For the past 154 years, change has been a constant at Family Services Woodfield (FSW) as it works to carry out its mission of building families and communities. The biggest change came in 1988, when FSW moved to the inner city of Bridgeport. As staff left in the transition, FSW replaced them with community members who brought not only formal skills, but also knowledge of their neighbor’s needs and strengths.
Vyola Parker of Parker’s Pampering and Wellness Spa opened her business in Bridgeport in the summer of 2000. A relative suggested she enroll in a Workshop in Business Opportunities (WIBO), a 16-week course for business entrepreneurs, to sharpen her business skills. Parker and her classmates delved into financing, human resources and building a business plan. In fact, Vyola Parker and her family members are now among 188 entrepreneurs whom WIBO has graduated in the past four years. Through other Family Assets programs, she has obtained a grant to buy inventory and hooked up with a mentor, another community business owner whom she meets with regularly. Now she is looking into a micro loan through Family Assets to help her expand.
Today FSW is so thoroughly embedded in the community that distinctions between staff and community blur. Staff may come first to FSW as clients, volunteers or children accompanied by their parents. Together with their families and neighbors, these staff help shape FSW’s constantly evolving services that embrace all dimensions of what low-income families in Bridgeport need to thrive.
Families turn to FSW for connections to senior services, youth programs, mental health care and Family Strengthening Teams. When an FSW counselor could not find services for a deaf child, FSW created deaf outreach program. Young people in the juvenile justice program make and sell boats and guitars through FSW partnerships with business entrepreneurs.
FSW not only help families develop economic sustainability, but the agency practices the principle itself. More than half of FSW’s income comes from revenue-generating activities. FSW’s Employee Assistance Program successfully markets its extensive counseling expertise to for-profit companies. The Food Service Enterprise began as Meals on Wheels for seniors, and has now grown to include food service for childcare centers, families, individuals with HIV/AIDS and a for-profit frozen meal delivery service. The Deaf Sign Language Interpreter Program, one of the agency’s most significant financial engines, counts all of Connecticut’s acute care hospitals among its clients.
In addition to generating revenue, FSW ensures that no single funder provides more than 10 percent of the agency’s total income. FSW also became the first family services agency in the country to gain U.S. Treasury Department Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) certifications in order to strengthen financial services available to the community through Family Assets.