ICYMI From First Lady Casey DeSantis: Florida Helps, Then Gets Out of the Way
First Lady Casey DeSantis recently provided commentary on her innovative initiative “Hope Florida – A Pathway to Prosperity” in the Wall Street Journal titled “Florida Helps, Then Gets out of the Way.” Click here to read in full.
As Florida’s first lady, and a mom with three small children, I’ve poured my heart and soul into finding better ways to help our state’s struggling parents and their children. I also understand government’s role must be limited, accountable and nonexclusive. Instead of creating more bloated bureaucracies, we must unite communities and work together to put parents and their children on a path to prosperity.
To learn how to maximize community collaboration outside government, I traveled our state and held roundtables with our faith-based communities, nonprofits, businesses and state and local government partners. I saw the passion of Floridians spending their time and treasure helping others. But unfortunately, many were working in silos.
To eliminate these silos, I’ve spearheaded “Hope Florida, a Pathway to Prosperity.” This innovative initiative seeks to maximize collaboration among our public and private sectors to help families. We want all hands on deck.
Within Florida’s Department of Children and Families, we’ve turned state employees into “Hope Navigators.” These employees, who once processed government payments within “the system,” now help parents identify barriers to their family’s prosperity, map out individualized plans, and make sure that the best nonprofit and private resources are a key part of the solution.
Additionally, for the first time in Florida, we identified a scalable way to activate the state’s faith and community-based organizations to meet the immediate needs of citizens who might otherwise rely on government. Through our CarePortal technology, Hope Navigators identify the needs of struggling Floridians and enter that information into a computer-based network. This allows nongovernment organizations, especially our communities of faith, to respond quickly.
CarePortal requests are typically entered and fulfilled only once. Why? We’ve found that once local community organizations learn of struggling moms, dads and their children, neighbors won’t let that family go hungry or homeless again.
So far, Hope Florida has improved the lives of nearly 50,000 Floridians. Last year, Nakia F., a single mother of five, was living in her car in Jacksonville. Today, thanks to Hope Florida, Nakia works at a grocery store and has a safe home for her children. Initially, her Hope Navigator addressed Nakia and her children’s immediate crisis—food and short-term shelter. That’s where government often stops.
But then Nakia’s Hope Navigator helped the Jacksonville community wrap its arms around her and her children: Urban Rest Stop, a short-term shelter, helped her find permanent housing in Sulzbacher Village, which is run by the nonprofit Sulzbacher Center; a local business, Total Military Management, provided furniture to make Nakia’s house a home; and a faith-based charity, Daily Manna Serving Center, provided meals for her family. These efforts were all coordinated with her new employer, which offered flexible work hours so Nakia can care for her children.
Since 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson announced his “War on Poverty,” more than $23 trillion has been spent on federal and state anti-poverty programs, with no meaningful improvement in poverty rates. After decades of failure, it’s time to try a community-based approach, in which government plays a role but is not the only solution.
In Florida, instead of overrelying on government, we’re organizing the generosity and goodness of neighbors to help one another. Our state government extends a helping hand, connects parents and their children with local community resources, and then stays out of the way. Based on our success so far, I’m confident that Hope Florida can be a model for America.
Mrs. DeSantis is first lady of Florida.