The New York Times highlights the perspectives and experiences of FFI’s groundbreaking government agency partners in St. Louis and Massachusetts in “The Art of Humanizing Social Systems” in David Bornstein’s Fixes column! Here is Part 1, “When Social Services UndermineWell-Being.”
We’re looking for a few great people to join our team at every level of our organization! Please visit our Jobs and Internships page for job descriptions and how to apply.
For nine years FFI and our dedicated partners — trailblazers in domestic and sexual violence, homelessness, poverty, juvenile justice, child welfare, courts and more — have been demonstrating what’s possible when our service systems and our society as a whole disrupt cycles of poverty and violence by fostering long-term wellbeing.
Outcomes for kids and families are improving. So is their experience while they’re in these systems. From women living in shelters to families involved in the child welfare system, to kids seeking a new path away from juvenile delinquency, people who experience systems and supports that have worked with FFI feel seen, heard, and valued as people, not as problems to be fixed.
When people facing challenges are engaged as co-designers of new solutions, lives change, and change sticks.
We can do it because people like you step up and give generously.
Now, we need your help.
There’s growing demand for FFI’s game-changing solutions. There’s opportunity, need and demand for changes that really sticks. We need your help to seize these opportunities and meet this need and demand.
Help us start the new year — our 10th year — strong. Please give generously!
I’ve been doing this work for 41 years. This work on wellbeing gives me new life.
—Cheryl Campbell, Director of Detention Services, Family Court of St. Louis County
Dear Friends and Family,
We’re heading into a new year, and the Full Frame Initiative is offering TWO REASONS to be hopeful.
The St. Louis family courts and Missouri’s juvenile justice and child welfare systems are improving outcomes by employing new assessment tools and changing policy. Massachusetts government agencies use wellbeing to transform their approach to violence and housing instability. These are just two ways FFI and our partners demonstrate how shifting the focus from short-term fixes to long-term wellbeing creates lasting transformation and opens the door for durable, meaningful change.
$50 becomes $100. $100 becomes $200. $1000 becomes $2000.
It’s double the hope if you donate right now.
So what are you waiting for?
With thanks for your help, and excitement for the year ahead,
JJ and his family know what happens.
JJ had been taken into custody multiple times for stealing cars. A teenage survivor of childhood trauma, he was always referred to counseling as part of his court supervision. But once he was off supervision, his progress wouldn’t stick. He’d steal another car, betaken into custody again, and the cycle would repeat.
Then, something shifted.
The St. Louis Court that oversees JJ’s case is an FFI partner, taking groundbreaking steps to improve outcomes for kids and families. The court is tapping people’s innate drive for wellbeing—the set of needs and experiences essential to weather challenges and have health and hope. They’re changing practice, policy, and culture. They’re demonstrating that lasting change is possible. That systems change is possible.
The next time JJ was in court, the court officer took a mentoring and community reintegration approach that tapped JJ’s skills and talents, digging into what need stealing the cars had met and helping him find alternative ways of meeting those needs.
The court officer didn’t just see the pain and what was broken. He surfaced and nurtured the bright spots in JJ’s life, and worked with JJ’s family as well. He sought out information and conversations that didn’t confirm initial impressions, and maybe even challenged them. He began to see JJ and his family differently.
Several months after JJ’s case was closed, he drove a car that his court officer didn’t recognize into the court’s parking lot. When JJ met with his court officer, he showed him his new driver’s license and registration for a car he had legally purchased with his own money, saved from the job he was holding down even as he was completing school.
JJ worked incredibly hard for this. So did his family and the court officer. And so did the St. Louis court system that shifted to a focus on fostering wellbeing, a focus that short-circuits the forces that otherwise pull people backwards after they’ve made progress.
That’s why JJ’s story isn’t an aberration. It’s increasingly probable, thanks to trailblazing agency leaders, community members, staff, and activists —all determined to do the really hard work of shifting their perspectives from short-term problem fixes to fostering people’s long-term wellbeing.
And so in St. Louis, as in other Missouri and Massachusetts communities, FFI and our partners aren’t just demonstrating what’s possible; we’re making it harder for the status quo to remain the status quo.
The shifts we catalyze are lasting and revelatory. From new court supervision processes and structures in St. Louis to new approaches that address homelessness in Massachusetts, to new tools to help domestic violence survivors across the country, this is deep structural change that’s sticking for thousands of individuals and their families. It’s change that’s rerouting trajectories so that more JJs drive their own cars to their new jobs, and show up on an employer’s radar screen for a promotion, instead of on the court’s radar screen for an offense.
It’s clear we’re onto something. And it’s clear that at this moment in our country’s history, our work is needed more than ever before. But we can only do more with your help.
We all need a country that recognizes and fosters wellbeing for everyone regardless of gender, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, dis/ability, or religion. FFI is a piece of the puzzle to get us all there, and so are you. Allies like you fund two-thirds of the change FFI unleashes.
So be hopeful. Be a changemaker. And be generous. Because FFI can’t do its part without you doing yours.
FFI’s main office is in Greenfield, MA, population just under 18,000. With limited housing resources available, residents facing homelessness will often pitch tents in open spaces in the woods on the edge of town during the summer. In June, some local residents pitched tents on the Town Common in the center of town. FFI summer intern Grace Reeder shares some insights from her work with us about what she learned when a largely invisible crisis became visible, right outside our office window.
During my time this summer as an intern at FFI, the Greenfield Town Common, a small plot of land in the center of Downtown Greenfield, and just across the street from FFI’s headquarters, became a temporary home for several local families and individuals experiencing homelessness. The number of people residing on the Common grew from 2 at the beginning of the summer to about 20 by the time they were forced to leave and the Common was closed. Given the centrality of its location, it had become a hot topic of debate in the area. Some residents began donating items like gift cards, food, and camping equipment, while others felt this encouraged people to “camp out” on the Common. Initially, the mayor of Greenfield announced that unlike Greenfield’s other parks and recreation sites, there were no city ordinances that barred people from staying on the Common overnight. Ultimately, a vote by the Greenfield Board of Health, citing state health regulations, determined that the people who were living on the Common had to move.
This situation required the people residing at the Common to make decisions about where to go next. Their decisions–like decisions all of us make–included weighing the pros and cons of different options in the context of a universal drive for wellbeing–what FFI defines as the essential needs and experiences for health and hope. The Five Domains of Wellbeing (social connectedness, stability, safety, mastery, and meaningful access to relevant resources) are interconnected; and sometimes gaining something in one Domain requires giving something up in another. This is the concept of “tradeoffs.” Often, however, people grappling with extreme poverty, violence, trauma, or oppression, are dealing with systems that leave them with limited options to choose for themselves. Many times they have to make a decision that forces them to make small gains at the cost of much larger losses. Frequently, when a policy is developed or implemented, a lot of assumptions are made. The people most directly impacted by the outcomes are not directly consulted about what solutions would work the best. For those living on the Common, many assumptions were made: about who they are, their situation, and what their wants and needs are; about what they would or wouldn’t do, and what was worth it or not worth it to them in relocating. They didn’t feel included in the many conversations happening about them and their lives.
I had the opportunity to discuss with some of the residents who were living on the Common the gains and losses they experienced as a result of this situation. From my conversations with people living on the Common and from the news coverage, it appeared that most local residents would prefer that people not live on the Town Common, and they would prefer not to discuss the multiple intersecting issues at the root of the problem. The centrality of the location has made homelessness an unavoidable topic of discussion, but there is an emphasis on disappearing the problem without finding any long-term solutions.
For many of the women I talked to, the safety they felt while living on the Common was rare. They developed a community among themselves, which in turn provided them with assets in two of the Five Domains of Wellbeing: safety and social connectedness. Some felt safer being able to live with others who could watch their belongings and their backs. Others found a sense of community and belonging. They all looked out for each other, and many of them were very anxious about the thought of being separated from their community–not just the relationships, but the safety it brought. I heard stories of locals intentionally waking them up, throwing job applications at them, urinating on their tents, verbally abusing them, and using other methods of harassment. Despite the harassment, living on the Common was “worth it.” This speaks volumes to how important safety and community were to them. For any of us to move forward and make change successfully, we need to be able to do so without too great a loss; otherwise we’ll be stuck in the cycles we’re living in and may even end up worse off than we were before. Everyone deserves access to wellbeing, including people who are homeless. As one resident told me, the people living at the camp are “voters… [who] have jobs. We’re people.”
When we ask people to relocate, to make the housing or new shelter solution last, we need to also ask and understand–what is most important to you? What would you lose by leaving? How can we keep some of this in place so it’s more “worth it” to live somewhere else? These are the same questions we ask ourselves when we are moving from one place to another. This is why the work FFI does regarding the Five Domains of Wellbeing and tradeoffs is so important. Coming to FFI has helped me to see how change only becomes sustainable when we pay attention to tradeoffs, looking at what is “worth it” and what is not. This is true not only for people experiencing homelessness but for all of us.
After they were forced to leave the Common, The Boston Globe followed up with the “tenters,” allies, social service workers, and city officials.
Greenfield mayor surprises homeless with Friday eviction from town common… – The Boston Globe
Former Greenfield tenters struggle to find shelter – The Boston Globe
Grace Reeder worked as a Capacity Building Intern at the Full Frame Initiative in the summer of 2018. She is a senior at Whittier College majoring in Political Science and Gender Studies. An active member of her campus community, she serves as President of the Whittier chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society and the Violence, Intervention and Prevention Club; the Campus Relations Director for the school Senate; she’s a member of the Model United Nations Club; and she writes for The Quaker Campus, Whittier’s student-run newspaper. A passionate advocate for women’s rights and women’s roles in matters of peace and security, she hopes to work as for the United Nations as an analyst and policy writer on the roles of women and girls in civil conflict.
The Full Frame Initiative (FFI) is embarking on an exciting expansion and is looking for individuals with a passion for social justice and social change to upend inequities and for FFI’s mission to join our team as Chief Strategy Officer, National Partnerships and Outreach, Director of Strategic Partnership Projects, and Capacity Building Manager! Are you, or do you know someone who is passionate about social justice, social change and FFI’s mission? Apply today and please share these opportunities with your networks! Learn more on the Jobs & Internships page. We look forward to hearing from you!
When systems and communities orient around wellbeing, we create possibilities for lasting change for people and families. Our spring newsletter highlights partnerships that are supporting families in sustaining positive change, focusing on wellbeing to increase equity and justice, and bringing a wellbeing orientation directly to the community. Hear from partners about what this change looks like from the inside and what that means for families, meet talented artist and youth ambassador Trey from our community-based collaboration in St. Louis, and see how the FFI team is growing and changing!
More than 120 community residents and leaders from St. Louis nonprofit and public systems gathered together on January 23 for a two-hour Community Education and Outreach Event to learn more about Kids Deserve Wellbeing (KDW). This is a broad-based movement building effort that seeks to make wellbeing—the needs and experiences universally needed in combination for health and hope—the common heartbeat of the systems, formal and an informal, that support child welfare in the St. Louis region. Welcoming remarks were offered by Michael Howard, CEO of the Youthbridge Community Foundation (pictured left with Katya Fels Smyth), the bedrock funder for the initiative. Katya Smyth, Founder and CEO of The Full Frame Initiative, delivered a presentation exploring the pressing need to view kids and families in the full frame of their lives. A panel of community and systems leaders rounded out the program by sharing their excitement about the project and offer the audience a glimpse of what it means to adopt a wellbeing orientation. We offer a warm thank you to our panelists (pictured below): Tim Decker, Director of Missouri’s Children’s Division; Ben Burkemper, St. Louis County Family Court Administrator; Arvell Keithley, a student at St. Louis Community College; Don Pokorney, Regional Administrator for Children’s Division; and Jennifer Brinkmann, President of Alive and Well Communities. This wellbeing movement offers an opportunity to bust through silos, enabling deep collaboration of the various agencies and resources serving kids and families to foster long-term, lasting wellbeing. Kids Deserve Wellbeing works at the intersection of issues addressed by other initiatives in St. Louis, and it spans the boundaries of government, nonprofits and community, using the Five Domains of Wellbeing as a shared conceptual framework to guide the work.
We invite attendees and their colleagues to join us in our effort to bring a wellbeing orientation to services for kids by attending one of the five free, one-day trainings being offered in the St. Louis region in February and March of 2018.