Mother with two daughters in school hallway

Making the Invisible Visible

10/4/16 by Tina Sykes

Low-wealth families possess abundant strengths: Self-determination, resourcefulness, and a network of friends and family. All too often, however, they are defined by their lack of money rather than their abilities.

The Family Independence Initiative (FII), a national model just launched in the Twin Cities by Wilder, focuses on these invisible strengths. FII Twin Cities emphasizes the proven abilities that low-wealth families possess to move themselves out of poverty, as well as becoming the ingredient to positive change within their own communities. Rather than providing top-down direction, FII Twin Cities partners with low-wealth families to create an environment where families can come together and improve their lives by taking their own self-directed path.

There are three features that FII Twin Cities identifies as essential for families to have access to — connections, choice and capital. Together, these features offer families a strong foundation in gaining the mobility to reach their goals.


Peer-to-peer supportive relationships include family, friends, and colleagues who provide information, advice, resources, and a sense of accountability which are a safety net and a springboard forward. From our peers, we find role models who shape our expectations of what is possible—and what is not.

A family who partners with FII Twin Cities selects 5-7 other families/households to form a peer group called a “cohort.” Cohort members share ideas, suggest resources and provide support and accountability as they work toward self-identified goals, such as starting a business, buying a home, improving a child’s grades, or creating a healthier lifestyle. Members who are further along in their goals can become role models.


Choice means having an array of self-directed options for moving ahead. Rather than being directed or controlled, families must have control over their own choices to succeed, whether they are related to finances, housing, health, education, or other opportunities for well-being.

Cohort members provide each other with information about various opportunities and resources. A group may also invite an outside professional to offer insight about a particular subject, such as credit repair or applying for college, which can provide families with a more stable platform to make informed decisions.   


Access to financial capital allows families to accelerate their mobility. It allows low-wealth families to exercise choice and thus gain more control over improving their lives.

FII Twin Cities offers a Resource Hub with options such as: a financial-based application with personalized advice, ability to create lending groups, interest-free loan programs, a social club, and an education-based scholarship fund. The Resource Hub offers families the ability to move beyond certain barriers and continue their journey toward meeting their goals and improving their social and financial mobility. Members of FII Twin Cities, who have fully participated, can gain access to the Resource Hub to apply for resources that can propel their initiative.

In Boston, an FII cohort member named Francia used the FII model to move out of subsidized housing and into a duplex that she purchased. The mother of three had the second unit repaired so that she could become a landlord. Find her story and others here.

Learning from Families

As families pursue their goals and support each other, they are also providing FII with valuable data. Families who partner with FII receive a stipend toward the purchase of a computer so that they can access FII’s online data system. They provide monthly journals that include income, health, school performance and community involvement.

This data provides FII with insights into the successes of our partner families, which provides evidence of their resourcefulness, determination, and commitment. It also highlights the value-driven objectives of these everyday families and celebrates their achievements, which can be a motivation to other families.

As partners with FII, families are not only dedicated to improving their lives, they also become a part of a movement that aims to “make the invisible ― visible,” by transforming the attitudes, practices, and policies that challenge the various steps that families take in moving forward.

Tina Sykes is the liaison for FII Twin Cities.