This is part two in EMPath’s Mobility Mentoring Essentials blog series, a four-part series covering the essentials of our coaching model. New blogs will be posted every week throughout the month of September.

In part one, we discussed how the chronic stress associated with poverty can affect our brains, and why coaching is an effective method for helping someone achieve economic independence. To guide the coaching process, EMPath has developed a tool called the Bridge to Self-Sufficiency.

What is the Bridge to Self-Sufficiency?

The Bridge to Self-Sufficiency (“the Bridge”) is a visual tool used to help a program participant chart a path to economic self-sufficiency. It acts as both a framework for the participant and an assessment tool for the mentor.

The Bridge was developed by EMPath based on the brain science of how poverty impacts decision-making and sense of self. The Bridge takes a comprehensive approach, because a person is more likely to achieve economic independence if they look across all areas of life rather than tackling one area alone. Difficulties in one part of life can create difficulties in another; similarly, success in one area can reinforce success in another.

For example, it is difficult for someone to attend school if they are experiencing homelessness or depression or their children are facing challenges. They cannot make their education pay off if they don’t know which careers will compensate them at a family-sustaining wage. They cannot rent an apartment if they have a shaky credit history. All problems are interconnected, and none can be remediated without attending to the others.

How is the Bridge designed?

The layout of the Bridge serves as a visual tool for participants to set goals and make future-oriented decisions.

The Bridge is divided into five “pillars.” Each pillar covers a different essential area of life:

  • family stability (housing, family)
  • well-being (physical/mental, networks)
  • financial management (debts, savings)
  • education and training
  • employment and career management

These five pillars are depicted as the pillars of a bridge and are laid out on a single piece of paper so that the mentor and participant can easily understand and navigate the connections between them. As each pillar is strengthened, so is the Bridge as a whole.

The x-axis (horizontal line) of the Bridge reads “making decisions in context” because each of these five areas of life affects the others. The y-axis (vertical line) reads “thinking about the future” because the current and future state of each pillar is depicted. This helps the mentor and participant keep the future in mind as they set each goal.

How does the Bridge work in practice?

The Bridge is used as an assessment, goal setting, and measurement tool that helps frame participants’ decisions about how to help themselves get ahead. It serves as a conversation guide for mentors and participants to see where the participant is at, where they want to be, and what goals they can set to help them get there. (More about goal setting in next week’s blog post.)

Can you give an example?

Consider a single mother who is experiencing homelessness and living in shelter with her child, who has asthma. She needs to find a better place for her and her son to live. Under such stressful conditions, her brain is inclined to focus exclusively on securing more stable housing, without considering other challenges that are equally important, even if they seem less urgent, like treating her child’s asthma. If her child’s asthma worsens, he may miss school and she will have to stay home from work to care for him. Maybe she takes one too many days off work and consequently loses her job. She may take out loans she can’t pay back in order to deal with immediate financial needs, and suddenly the issues that led to her initial homelessness are now making it much harder for her to find new housing.

Although the dominant concern is her homelessness, it may be that the mother’s best step forward to get her son’s asthma under control so that she is able to work and is therefore better positioned to improve her finances and, in turn, her chances of securing housing.

Seeing these connections visually represented on the Bridge can help participants understand the need to look beyond the seemingly most pressing challenges at a time when the brain naturally tends to miss the bigger picture.

Using the Bridge as a framework, participants set and achieve goals along the road to economic self-sufficiency. This brings us to the third essential element of Mobility Mentoring.

Part Three: Goal Setting

Read Part One: Brain Science and Coaching