Individual Development Accounts : Redevelopment Opportunities for Women's Economic Action Program

Program/Practice Name: Redevelopment Opportunities for Women's Economic Action Program (REAP)

Agency Name: Redevelopment Opportunities for Women (ROW) programs of Family Forward

Contact Information:

Angela Schultz
PO Box 806
St. Louis, MO 63188
Phone: (314)-588-8300
angela.schultz@familyforwardmo.org
familyforwardmo.org

Type of Program/Practice: ROW services are designed for women who are affected by domestic violence, poverty, and/or homelessness, including battered women and individuals residing within emergency shelter programs in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County, Missouri.

Program/Practice Description: REAP was developed in 2001 as an innovative way to serve victims of domestic violence by coupling services with economic security and financial literacy programs. ROW developed a comprehensive curriculum for financial education for victims of domestic violence.

The program includes a series of workshops for women, running continuously throughout the year, with four to ten women per class. All ROW programs have open enrollment and anyone can participate in the full range of programs. Participants are referred to ROW through other community-based organizations, community colleges, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) offices, and word of mouth. REAP currently counts toward the work participation requirements for TANF clients. Following a strengths-based curriculum, participants attend workshops on a variety of topics, including money and power, creating a cost of living plan, understanding credit, and saving and investing. During the program, participants create an Economic Action Plan with the help of ROW staff. Additionally, participants have access to individual economic advocacy.

After completing the REAP curriculum, low-income battered women have the opportunity to apply for an Individual Development Account (IDA). IDAs help women save for assets such as home ownership, career-enhancing education, automobiles, starting a small business, home repairs, and safety needs. The IDA program provides a one-to-one match if participants qualify at 80 percent of the Federal poverty level, and a two-to-one match if the person is at 200 percent of the poverty level. Participants are eligible to participate in the IDA program for two and a half years. All ROW program participants have access to onsite childcare provided by ROW staff in their office. The office is located in downtown St. Louis with access to the bus line and Metrolink trains; programs often are carried out in the surrounding community to increase access to ROW programs.

Innovations and Results: Since 2000, ROW has spearheaded a consortium of 11 domestic violence agencies and four homeless shelter programs to address economic issues facing battered women. Through this collaboration, REAP was developed and provides critical economic empowerment services to women directly, including a comprehensive financial literacy curriculum and IDAs. In addition, REAP offers training and consultation to staff within other agencies to provide knowledge and skills needed to increase the economic empowerment of low-income battered women.

In 2004, the REAP Training Institute was formed to provide domestic violence advocates with the knowledge and skills needed to increase economic empowerment of women experiencing intimate partner violence. Experienced REAP advocates skilled in addressing domestic violence and financial advocacy have provided intensive training to over 500 advocates across the county at conferences and coalitions.  With the loss of funding in recent years, REAP provides technical assistance and consultation for agencies interested in implementing REAP services, or providing Individual Development Accounts (IDA’s).

Funding: REAP originally was funded through seed money from partner agencies and the National Endowment for Financial Education. Since its inception, REAP has been funded through contributions from partner agencies, an Assets for Independence grant through the Office of Community Services, foundation grants, and the United Way of Greater St. Louis.

Other ROW Programs:

Multilingual Access Program (MAP)

ROW’s Multilingual Access Program offers language and cultural access to services for non-English speaking women who are immigrants and refugees who are survivors of intimate partner violence. ROW’s Language Advocates work directly with local domestic violence agencies to provide interpretation and cultural competence for individual counseling, support groups, parenting, medical appointments, court accompaniment, etc. for battered women in the immigrant and refugee communities of Metro St. Louis.  MAP services are provided to eight partner agencies coordinated and scheduled by the MAP Coordinator.

Family Strengths Program

The Family Strengths (FS) Program consists of a series of two-hour classes providing key parenting information and personal development skills, along with individual goal setting and advocacy to support the participant in achieving her goals. The program focuses heavily on self-awareness, interpersonal skill building, domestic violence education, and financial education.

FS groups run for four weeks, and classes are held Tuesday – Friday, 9:30am to 11:30am. In addition to groups, participants are provided with individual advocacy to achieve their personal and family goals.  There are a variety of women who attend the FS Program. Some are referred by another social service agency, some are court ordered to attend, and others attend simply for their own personal development. The classes are in continuous four-week rotations, with new participants beginning at the first class of each rotation. Free bus tickets and childcare provided.

Family Literacy

The Family Literacy (FL) Program meets three days a week and combines adult education, individual goal setting and advocacy.  The educational component is provided by a certified teacher through St. Louis Public Schools Adult Education and Literacy program; individual goal setting and advocacy is provided by a part time Family and Economic Advocate.  Free childcare is provided on site while parents engage in services.  FL currently operates at ROW’s city office and operates Monday through Wednesday, 1:00 to 4:30 pm. Orientation for new students typically occurs on the second Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday of each month from.  Students are provided with individualized tutoring for as long as they need it in order to obtain their educational goals, dependent upon availability of volunteer tutors. Students receive one free bus tickets for each day they attend class.

Rebuilding Lives

Rebuilding Lives launched in July, 2016 a a result of funding secured through the Mental Health Board. The program is ROW's first clinical programming, which provides Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) to those identifying as women who have experienced trauma. In addition to CPT, the program offers wrap-arond supports from other ROW programs, such as REAP/IDA and Family Strengths. The program recieves internal referrals only (from ROW or Family Resource Center's Family Treatment program).

Tips to Implementation/Keys to Success: The ROW program credits the factors below as keys to success:

  • Initial investment and buy-in from community partners.
  • Knowledgeable staff who understand the role of financial education and economic independence in mitigating domestic violence.
  • Staff who have flexibility and control over their schedules and feel supported by management, which reduces staff turnover.
  • Strengths-based curriculum that removes the stigma of being poor.
  • Staff who use a peer-to-peer learning model in which everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn.
  • Conducting program evaluations and including evaluators from the beginning.
  • Making constant programmatic changes based on what is learned.

Challenges:

  • Funding, especially to implement the REAP Training Institute.
  • Growing the program by hiring key staff.

The following tools are associated with Redevelopment Opportunities for Women's Economic Action Program.  Please send us an email at upitoolkit@icfi.com for more information about these tools.

Overview of ROW's Economic Action Program

Overview of REAP Curriculum  

ROW's Financial Education for Women Schedule of Classes

Domestic Violence, Economic Abuse, and Implications of a Program for Building Economic Resources for Low-Income Women: Findings from Interviews with Participants in a Women's Economic Action Program

Organizing for Economic Empowerment of Battered Women: Women's Savings Accounts