Center for Strong Families

csf dashboard


A job is not enough. That’s the reality facing the tens of thousands of under- and unemployed residents who are walking a financial tightrope. Even among those who are employed and often have more than one job, they struggle with monthly expenses that exceed their income. They are fighting an uphill financial battle that, without room to build savings, grows more unsustainable.

That’s why we’re creating a strong network of organizations working  together to implement proven strategies that respond to the problem of persistent povertyfinancial instability and low-wage stagnation among families.

Welcome to the Center for Strong Families

No family should struggle to make ends meet. Yet, 1 in 3 working families in Pierce County can’t afford the basics.  Fortunately, United Way of Pierce County and community partners are developing a plan to help families in need by providing the tools and resources they need to thrive.

When we help families in our local community avert financial crisis, and improve financial stability, we can prevent much more costly consequences that affect our entire community.

In 2016, we launched an innovative model that brings together a strong network of partners to implement proven strategies to address struggling families called United Way of Pierce County’s Center for Strong Families. By focusing on improving the financial bottom line for low- to moderate-income families so they can become more self-sufficient, more families are able to increase their income, decrease expenses, build credit and acquire assets.



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.

Key Outcomes

Since 2016, 2,154 families enrolled in services

561 people have enrolled in occupational skills training

1235 people have been placed in jobs

1174 people have achieved financial goal

Helped people access $3,973,660 in basic needs support

1945 people have achieved a FICO Credit Score Increase

Centers for Strong Families Partners
  • Bethel
  • Clover Park Technical College
  • Goodwill
  • Sound Outreach
  • Sumner Bonney-Lake
  • Tacoma Community House
  • Tacoma Housing Authority










Improving Family Economic Success

  • Learn – Families achieve a level of post-secondary education and/or training that prepares them for higher paying jobs while building employment skills that lead to better jobs or a smooth transition to a new job.
  • Earn – Families earn a sufficient family income for daily expenses, asset accumulation and minor emergencies.
  • Keep – Families have a savings equal to three months’ worth of living expenses; have good credit and manage debt in balance with income. They also build a realistic opportunity for retirement at age 65.
  • Grow – Families grow their credit as an asset and develop smart debt, with market-rate interest, that leads to appreciating assets (such as a house) through mainstream banking.



United Way 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 the Center for Strong Families 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

United Way 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 Center for Strong Families sites have joined a growing national professional network of nearly 90 centers across the country. United Way and national LISC program managers track the progress of each operating site and establish performance benchmarks. Based on the results, United Way is able to provide technical assistance when it will be most effective.


The Center for Strong Families model is commonly referred to as Integrated Service Delivery an 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).


The Center for Strong Families is 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 site share a commitment to core concepts.

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



Special thanks to our Funding Partners:

Bamford Foundation
Bank of America Foundation
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
The Boeing Company
CHI Franciscan Health
City of Tacoma
Commencement Bank
Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC)
Kaiser Permanente Washington
Key Bank
MultiCare Health
Sequoia Foundation
State Farm
Sumner-Bonney Lake
Whisper Foundation, A legacy of the Gary E. Milgard Family Foundation