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New, Family-Centered Coaching at SparkPoint Centers

By: Nicole Harden & Madison Priest

United Way Bay Area’s (UWBA) financial stability program SparkPoint is in an exciting moment of growth and change. In addition to expanding our impact at community colleges and planning a replication toolkit, UWBA is rolling out a new, Family-Centered Coaching model to SparkPoint centers across the Bay Area.

SparkPoint centers are one-stop sites where low-income individuals and families can access a full range of integrated financial stability services. The program supplements its core suite of financial and career coaching with additional services like food pantries, housing resources, and help filing for benefits. Since SparkPoint launched in 2009, UWBA has continued to improve and refine the model, providing customized, data-driven supports. The introduction of Family-Centered Coaching is one such innovation.


A trauma-informed and equity-centered approach, Family-Centered Coaching is rooted in an understanding of the persistent effects of systemic racism and poverty. Coaches work with clients to identify the interconnected goals and needs of their families and to build strong community networks. This 2Gen approach provides staff with the mindset, tools, and resources necessary to create a comfortable emotional and physical space for families to achieve their financial goals.


The introduction of Family-Centered Coaching goes hand in hand with SparkPoint’s expansion at community colleges. Almost half of returning community college clients are parents, and of those parents, 39% have children under 5. The pandemic has been especially hard on students. According to the Hope Center’s COVID-19 Report, 64% of community college students lost wages or their jobs due to COVID-19, and nearly 3 in 5 college students experienced basic needs insecurity.

Parents face additional challenges—especially now, when so many are losing access to childcare. Our student parents reported an average annual household income of $34,152, which amounts to only 40% of a self-sufficient income. In other words, SparkPoint student parents make significantly less than half of the income required to reliably meet basic needs in the Bay Area. In addition, our student parents have an average total savings of only $4,493 and an average total debt of $26,645—indicating high levels of financial insecurity. These struggles are further compounded for the 42% of SparkPoint student parents who are also single parents.


Family-Centered Coaching addresses these short- and long-term needs. The model is, above all, client-centered. We assume that our clients are creative, resourceful, and whole; that they are experts in their family’s lives and needs; and that they can create their own pathways to success. Each client defines “family” for themselves. As a result, this multigenerational approach provides support not just for parents raising young children, but for adult children caring for aging parents, foster families, and other structures of care.


Working within this new coaching model, SparkPoint families are making it through the immense financial difficulties COVID-19 presents. One client reported that coaching sessions gave them a newfound sense of confidence: “I was kind of down. I thought I couldn’t even do like, you know, being a parent and stuff. I just felt like everything was hard. And having them sit down, it felt like they actually [were] holding my hand, physically holding my hand through this whole process. And [now] I’m able to be like, okay, let my hand go now, but just stay right here. Just in case I have to ask you a question. And they’re always there. So I’m just … more confident in myself.” Another talked about how Family-Centered Coaching had enabled her and her son to improve their time and money management—new skills that are serving them well in these unprecedented times. “We did it, even though COVID happened, we’re making it through. They helped us here. And we’re still doing it.”


UWBA’s vision with Family-Centered Coaching is to take an intentional, two-generation approach across all SparkPoint centers. This new model will help parents not only to create better opportunities for themselves, but to pass their success on to future generations.


To learn more about SparkPoint, click here.




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