Center for Strong Families

A job is not enough. That’s the reality facing the tens of thousands of unemployed neighborhood residents and low-wage workers who visit their local community-based organizations to seek help with employment, emergency food and utility assistance, or a brighter future for their families. Even among those who are employed, many families struggle with monthly expenses that exceed their income (“negative monthly cash flow”)—an uphill financial battle that, without room to build a savings cushion, grows more unsustainable if a car breaks down, a family member becomes ill, or an employer cuts even a few weeks’ hours a week.

United Way of Pierce County is creating a strong network of organizations working together to implement proven strategies and best practices that respond to the problem of persistent poverty, financial instability, and low-wage stagnation among families. UWPC plans to implement the model in seven neighborhoods over the next five years; and ensure 2,500 families receive high-quality, one-on-one financial coaching, and employment services. The model helps families:


We don't just want families to get on their feet. We want them to stay on their feet. That means not just getting them a job to increase their income but helping them decrease their debt and improve their credit. It means connecting them to a job training opportunity and helping them access transportation, work clothes, and tutoring to be successful in that training. It is about forming a long-term relationship that helps them achieve their goals.


UWPC provides the following support services to improve the service delivery of providers and outcomes for clients:

  • Grants that help community organizations establish, staff and run CSFs in neighborhoods that need them, covering everything from start-up funds to operating costs
  • Technical assistance and training to help staff reach out to potential clients and offer effective coaching and job counseling
  • Data collection tools that help tailor support for individual clients and inform the work at large
  • Professional networking support in the form of national and regional meetings, collaborative groups and an online library of resources on similar integrated service delivery models

UWPC also plays a critical role in establishing and maintaining quality standards of service and holding programs accountable for results. Each site uses a shared client data-base system to record services and outcomes. As part of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Financial Opportunity Centers (FOC) network, the CSF sites have joined a growing national professional network of nearly 90 centers across the country. UWPC and national LISC program managers track the progress of each operating site and establish performance benchmarks. Based on the results, UWPC is able to provide technical assistance when it will be most effective.


The CSF model is commonly referred to as Integrated Service Delivery – a evidence-based approach that is being funded by a number of national organizations including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and the U.S. Department of Labor due to the impact it has had on outcomes of families. An independent study has found that Financial Opportunity Center clients, who access a range of services, have more success meeting their financial goals than people in programs offering employment assistance alone. Clients are more likely to be employed year-round, reduce non-asset related debt, and build positive credit histories (Economic Mobility Corporation, 2016).


Centers for Strong Families are the result of unique collaborations of Pierce County agencies. The model incorporates common goals, best-practice service provision, and a partnership approach. Each Center for Strong Families is being developed organically according to local community’s needs and assets, but partners at each Center share a commitment to core concepts.

In 2016, Sound Outreach and Goodwill were the first two partners to be selected for CSFs. Sound Outreach serves as the lead organization for a Center that will incorporate multiple partners in the Hilltop area. Other providers include Bates Technical College, Tacoma Urban League, Tacoma Housing Authority, and Northwest Leadership Foundation, among others. Goodwill leads the Milgard Work Opportunity Center and serves as a single provider. 


Funding for this work has been provided in part by a recent grant from State Farm to Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), $200,000 of which will support efforts in Tacoma. Additional funding has also been provided by City of Tacoma, Pierce County, Workforce Central, The Bamford Foundation, CHI Franciscan Health, MultiCare Health System, Washington State Employees Credit Union, Weyerhaeuser and Commencement Bank.


United Way will be seeking partners for other Centers. If you think your organization would be a good fit for a Center for Strong Families, contact Corey Mosesly at or 253-597-7491. The open application process for future Centers will take place in early 2017.