FSN and Digital Advocacy: Shifting Focus to Address Emergent COVID-19 Needs
(photos are pre-pandemic)
With an influx of diverse needs as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, our team at Hopeloft has tailored our approach in every corner to meet the critical demands of the communities we serve. Each organization in our network continues to foster open communication and operate with acute attention to prevailing instabilities in order to safeguard our communities from added stress and hardship during this unstable time.
Committed to scaling their approach to meet the specific needs of the people they serve, Family Strengthening Network (FSN) has adopted new means of delivering effective, accessible solutions in this “new normal.”
FSN is a collaborative initiative of United Advocacy Group (UAG), a nonprofit operating out of Hopeloft that advances a model of consistent, credible, and holistic one-on-one advocacy. Through UAG’s whole family approach, FSN employs a team of trained Family Advocates to develop a clear plan for families in their network, helping them accomplish their goals and providing them with the tools, resources, and opportunities necessary to realize their visions.
By tapping into local and governmental resources, FSN aims to empower their families in target areas such as financial literacy, employment, health and wellness, academic excellence, service-learning, and healthy relationships—all areas that have been drastically affected by the pandemic.
“We knew that needs were going to continue; if anything, we knew they were going to be abundant,” asserts Rich Nichols, Executive Director of UAG. “So we wanted to set up new systems for advocates to connect w families.”
With their team of 15 Family Advocates, FSN has moved towards engaging digital solutions to continue advocating and addressing challenges. And the emerging needs and challenges of their families, as a result of the current global situation, presented in three main areas: employment and finances, education, and mental health.
Masses of people have lost their jobs or lost significant income as a result of fewer hours due to the pandemic. To help those that have been dealing with these losses, FSN has helped families navigate their experiences by facilitating applications for unemployment and helping alleviate financial anxiety around bills and childcare. To do so, FSN has focused on identifying resources that might help with food or utility assistance; internet programs or deferments for insurances, mortgages, or rent; and they have applied for grants to get money to put into the hands of families in need. Over the past several months, FSN has been able to buy families food, cover rents, and pay for dozens of internet bills.
Financial burdens tied to prevailing issues such as childcare, however, are not the only education-related challenges. Families are now faced with the overwhelming process of homeschooling, from the structure around discipline to scheduling to motivation to teaching. Families have struggled greatly with creating an environment that is conducive to learning, but FNS’s advocates have helped families work through these issues by putting together a homeschool survival guide; giving tips about scheduling and offering other online opportunities; and helping families connect with their children’s teachers.
Finally, the intangible challenge of easing the emotional toll that accompanies COVID-19 has been tackled head-on by Family Advocates through the open virtual communication they have been fostering with their families since the beginning of quarantine. The anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and inter-family conflict resulting from the pandemic has produced an added layer of stress to an already stressful situation—but FSN has dedicated their time to providing virtual spaces for families to debrief and vent, ultimately bringing a little comfort and perspective for those in need.
Though different than what both the families and the advocates are accustomed to, FSN’s new approach to advocacy has been largely successful, and we are grateful to have such dedicated team members at Hopeloft who are committed to serving our community no matter the circumstances.
“We’re not sure what the future looks like,” says Rich. “It’s been tough for everyone, so we’re just trying to be flexible and creative to get outside of our own lane and best take advantage and support people with the newness that arises with opportunities and needs.”
If you or someone you know is in need of a Family Advocate, please visit FSN’s website or contact Rich Nichols at Rich@unitedadvocacygroup.org.