Mary O’Doherty is the Economic Justice Project Director at the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association. She is an expert in developing and providing asset building services for survivors of domestic violence.
How did you first get involved in the asset-building field?
About 8 years ago I was hired to develop a program for members of domestic violence who have been living in our shelters to become self-sufficient. We looked at the Assets for Independence (AFI) Program and saw an opportunity for our survivors to get housing assistance and set up independent homes which is critical for them if they are going to build new lives.
What have you learned from working in the asset-building field?
My organization got involved with AFI because we assumed that all of our clients needed support finding independent living. While this is still roughly 50% of our clients' goals, the other 50% are focused on education. We quickly learned that many of our clients have never had a chance to pursue post-secondary education. It made us realize that there are many avenues to self-sufficiency for our clients.
Where do you think the asset-building field is headed?
I find the recent work of coordinating Individual Development Accounts with Early Child Care very interesting. Many of the Early Care Providers are eligible for IDAs and it might help them figure out ways to save to start their own in-home day care. This would help our survivors and open up more day care slots for working families.
What words of wisdom do you have for an organization or individual just getting started with providing asset-building services to domestic violence survivors?
I would say that you have to keep the eyes on the prize, there are many obstacles in this work. People love the idea of IDAs and helping people. But there are a number of obstacles to establishing and administering self-sufficiency programming. It’s really hard work and you have to be prepared to deal with setback and obstacles.
Also, you can’t pre-judge any client that walks through your doors. Often time our counselors might assume a particular individual isn’t going to succeed. Maybe they don’t the first time, but by encouraging and supporting them they might come back and try again. We have to accept the fact that we might put a lot of energy into a client and they don’t met their asset goals the first time. We have to be more tolerant that we might not always succeed.
This article originally ran in the IDAresources.org Update Newsletter on 09/22/11 and is available for archival purposes.