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Adult mentorship program serves as model for service delivery

Since its inception, the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative has been plagued by misconceptions of what it does and what it's responsible for in the fight against poverty.

Currently, an adult mentorship program tied to RMAPI serves as a model for how they hope to change the service delivery process.

Taisha Ortiz lives in Rochester. She's a mother of four, and she's also helping raise her nephew. Two years ago, Ortiz was falling behind on her mortgage payments and some utility bills when she learned about Bridges to Success, an adult mentorship program.

She was accepted and assigned a mentor: Rosa Adames.

"I like to see results," Adames said in her office at Action for a Better Community. "I like working with people and motivating them to see results."

Adames is a mobility mentor; she works with people one-on-one to help them become economically self-sufficient.

"We jot down goals, depending on what the person was motivated to do, then we get to work."

The goal might be to get a job, a degree, subsidized housing, or even something as simple as opening a bank account. Adames coaches them and helps connect them to resources.

Adult mentoring was identified as a method of helping people in poverty by the people at the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative. And in its early years, RMAPI helped Catholic Family Center get money to run the program by advocating for state funds.

RMAPI Executive Director Leonard Brock said instead of just helping a handful of individuals, they’re testing a new model of service delivery.

"The adult mentoring strategy was a microcosm of systems integration strategy, or that was the initial intent," Brock said.

For example, one of Taisha Ortiz’s goals while in the program was to get a car.

"Shortly after I started the program, my vehicle was totaled by a drunk driver. Like, I was at a loss."

Not only was she struggling to pay bills, she was also worried about transportation and losing her job. Her mentor didn’t just coach her on next steps, she also connected her with services. Ortiz said she told Adames about a program she heard that might be able to help her get back on her feet, and Adames made calls and set up appointments.

"I did what I had to do and the rest is history," Ortiz said. "I got a car and was able to remain gainfully employed."

This, Brock said, is how service delivery is supposed to work. Instead of having to contact and visit several agencies and offices to get the things they need, Brock said people should be able to go to one place and talk to one person who connects them with everything.

"We were looking at the front-door approach -- or the 'no wrong door' -- where there's a facility that a person impacted by poverty can enter and be able to receive a plethora of supports and services that will aid in their plight to become self-sufficient."

As RMAPI continues to evolve, Brock said they’re more interested in that systems integration overhaul than in overseeing and testing specific programs.

"The initial efforts of attempts of the adult mentoring wasn't to scale up a program as if that were going to be the answer to poverty," Brock said, "but to figure out what are the institutional practices that could permeate the service delivery system."

As they continue to monitor programs, gather input from the community and work with service providers in Rochester and Monroe County, Brock said the real change will come when RMAPI is able to implement the things they learn from these pilot programs like Bridges to Success.

And that could take a while. Despite RMAPI’s initial promise of reducing poverty by 50 percent in 15 years, Brock is now more focused on seeing any changes closer to the 10-year mark. He hasn’t made any specific commitments in terms of how much poverty would have to decrease for RMAPI to be considered successful.

But without immediate results, or even a tangible expectations, Brock is still committed to seeing the initiative through.

"In order for us to be successful, we have to demonstrate institutional grit."

Veronica Volk is a senior editor and producer for WXXI News.
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