Life Skills Programs in Nonprofit Organizations

New Faith Family Center

Of the many programs and services offered by The Capital City Rescue Mission the one program that I would like to focus on is The New Faith Family Center. This program is a yearlong residential, transitional program consisting of four phases to help up to 35 women and their children change old patterns and transform their lives. Women and children are welcomed in an atmosphere that reflects the love of Christ. Every Family is provided with a comfortable apartment while they focus on life changes. This program includes: Educational/Career development, Employment readiness, Counseling, Life skills/Addiction Recovery, Parenting skills / Anger management, Health Care and Child care. The program uses data and performance measurement tools to evaluate and improve the regional systematic and programmatic responses to individual and family homelessness, unemployment and overall need for assistance. The program also teaches individuals and families the skills to survive in today’s world.

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The program sounds nice and the stories of hope sound inspirational and heartwarming. The problem is that testimonies are biased and may be contrived. They’re certainly one-sided. One needs to have a scientific evaluation on the program conducted in order to evaluate its efficacy and see, if indeed, it is measurably helping its clients and, if so, in which ways. It would also be valuable to assess the impact of the program that the New Faith Family Center uses and compare its approach to others. It may well be that another approach may prove more beneficial for the Center than the one it is currently employing.

The purpose of this study is to use empowerment and social learning theories to evaluate the New Faith Family Center program to determine whether single mothers with mental illness who are simultaneously homeless could (1) learn life skills in the areas of Education / Career development, employment, budgeting, addiction Recovery, parenting skills / anger management, Health Care and child care and (2) retain their knowledge and skills three to six months after completing the intervention.

The need for an evaluation

Human services facilities are slowly moving in the direction of using evidence-based approaches to measure the results of their programs. Sackett et al. (1997) defines this as ” the conscious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making the best decisions for individuals” (p2) that is made by using the best clinical evidence available as well as judging the current state of their institution practice towards the individuals under their care. How Gambrill (1999) assesses it is in the following way: “It involves integrating individual practice with the best available external evidence from systematic research as well as considering the values and expectations of one’s clients” (346 in Royse et al. 2009).

Although this may seem commonsensical to us, at the moment there are no clear ethical or legal mandates that prescribe that non-profit (or even for-profit) institutions carry out an evaluation on their program. It is, however, the direction in which the human service professions are heading (Royse et al. 2009).

The problem

Many of the clients that the New Faith Family Center services are single mothers with mental challenges and illness. More challenging still is the fact that they attend the program with their children, and the Center attempts to teach them skills to look after their children, too. Research shows that adults in this category are at increasing risk for homelessness and are likely to remain so without intervention. Homeless people, in general, who have mental illness, are, even when placed in interventions, less able to transition successfully since they have spent more days homeless, are less able to perceive their lives in a positive manner, and have great difficulties in meeting their subsistence needs. This is because they are challenged in dealing with their problems in a cognitive and rational manner (Sullivan et al. 2000). Homeless shelters, too, particularly non-profit shelters also have few resources for meeting the needs of this population. Psychosocial rehabilitation programs address community reintegration, but few programs are able to meet the needs of these individuals in a way that practice, integration, retention, and generalization of the living skills can occur so that clients, even when they transition outside the program can successfully continue to use the skills for their advantage.

Worse still, the combination of mental illness and homelessness crates a vicious loop that it is very difficult to impede: “Functional impairments impact an individual’s personal health, functioning, productivity in personal and vocational areas, and his/her ability to maintain social relationships” (Helfrich & Fogg, 2007, 314).

These single mothers need to learn how to deal with the normalities of their lives such as cooking, managing a stable home, budgeting, shopping, and cleaning, caring for their children, s well as being a responsible tenant. Mothers with mental illness are furthermore impeded by their handicap as well as finding affordable and suitable housing in the first place (and owners who will accept them). Other barriers include distrust of the system, geographic isolation, lack of transportation, and inability to get along with people. Individuals with mental illness, who have — compounded to that — been homeless all these years, also need to not only learn — but also internalize — these skills for dealing with these problems. (Rowe et al. 2003).

Many researchers and social scientists have advocated life skills programs as means to help individuals overcome these challenges. There have also been successful programs that have also merged traditional case management in combination with life skills training (Calysn et al. 2002). These studies suggest that integrating life skills services with focus on challenges of homelessness and mental illness can provide an effective route to assisting individuals. The New Faith Family Center program too asserts that it has experienced success. The problem is that few, if any of these programs, provide extensive description of their evaluation methodology, and others (such as the New Faith Family Center) have not been evaluated at all.

Other methods that have been found helpful with the homeless, mentally-challenged individual are proactive personalized interventions. Studies on intensive case management and transitional housing, for instance, have used this approach successfully (Washington 2002).

Most life skills programs geared towards homeless and focusing on helping people renter and adapt to life generally follow psychiatric rehabilitation principles. The ways in which they conduct them generally include flexibility, advocacy, increased contact with staff, and an emphasis on teaching independent living skills. The most often used approach is small groups that are facilitated by consistent staff; this generally correlates with higher client satisfaction and greater outcome success (Clays et al. 2002).

Attitude has also been found important. The empowerment approach to research and service delivery is appropriate for oppressed groups such as homeless consumers of mental health services because of its emphasis on social action, individual justice, and active participation that give voice to research participants by actively involving them in the research design and giving them control over their involvement in the research process (Helfrich & Fogg, 2007, 316).

Empowerment theory has been used successfully in many non-profit organizations to help clients effectuate their lives (ibid.). Another helpful approach has been social learning theory which posits that learners are helped simply by virtue of them being in a social learning community (Lave and Winger 1991). Many organizations use this to teach their users social skills and homeless people are greatly helped by this approach in learning how to acquire the necessary life skills for functioning outside the program.

The purpose of this study is to use empowerment and social learning theories to evaluate the New Faith Family Center program to determine whether single mothers with mental illness who are simultaneously homeless could (1) learn life skills in the areas of education / career development, employment, budgeting, addiction recovery, parenting skills / anger management, Health Care and child care and (2) retain their knowledge and skills three to six months after completing the intervention.


Calysn, R.J., Morse, G.A., Klinkenberg, W.D., Yonker, R.D., & Trusty, M.L. (2002). Moderators and mediators of client satisfaction in case management programs for clients with severe mental illness. Mental Health Services Research, 4(4), 267 — 275.

Royse, D., Thyer, B.A., & Padgett, D.K. (2009). Program evaluation: An introduction. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company

Sullivan, G., Burnam, A., Koegel, P., & Hollenberg, J. (2000). Quality of life of homeless persons with mental illness: Results from the course-of-homelessness study. Psychiatric Services, 51(9), 1135 — 1141.

Helfrich, CA & Fogg, LF (2007) Outcomes of a Life Skills Intervention for Homeless

Adults with Mental Illness Primary Prevent, 28:313 — 326

Rowe, M., Benedict, P., & Falzer, P. (2003). Representation of the governed: Leadership building for people with behavioral health disorders who are homeless or were formally homeless. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 26(3), 240 — 248

Lave, J., & Winger, E. (1991). Situated learning. New York, NY: Cambridge Press.

Washington, T.A. (2002). The homeless need more than just a pillow, they need a pillar: An evaluation of a transitional housing program. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 83(2), 183 — 188.

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