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The central concept behind the I-Rise Family Financial Empowerment program is growth. Participants in the program, called partners, put that into practice last week by helping Michigan Urban Farming Initiative prepare their fields for a successful growing season.

About 65 partners, along with their family members, came to MUFI to volunteer as part of the program’s semi-annual volunteer activities. They joined forces because I-Rise coordinator Matthew Cunningham met Tyson Gersh, co-founder of MUFI, at a networking event for young nonprofit professionals and began talking about the missions of their respective programs. “It was perfect for what we are trying to do,” Matthew says. “Everyone had some work to do, even the little toddlers.” Some of the childcare staff from each branch joined the event, volunteering their time, to allow partners to bring their entire families without having to arrange separate childcare.family-financial-kids-working

After they finished their hard work, they took a tour of the farm and headed to Detroit Leadership Academy’s campus for a picnic and some socializing time. That’s especially important because the families who participate in the program enjoy and benefit from the chance to meet people who are also trying to move their lives forward.

I-Rise has three components: Personal coaching; monthly motivation forums which help families learn more about topics related to personal growth, career advancement and parenting; and a financial award to assist with child care costs for families who complete other aspects of the program.

Gail, who participates in the program at the Farmington branch, said she came to the event because her son is getting interested in gardening. “He can practice his green thumb and do it with his friends who are all here,” she says. “Helping out here shows him how you can make a home wherever you are.”

sign-paintersHer friend LaDinah, who also came from the Farmington branch, agreed. She says the I-Rise program has helped her because the advice she gets in the coaching sessions is personal and tailored to her own life situation. “It helps me put things in perspective,” she says. People who participate in the program must meet certain income guidelines, and many have had some challenges in their lives.

A critical aspect of the program is the life coaching provided. Life coach Cindy Perri has biweekly coaching sessions with each partner, sometimes as early as 7 a.m. and as late as 10 p.m., to accommodate their schedules. Her role as a coach and Matthew’s as a social worker dovetail perfectly, she says, because she is able to help partners identify their goals and she can help connect them with resources to achieve them. “I’m helping them to now what they want and I show them the tools to get there and how to be accountable,” she says. “I ask them to focus on what they would want out of their lives if there were no limits.”

I-Rise is about helping people create the life they want and realizing they have the power to make it so. That meshes with MUFI’s mission as well, says Tyson Gersh. “There’s a value n shaping the world around you,” he says. “It makes you feel really powerful.”