Your Family, Your Neighborhood

Case Study from the University of Denver, Graduate School of Social Work

Your Family, Your Neighborhood is a project of the University of Denver Graduate School of Social work that aims to increase the well-being of low-income families in urban areas of the Denver metro area by increasing social connections in neighborhoods. Now in its sixth year, the program was launched by Associate Professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work, Daniel Brisson, and co-investigator Stephanie Lechuga-Peña, an assistant professor at the Arizona State University School of Social Work.

Families participating in the program attend weekly dinners together for ten weeks. Following a meal together, the families in the cohort break into adult and child discussion groups to talk about topics such as academic expectations, parenting, and health. At the end of the ten-week session, the cohort has the opportunity to practice the leadership skills they learned by planning a community activity or event with a small budget. 

The curriculum follows a dual-generation model that addresses three key aspects of the social ecology:

  1. promoting bonds between children and parents,
  2. developing stronger attachments to schools and academic success, and
  3. building neighborhood social cohesion.
A mother holding her infant daughter in her arms giving her a kiss on the cheek.

New Orleans, Louisiana - February 24

Zinda, pictured here with her baby, is a young advocate inspired by her experiences at Let’s Talk suppers at Ashé Cultural Arts Center. The Let’s Talk suppers lead with art and culture to address issues of reproductive health, rights, and justice, and focuses on leadership development, cultural competency, peer education, and collaboration as catalysts for systemic change. Building the next generation of leaders is critical to mobilizing and moving forward reproductive health and equity. (Photo by Nina Robinson/The Verbatim Agency/Getty Images)

There are six to ten families in each cohort, and the program generally serves five cohorts at a time.

Dr. Brisson was focused on poverty and affordable housing in his work at the University of Denver, and this led him to become involved with The Bridge Project. The Bridge Project is a nonprofit organization in Denver that works to support youth in Denver’s public housing neighborhoods by engaging them in educational opportunities and facilitating the development of life skills and self-sufficiency. In discussing community needs with the Bridge Project director, they came to the conclusion that increasing social cohesion is crucial in supporting families in low-income areas, and that a program to serve this goal would need to bring together whole families. As a result of these conversations, together with other project partners they developed a ten-week curriculum for Your Family, Your Neighborhood, which they eventually began piloting and testing in various low-income Denver neighborhoods.

Their initial funding from the University of Denver was only enough to develop the curriculum, and they relied heavily on volunteers in the first stages of the project. Eventually, they applied for additional funds to enhance and test the curriculum. They currently have another year and a half of funding.

In delivering the intervention, they learned that community partner relationships were key in successfully implementing the curriculum. However, residents have differing levels of trust with different organizations, and it became important to identify and work with trusted partner organizations. In addition, they realized the importance of adequate staffing. With five groups of six to ten families per group, dedicated staff are needed to support participants and to make sure the dinners and other aspects of the program are always a safe space.

Dr. Brisson credits the success of the project thus far largely to community partners, program staff, and the families themselves. Though the families involved are often living in trying circumstances without enough resources, they have the strength and skills to complete the program and develop increased neighborhood cohesion, when provided with the resources to do so.

Over the course of the program’s piloting phase, neighborhood cohesion and social attachment have increased and are stronger in families that have participated in the program as compared to control group families. In terms of educational development, family attachment to schools and parent engagement in education have improved as well. Lastly, families are reporting improvement in feelings of self-efficacy.

Advice on Replication

Dr. Brisson and the project partners would be happy to share the curriculum with communities who are interested in replicating the program, as they have seen the benefit to families and want others to use it. While all advice they would is in the curriculum itself, they note the importance of finding a community partner that is trusted by the population you are serving, carefully arranging the logistics such as location and provision of meals, and then working to create connections through delivery of the curriculum.

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