Origins of the Georgia Center for Opportunity: Why we choose to focus on healthy families
As an organization whose mission is to alleviate poverty in communities across Georgia, we are sometimes asked why we choose to focus on healthy families. After all, some of the most contentious flash points in our culture today center on the divergent views Americans hold about the definition of marriage and the role of family in society.
This is why many groups working on poverty alleviation sidestep the crucial role that family plays as the bedrock of society and instead focus on resolving the presenting symptoms of poverty—as important as they are—rather than the root causes.
But back in 2005, the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) was asked to participate in a healthy marriage initiative. In considering our involvement, we looked at the research on stable, intact, two-parent households and saw that this type of family structure is optimal when looking at a wide variety of social metrics—including poverty alleviation.
And while there’s no doubt that single parents often do a great job raising children who become highly productive members of society, the data clearly show superior outcomes for children who come from loving, low-conflict, two-parent households—and that this family structure is key to dismantling generational poverty and building thriving communities.
The bottom line is that while poverty can still be experienced in the context of two-parent households, it’s less likely to happen than in single-parent households. And as a root cause for poverty, we knew we had to focus on building healthy families if we wanted to help individuals flourish—and strengthen our communities and state.
This is why GCO has invested heavily over the years in programs that offer relationship education to men and women. And this is why we have worked hard to build coalitions of nonprofits, faith groups, and local businesses to go into communities and lovingly address factors that destabilize marriage and family like divorce, out-of-wedlock births, and domestic violence.
The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.
Learn more about the impact GCO is making on families within our state.
To this end—thanks to a federal grant from the Bush Administration—we were able to offer training to help couples overcome barriers and strengthen their relationships. Through this healthy marriage initiative, we certified 1,000 trainers to go out into their communities and teach more than 5,000 couples how to improve the quality of their relationship and stabilize their families.
Today, GCO continues to move forward with a holistic and comprehensive solution to poverty that takes aim at its root cause—family instability. And while we continue to offer relationship education, we have expanded our focus beyond romantic relations with our Healthy @ series that works with churches, schools and businesses to examine healthy relationships in other areas of life, including education and work.
Our goal at GCO has always been to remove barriers to human flourishing. And as we know through the PERMA model that an underlying barrier to overcoming poverty is improving the quality of relationships.
By focusing on healthy families, GCO helps people recognize and regulate their emotions, learn how to effectively communicate with family members, identify unhealthy behaviors and relationships, and establish appropriate boundaries. More than anything else, learning these skills changes the trajectory of individual lives. And this is how generational poverty is defeated and communities are transformed—one life at a time.