Washington, DC Conference Emphasizes ‘Family Empowerment’ in Advancing Social Cohesion

Eric Olsen
January 30, 2013

Ms. Maudine Cooper, President and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League

Some 140 participants representing 60 human service organizations in the Washington DC metropolitan area addressed the urgent need to strengthen families to support economic empowerment and promote social cohesion at the second Family Empowerment Conference, “Inspiration, Collaboration and Commitment,” on January 17, 2013. Sponsored by the Strengthening Families and Communities Coalition of DC (SFCC-DC), the conference convened at the Marvin Center at George Washington University.  SFCC-DC is an initiative of the Global Peace Foundation which is chaired by Dr. Hyun Jin Moon.

In welcoming remarks, Ms. Maudine Cooper, President and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League, told participants they should feel empowered by the day’s program and know that they are not alone, but rather are “an integral part of communal efforts to make our society a better place.”

Keynote speaker Ms. Bernice Smoot, PResident of Saint Wall Street, LLC.

LLC Keynote speaker Ms. Bernice Smoot, President of Saint Wall Street, LLC, spoke to the practical needs of human service nonprofits to develop resources, urging nonprofit leaders to move from a “need-driven approach” to a “value-driven approach” by emphasizing the contributions and accomplishments of their respective organizations.

Four breakout sessions expanded on the significance of family empowerment in relation to specific social issues. GPF-USA’s Director of Interfaith Ms. Gail Paine moderated the session “Human Trafficking” and briefly outlined GPF-USA’s Safe Haven campaign. The campaign seeks to raise awareness of human trafficking in the United States and provide support for victims through faith communities working together.

Human trafficking: A U.S. problem

One panelist, Ms. Tina Frundt, the founder of Courtney’s House, shared her harrowing personal ordeal as a victim of trafficking and explained how this criminal “industry” thrives in part due to ignorance. “The fact that many people associate human trafficking with something happening in other countries rather than in our own is what makes it so successful,” Ms. Frundt said. “This is a sad reality but one that we have the ability to address at this time.” She said public awareness efforts and legal reforms to target the trafficker rather than the victim are greatly needed in America.

GPF-USA’s Director of Interfaith Partnerships Ms. Gail Paine (left) and Ms. Jessie Mansilla, a Child Protection Specialist, at a panel on human trafficking.

Panelists Ms. Ana Cody, Senior Manager of External Affairs, Outreach and Special Projects at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Ms. Jessie Mansilla, a Child Protection Specialist with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, added their experience and expertise to the forum, and all participants committed to joining a newly formed SFCC-DC Child Safety Committee.

The session “Fathers and Family Engagement” presented mounting evidence of the importance of fathers in their children’s education and future lives. Panelists from government social service agencies, law enforcement, and fatherhood organizations showed that the presence of a father in the home has a major impact in schools and neighborhoods, and in other areas of their children’s lives. Panelists presented information on areas such as prison release and community reentry, child support, and the Fathering Court Initiative, highlighting positive efforts to empower fathers and their families.

Two separate panels held sessions on “Healthy Relationships/Marriage” that included social science finding on the importance of marriage for personal and social wellbeing, and resources for couples to weather challenges in marital relationships. Experts discussed the building blocks that are the foundation for a sound and stable marriage.

A fourth, two-part session, “Creating Family Wealth-Assets for Independence,” offered cutting -edge approaches to building wealth and financial security for families through asset building, including strategies for savings, informed use of credit, tax filing assistance, and other financial education . A second panel discussed the federal Assets for Independence (AFI) program, including practical guidance on organizational grant preparation for the Assets for Independence program. The AFI program supports community-based nonprofits and government agencies with an assets-based approach to poverty alleviation.

The final keynote speaker, Dr. Lorena Gonzalez, Director of Urban Strategies, a national organization that promotes initiatives to strengthen Hispanic communities, shared personal anecdotes of her own family’s journey as immigrants, as well as insights into the Latino focus on family in the community.

Strengthening Families and Communities Coalition of DC is comprised of federal and city human service agencies, nonprofit and faith-based community organizations, businesses, and educational establishments. Since July 2009, more than 25 organizational partners have joined this coalition. The three convening partners of SFCC – DC are the Greater Washington Urban League, the Global Peace Foundation-USA, and the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


From left: Dr. Lorena Gonzalez, Director of Urban Strategies; Mr. Alan Inman, Director of Strengthening Families and Communities Coalition, and Ms. Mia Bailey, facilitator of the panel Fathers and Family Engagement.

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