ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County’s 2GEN program, which aims to break the cycle of poverty in the region, is entering the third and final year of its three-year pilot period.
The 2GEN, or two-generation program, aims to combat poverty by taking a “whole-family” approach to addressing poverty, according to the county. The program focuses equally its services and programs for parents and children.
The program was new to Montgomery County in 2016 but not to the state of Maryland. According to Governor Larry Hogan’s office, Garrett and Allegany counties have become national leaders in using the 2Gen approach to public services.
According to Montgomery County, the three-year pilot program included 50 young families.
“The program is designed for young parents ages 16-24 who are not enrolled in school or are unemployed. Historically, young parents of that age who have come from families living in poverty continue to have their families extend those conditions,” Sarah Van De Weert, a communications and marketing manager at Worksource Montgomery, said. “A lack of assistance and higher goals are major issues in exiting the cycle of poverty. The 2GEN program seeks to provide the assistance, goals and direction needed to give the future generation of these families a strong base.”
Worksource Montgomery focuses on connecting job seekers with local and regional employers. The organization attempts to make it possible for members of the community to compete for higher-quality jobs and for local employers to compete within the marketplace, according to its website.
The organization awarded a $100,000 grant in 2016 by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to create and implement the program. According to the county, Worksource Montgomery was one of three workforce development organizations in the United States to receive the grant money.
“(The three grants went specifically to programs that) try innovative methods to help elevate families from continuous generations that remain in poverty. The other two grants were awarded to El Paso, Texas and Maricopa County, Arizona,” the county wrote in a press release.
Since 2016, Worksource Montgomery provided matching funds through its Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which designated another $5,000 for oversight and outreach efforts. According to Van De Weert, Worksource Montgomery also partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services, Montgomery College, Montgomery Moving Forward, and Family Services to ensure that the program addressed the cycle of poverty systematically and holistically.
“We know that families want to do better and elevate their standards of living—they just needed the right help to get there,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. “We also know that early childhood education can be a game-changer for a child, and now, coupled with help for the parent, we may be able to make a real difference for families. We are seeing signs that the 2GEN program has the potential to provide (the) bridges these families need.”
During his campaign for county executive, Elrich emphasized that creating programs to elevate early-childhood education was a top priority for his administration.
According to the county, the 2Gen approach to services has five components: early-childhood education and development, post-secondary education and employment pathways, economic assets, health and well-being and social capital.
A mid-program report compiled by the Maryland Department of Human Services noted the progress of the initiative.
“Constituents often cited the lack of communication between service providers. This extended beyond intra-agency coordination to include a breakdown in coordination between government agencies and private, non-profit agencies as well,” Human Services wrote in their report. “Constituents also felt they were not aware of the availability of services and that obtaining that information often depended on the success of a single interaction with a caseworker.”
Participants in the program noted that the care that invested caseworkers showed when identifying services motivated them but also brought a sense of relief.
The program has also highlighted the difficulties for residents looking to receive social services. For example, according to the report, one family stated that a lot of services are geared specifically towards single mothers, which excludes the challenges that fathers, and non-custodial parents, face.
Van De Weert explained that Worksource Montgomery attempts to provide solutions to employment barriers.
“During the intake process, we identified their barriers to employment (for example) transportation, access to food, housing and childcare,” she said. “If there were barriers that we could not address, we referred them to a partner organization that could better help them with, that while we prepared them for employment by offering training.”
Van De Weert stated that there is no additional money to continue the 2GEN program through Worksource Montgomery in the future.
“Even without the grant money, we always strive to address the whole customer when we see them at our American Job Centers,” Van De Weert said. “If they require referrals to partner organizations due to barriers, we always address that, while ensuring that they have the tools and resources they need to establish a complete pathway to employment.”