time and engaged in the program. Once daylight savings time began, she felt vulnerable because she was riding back to the shelter from the program in the dark. She could not take public transportation because its very limited route and hours of operation did not meet her needs. In addition, once winter began, despite wearing four coats, she was unable to successfully navigate the rain, ice, and snow to arrive to the program on-time; ultimately, she dropped out of the program.
Despite the program staff’s best intentions to prepare a very hard to employ population with remedial education, job readiness, and vocational training, some program requirements were too high a cost compared to dropping out of the program. Although program staff attempted to be more flexible in program delivery, our recommendations did not direct them to engage program participants in defining what a more flexible program would look like to them. While best practices serve a purpose, they are only effective if they can be operationalized within the context of the reality of the messiness of the lived experience. Because program participants were not seen in the full frame of their lives, they were required to make unsustainable tradeoffs to participate in the program.
Evaluation is not inherently benign. Who is sitting at the table not in a folding chair but in a decision-making chair matters. How an evaluation is framed and by who matters. Evaluators are the experts who lead the framing of the inquiry. Framing is imperative for determining the question or set of questions the evaluation will be focused on. The questions are critical for determining the methodology. The methodology determines what is critical for the evaluators to pay attention to. There are real consequences from how an evaluation is framed, conducted, and evidence marshalled; our findings are depended upon for making critical decisions about policy and practice. The consequences of not engaging the study population meaningfully in framing could result in policies and practices that not only continue to focus on problems not people, but also that continue to institutionalize injustice.
La Tonya Green, PhD is FFI’s Director of Evidence and Knowledge. She is responsible for generating knowledge and evidence about the applicability and effectiveness of the Full Frame Approach and the Five Domains of Wellbeing.