Skip to main content

Expanding the Integrated Services Model

Brittany Gee says that growing up, her father had a saying that she always remembered: “The one thing that no one can take away from you is an education.”

So two years ago, when she lost her job working in customer service for Cincinnati Bell, Gee thought about getting the training she needed to learn nursing. She liked helping people, and she knew that working in medicine could be more than a job; it could be the start of a well-paying career.

But she also had a daughter and debt and a mortgage that she was having trouble keeping up with. It just felt like there were too many barriers for her to go back to school.

Brittany Gee

Courtesy of Brighton Center

Today, Gee is earning a living wage at Christ Hospital Healthcare. She says that when she started working as a medical assistant, she would sometimes wear her scrubs from the Center for Employment Training at Brighton Center, a comprehensive social service agency in nearby Newport, Kentucky, where she learned clinical procedures, OSHA regulations and skills like how to draw blood.

“I wear them because I don’t ever want to forget where I came from,” she says. “I’ve got stability back in my life now. I’m not exactly where I want to be yet, but I’m moving in the right direction.”

Gee got past her barriers with help from Brighton Center’s Financial Opportunity Center, which integrates employment services, financial counseling, and family and work supports. So while she was in Brighton Center’s training program, coaches at the FOC connected her to childcare that worked with her class schedule, and they helped her sign up for food stamps to supplement her monthly income.

They also helped get her finances in order, including providing an unemployment bridge loan, which Gee says saved her house from foreclosure. She worked with a financial coach to develop a budget and has started saving. Since working with Brighton Center, Gee’s net income has increased 28 percent and her credit score has gone up by 100 points.

Throughout, as part of the FOC model, the coaches were in close communication with each other to be sure the supports offered worked together to meet Brittany’s needs. As important, they kept in close communication with Brittany herself.

“They put me back on my feet and gave me confidence,” she says. “They let me know that I can do it. I wish they had something like this for all single parents going back to school.”

A Growing Network

Mock Office Workshop at Brighton Center's Center for Employment Training

Courtesy of Brighton Center

Melissa Hall Sommer, workforce development director at Brighton Center, says that most of the FOC’s roughly 100 new clients each year come in looking for help to find a job—and that pretty much every one of them is unemployed or underemployed. The key to the program’s success, though, is how their workforce development, financial center and income support departments work together.

“Service bundling is our philosophy,” she says. “It’s how we do all our work.”

That wasn’t always the case. Brighton Center offered many of these services before becoming an FOC in 2011, but Sommer says they weren’t truly bundled. Getting the different departments to work together, building efficient communication, using unified data collection to measure results, planning a consistent “client flow” that ensures everyone gets the right help at the right time: All that came through the Financial Opportunity Center model.

“It took a lot of deliberate work to make it happen, we had to learn a lot of new techniques,” Sommer says. “It requires a really high level of coordination to make the program work right.”

It’s been nearly 10 years since LISC first partnered with a handful of community-based organizations in Chicago to create its first Financial Opportunity Centers, modeled from the Center for Working Families blueprint originally developed and promoted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. By 2010 LISC supported 32 FOC in six states, about 60 by 2012, and now there are 76 in 14 different states.

Participants in Brighton Center's Success Skills Workshop

Courtesy of Brighton Center

The program has grown to scale in large part due to a $21 million grant to LISC from the Social Innovation Fund that leveraged another $50 million in private funding. SIF is a federal program that brings together public and private resources to support innovative solutions that have shown evidence of results in low-income communities. The Brighton Center FOC is one of four in and around Cincinnati that were funded with SIF support.

Seung Kim, the director of LISC’s national Family Income and Wealth Building program, says the SIF fund grant was a turning point for bringing the FOC model to scale.

“Not only did it allow us to replicate the model in so many cities, it also attracted funding with a 1:1 match, and it gave a lot of street credibility to what we do,” she says. “It also provided a $1.5 million evaluation of the FOCs, which is giving us all sorts of good information and helping us build the policy case for this approach.”

Creating the Coordination
Like with Brighton Center, most new FOCs are opened at an existing social service or employment service agency. To establish the intense integration of services that helped Gee so much, LISC has spent a lot of time and effort thinking through the best ways to bring the model to life.

“We knew it would take more than a year for groups to really get their feet underneath themselves with this model,” says Kristen Baker, a senior program officer at LISC Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. “In a lot of cases, the focus for so long at these agencies was to get someone a job. Part of our work was helping staff and management refocus the definition of success to include much more.”

Kim’s program has created a training and technical assistance structure that includes a planning retreat for each new cohort of agencies, an annual conference for all FOCs, site visits for peer-to-peer learning, and a website dedicated to the art and science of integrated services delivery.

Brighton Center also offers skills training in construction and manufacturing trades

Courtesy of Brighton Center

“For example, gathering and using the data about client outcomes is a requirement for any FOC, but it can be enormously challenging at first,” Kim says. “In a training we might hear, ‘Do we have to enter this?’ That’s a red flag! But we know from experience that the data part of this model is one of the most valuable pieces to make it all work. So we have built a lot of training and follow-up to make sure it’s happening.”

“The Family Income and Wealth Building team has really been invaluable to us,” Baker says. “In our beginning stages here, we’d draw on the experiences of people who had done the work in Chicago and Indianapolis and Detroit. Everything from how the back office can manage the grant to how the employment and financial coaches can work together more closely as a team.”

Telling the White House
Last September, Brittney Gee took a trip that, she says with her usual enthusiasm, “I didn’t think I’d get to do in a thousand years”—to Washington, D.C. to tell her story at a White House event, the Social Innovation Fund What Works Showcase. The Brighton Center Financial Opportunity Center was one of ten SIF organizations nationwide invited to explain their work to White House and Agency staff, philanthropic organizations, private funders and nonprofit sector leaders.

“For me to be there was just phenomenal,” Gee says. “We got to hear what other people are doing and explain our program and what it’s meant to me. I had never been to Washington before, and the whole experience was wonderful.”

Baker says that it was clear that Brighton Center and Gee were a great example of the FOC model to share at the showcase. “They absolutely get it,” she says. “They understand that bundling the services makes a big difference in the clients’ lives. It’s been great to work with them; they’re best in class.”

Gee is now back in school while she works at Christ Hospital, working toward an associate’s degree in nursing. “Being a medical assistant is a great stepping stone for me,” she says. “It makes me feel so good that I got through the program. If you know anybody down on their luck and who wants to jump start their life, just let them know Brighton Center can help.”


Posted in Integrated Services Delivery, Family Income & Assets

Stay connected

Stay up to date with news and events related to the Institute: