Leave A Legacy

You may have seen this logo floating around in recent weeks, or maybe you've heard a radio ad about Leave A Legacy.

Leave a Legacy is a public awareness campaign regarding charitable/planned giving. Now as you finish your yawn let me share some astounding facts:

  • only 45% of American adults have a will  according to Legal Zoom
  • only 5.3% of people over 50 have made a charitable bequest commitment (from Michael Rosen CFRE; 20 Factoids about Planned Giving)
  • of those over 30, only 22% have been asked to make a planned gift.

Even more importantly, the planned gifts you make to Love INC can help a family eat, or help someone get a ride to work, or help people gain valuable life skills. You can help generations to come. Contact me to talk about how you can help your neighbors in Livingston County. We're asking.

How Poverty Taxes the Brain


This article was first published on citylab.com, August 29, 2013 by Emily Badger

Human mental bandwidth is finite. You’ve probably experienced this before (though maybe not in those terms): When you’re lost in concentration trying to solve a problem like a broken computer, you’re more likely to neglect other tasks, things like remembering to take the dog for a walk, or picking your kid up from school. This is why people who use cell phones behind the wheel actually perform worse as drivers. It’s why air traffic controllers focused on averting a mid-air collision are less likely to pay attention to other planes in the sky.

We only have so much cognitive capacity to spread around. It's a scarce resource.

This understanding of the brain’s bandwidth could fundamentally change the way we think about poverty. Researchers publishing some groundbreaking findings today in the journal Science have concluded that poverty imposes such a massive cognitive load on the poor that they have little bandwidth left over to do many of the things that might lift them out of poverty – like go to night school, or search for a new job, or even remember to pay bills on time.

The condition of poverty imposed a mental burden akin to losing 13 IQ points

In a series of experiments run by researchers at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Warwick, low-income people who were primed to think about financial problems performed poorly on a series of cognition tests, saddled with a mental load that was the equivalent of losing an entire night’s sleep. Put another way, the condition of poverty imposed a mental burden akin to losing 13 IQ points, or comparable to the cognitive difference that’s been observed between chronic alcoholics and normal adults.

The finding further undercuts the theory that poor people, through inherent weakness, are responsible for their own poverty – or that they ought to be able to lift themselves out of it with enough effort. This research suggests that the reality of poverty actually makes it harder to execute fundamental life skills. Being poor means, as the authors write, “coping with not just a shortfall of money, but also with a concurrent shortfall of cognitive resources.”

This explains, for example, why poor people who aren’t good with money might also struggle to be good parents. The two problems aren’t unconnected.

“It’s the same bandwidth," says Princeton’s Eldar Shafir, one of the authors of the study alongside Anandi Mani, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Jiaying Zhao. Poor people live in a constant state of scarcity (in this case, scarce mental bandwidth), a debilitating environment that Shafir and Mullainathan describe in a book to be published next week, Scarcity: Why having too little means so much.

What Shafir and his colleagues have identified is not exactly stress. Rather, poverty imposes something else on people that impedes them even when biological markers of stress (like elevated heart rates and blood pressure) aren’t present. Stress can also positively affect us in small quantities. An athlete under stress, for example, may actually perform better. Stress follows a kind of classic curve: a little bit can help, but beyond a certain point, too much of it will harm us.

This picture of cognitive bandwidth looks different. To study it, the researchers performed two sets of experiments. In the first, about 400 randomly chosen people in a New Jersey mall were asked how they would respond to a scenario where their car required either $150 or $1,500 in repairs. Would they pay for the work in full, take out of a loan, or put off the repair? How would they make that decision? The subjects varied in annual income from $20,000 to $70,000.

Before responding, the subjects were given a series of common tests (identifying sequences of shapes and numbers, for example) measuring cognitive function and fluid intelligence. In the easier scenario, where the hypothetical repair cost only $150, subjects classified as “poor” and “rich” performed equally well on these tests. But the “poor” subjects performed noticeably worse in the $1,500 scenario. Simply asking these people to think about financial problems taxed their mental bandwidth.

“And these are not people in abject poverty,” Shafir says. “These are regular folks going to the mall that day.”

The “rich” subjects in the study experienced no such difficulty. In the second experiment, the researchers found similar results when working with a group of farmers in India who experience a natural annual cycle of poverty and plenty. These farmers receive 60 percent of their annual income in one lump sum after the sugarcane harvest. Beforehand, they are essentially poor. Afterward (briefly), they’re not. In the state of pre-harvest poverty, however, they exhibited the same shortage of cognitive bandwidth seen in the American subjects in a New Jersey mall.

The design of these experiments wasn't particularly groundbreaking, which makes it all the more astounding that we’ve never previously understood this connection between cognition and poverty.

“This project, there’s nothing new in it, there’s no new technology, this could have been done years ago,” Shafir says. But the work is the product of the relatively new field of behavioral economics. Previously, cognitive psychologists seldom studied the differences between different socio-economic populations (“a brain is a brain, a head is a head,” Shafir says). Meanwhile, other psychology and economics fields were studying different populations but not cognition.

Now that all of these perspectives have come together, the implications for how we think about poverty – and design programs for people impacted by it – are enormous. Solutions that make financial life easier for poor people don’t simply change their financial prospects. When a poor person receives a regular direct-deposited paycheck every Friday, that does more than simply relieve the worry over when money will come in next.

“When we do that, we liberate some bandwidth,” Shafir says. Policymakers tend to evaluate the success of financial programs aimed at the poor by measuring how they do financially. “The interesting thing about this perspective is that it says if I make your financial life easier, if I give you more bandwidth, what I really ought to look at is how you’re doing in your life. You might be doing better parenting. You might be adhering to your medication better.”

The limited bandwidth created by poverty directly impacts the cognitive control and fluid intelligence that we need for all kinds of everyday tasks.

“When your bandwidth is loaded, in the case of the poor,” Shafir says, “you’re just more likely to not notice things, you’re more likely to not resist things you ought to resist, you’re more likely to forget things, you’re going to have less patience, less attention to devote to your children when they come back from school.”

At the macro level, this means we lost an enormous amount of cognitive ability during the recession. Millions of people had less bandwidth to give to their children, or to remember to take their medication.

Conversely, going forward, this also means that anti-poverty programs could have a huge benefit that we've never recognized before: Help people become more financially stable, and you also free up their cognitive resources to succeed in all kinds of other ways as well.

For all the value in this finding, it's easy to imagine how proponents of hackneyed arguments about poverty might twist the fundamental relationship between cause-and-effect here. If living in poverty is the equivalent of losing 13 points in IQ, doesn’t that mean people with lower IQs wind up in poverty?

“We’ve definitely worried about that,” Shafir says. Science, though, is coalescing around the opposite explanation. “All the data shows it isn't about poor people, it’s about people who happen to be in poverty. All the data suggests it is not the person, it's the context they’re inhabiting.”


Not All Poverty Is Created Equal

“A helpful first step in thinking about working with the poor is any context whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development. In fact, the failure to distinguish among these situations is one of the most common reasons that poverty-alleviation efforts often do harm.

‘Relief’ can be defined as the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a natural or man-made crisis. There is a need to halt the free-fall, to ‘stop the bleeding,’ and this is what relief attempts to do. The key feature of relief is a provider-receiver dynamic in which the provider gives assistance – often material – to the receiver, who is largely incapable of helping himself at that time. The Good Samaritan’s bandaging of the helpless man who lay bleeding along the roadside is an excellent example of relief applied appropriately.

‘Rehabilitation’ begins as soon as the bleeding stops; it seeks to restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their pre-crisis conditions. The key feature of rehabilitation is a dynamic of working with the tsunami victims as they participate in their own recovery, moving from point 2 to point 3.

‘Development’ is a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved –both the ‘helper’ and the ‘helped’ – closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. In particular, as the materially poor develop, they are better able to fulfill their calling of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruits of that work.

Development is not done to people or for people but with people. One of the biggest mistakes that North American churches make, by far, is in applying relief in situations in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention.”

The above is an excerpt from “When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... And Yourself” by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert

What do you think about when helping hurts? What do you or your organization do to help without hurting?

#LoveINC #WhenHelpingHurts #TransformationalMinistries


Family Homelessness 2.0

The following blog post originally appeared on the "Impatient Optimists" blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Dan Brettler, Gordon McHenry Jr., David Wertheimer

May 11, 2015

Those of us who have been engaged in efforts to end family homelessness over the past decade need to acknowledge one of two things: Either the work is extremely complex and difficult, or we’re not very good at our jobs. While both of these statements could be true, given the time, talent, and passion that so many have been focusing on this issue for so long, we conclude (and hope) that the first statement is more accurate.

There are many different crises that can catapult a family into homelessness: Loss of a job, domestic violence, accidents or serious illness, and inter-generational poverty – to name just a few. In addition, despite efforts to coordinate, past experiences in responding to homelessness have shown us that, although admirable, fragmented, non-integrated efforts to solve this problem by organizations and systems working independently and on their own have not stemmed the tide of this crisis.

The good news is that we now know what works:  Coordinated Entry is an emerging practice that, when it is working effectively, helps to target equitably the right type and intensity of intervention to each family. Decades of practice (and tradition) have resulted in high levels of fragmentation across the many service systems families may touch in their efforts to seek stability. Coordinated entry offers a systemic intervention predicated on a very simple belief:  Families in crisis should not have to “work the system” to find the supports that they need. Rather, the system should work for them. 

In addition, rapidly returning families to permanent housing and connecting them to the specific supports and services they need to promote stability are proving in communities across the nation to be among the most efficient and effective ways to end family homelessness. Simply stated; families experiencing homelessness need housing first. This can be an uphill climb; in the current environment in the Puget Sound region affordable housing is a precious and scarce commodity. Providers working to quickly identify permanent housing for homeless families face daily challenges with rents increasing at record rates, inequities in access to housing, and extremely high competition for existing housing units.

Coordinated entry and promoting access to permanent housing and the right mix of services tailored to each family’s needs are critical first steps in moving toward solutions to family homelessness. Creating a systemic response that effectively responds to the complex, individual needs of each homeless family requires levels of collaboration and integration that have, historically, been unfamiliar and sometimes considered suspect by even the most dedicated system leaders and providers of care. 

In this challenging context, introducing new, collaborative responses have proven difficult to organize and even harder to implement. Nevertheless, data from communities across the nation tells us we can be highly successful when our efforts are focused first and foremost on rapidly returning families to housing.

We haven’t always gotten these collective solutions right the first time around, despite the very best of intentions. Here in King County, for example, the first version of a coordinated entry system for homeless families – called Family Housing Connections – proved to be cumbersome and complex, and resulted in long waits for help that appeared on the surface to be worse than the chaotic absence of a collective response that had existed previously.

It’s a tribute to organizational leadership and line staff providers that we all didn’t throw up our hands in frustration and decide simply to return to the absence of a system we had before we started. Instead, leaders and providers worked together to carefully examine what was going wrong with the efforts – why families were waiting too long for assistance and housing – and revised the approach to address the specific problems that had been identified.

As a result, an overhaul of the King County family homelessness coordinated entry system is now underway, and as both NPR and the homeless newspaper Real Change have noted, we’re beginning to see improvements in both the length of time families wait for help and the speed with which they are being re-housed. With continued collaboration to implement more significant changes, even more dramatic improvements are imminent.

Mark Twain said that “Nobody likes change except a wet baby.” There’s a real truth there. Change is hard, especially when the changes being made are attempting to undo a crisis like family homelessness that has been decades in the making and is rooted in a constellation of economic, political, and social issues. 

Looking at a problem from a systems perspective and making changes that promote collaborative solutions that were not in place before, can provide clear pathways to improved responses to the needs of those families experiencing the most extreme crises. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. It requires patience, and the willingness to look at what’s going badly in order to determine what needs to be done to do better.

That’s exactly what is happening right now in King County and in communities across the nation. All of us learn the hard way on a daily basis that new responses to extreme challenges like homelessness rarely get the solution right the first time around. Rather than abandoning all hope and returning to even more dysfunction, coming up with Version 2.0 of a solution can offer the promise of moving in the direction where we’re finally getting it right.

#endhomelessness #coordinatedentry #livingstonloveinc

We Can Do Better

Nothing is more heart wrenching than seeing a family with children suffering in homelessness. It’s one of the most challenging things our volunteers work with at Love INC. People become homeless for a number of reasons. It could be job loss, medical issues, other economic problems, and sometimes poor choices. Because of the high cost of housing, becoming homeless can be as simple as getting in a car accident that takes away transportation to work.

Homelessness affects our children to their core. As housing becomes unstable child development is negatively impacted. In a recent report, The Negative Effects of Instability on Child Development: A Research Synthesis, Heather Sandstrom and Sandra Huerta shared that, “children experiencing residential instability demonstrate worse academic and social outcomes than their residentially-stable peers”. And while “elementary school children appear to be the most sensitive to residential change,… residential instability is related to poor social development across age groups.”

One of the key factors to housing stability is affordability. According to a recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, someone in Michigan would need to earn more than $15 per hour to afford a two bedroom apartment without spending more than 30% on rent.

One solution is in development by The National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). The NHTF was established as a provision of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The NHTF will, once capitalized, provide communities with funds to build, preserve, and rehabilitate rental homes that are affordable for extremely and very low income households.

The NHTF’s most important features are:

  • It is a permanent program, and will have dedicated sources of funding not subject to the annual appropriations process.
  • It is targeted toward rental housing. At least 90% of the funds must be used for the production, preservation, rehabilitation, or operation of rental housing. Up to 10% can be used for home ownership activities for first-time home buyers including production, preservation, and rehabilitation, as well as down payment, closing cost, and for interest rate buy-down assistance.
  • It is targeted toward extremely low income households. At least 75% of the funds for rental housing must benefit extremely low income households, and up to 25% can benefit very low income households.

This won’t solve the entire problem in Michigan, but it could be a step in the right direction. What are you innovative ideas to help with housing instability?

#homelessness #housinginstability #livingstonloveinc

Could Mentors Be the Key to Lifting Families Out of Poverty?

Mentoring is getting lots of buzz, and for good reason, it works! Imagine how powerful it is when the “C”hurch gets involved! This article appeared in Moving America Forward by Jenny Shank on May 15, 2014

It's not just for children and teens; low-income adults benefit from a mentoring relationship, too.

Countless programs have perfected the mentoring model between kids and adults. But what about a mentoring program for all adults?

For more than a decade, the nonprofit Circles USA has proved that mentors can help low-income adults thrive. Scott Miller started the organization (which pairs those struggling with poverty with higher-income coaches) back in 2000 as, according to the website, “a way to increase the capacities of communities to address poverty.” There are now local Circles branches in 23 states.

The mentors help guide their mentees through such important tasks as polishing a resume, negotiating debt repayments, setting up a bill-paying system, finding a job, and ensuring good childcare. Each week, participants meet together for support and to discuss life strategies.

Cynthia Bowers interviewed Miller in 2011 for CBS News. “If you’re in poverty in this country, it is just a day-to-day grind to get things done,” Miller said. “So very intelligent, very emotionally capable people are stuck in this cycle of non-stop problem solving. And so people coming along and lifting some of that burden is huge.”

But easing that burden is difficult. While Bowers noted that the drop out rate for the program is high — 58 percent — those who do stay involved in Circles reap big rewards: “Our research now shows that their income is going up on average 48 percent. Their assets are going up by 115 percent and their welfare is going down by 36 percent.”

In December, the Circles program in Coshocton, Ohio graduated its first class of leaders who will guide their own Circles groups. One of the new leaders is Larry Stottsberry, who told Mark Fortune of the Coshocton Beacon, “Being a veteran, being out of the military, and thinking you can be successful, sometimes you get down in a rut, something had to bring me out of it. This group brought me out…This is more about showing people that are struggling that you care about them when you are together. It’s more about helping each other out even if you don’t have anything to help them out with. It’s like my mom and dad always said, ‘Even though you don’t get anything for Christmas, it’s being there and sharing love.'”

With generous people like Larry Stottsberry signing on to help those less fortunate then themselves every year, the circle of success is bound to continue.

#mentoring #transformational #outofpoverty