UpTogether Tulsa is one of its kind in Oklahoma. Launched July 2021, UpTogether Tulsa builds on BEST’s COVID-related emergency cash assistance efforts by providing 300 Tulsa families with young children living in poverty access to unrestricted capital, choice and community. In partnership with BEST partners and UpTogether, a national nonprofit with more than 20 years of experience in the field, this pilot will distribute $2.7 million directly to Tulsa families from July 2021 through December 2022.
Between May 2020 and November 2020, GKFF-BEST, in partnership with Family & Children Services, Parent Child Center of Tulsa, Tulsa Educare, GiveDirectly and UpTogether (formerly known as Family Independence Initiative) distributed more than $1.6 million dollars of emergency cash assistance to 2,200 Tulsa families with young children to mitigate the devastating financial impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Each family received a one-time payment of between anywhere from $500 to $1,000. The idea was first introduced by staff members of BEST’s partner network, who were hearing directly from families and caregivers impacted by the pandemic. Ultimately, this input informed GKFF-BEST’s decision to partner with UpTogether and strengthened the design of the pilot by centering community voice and authority.
Building on this work, GKFF-BEST and UpTogether co-designed UpTogether Tulsa, an innovative pilot that provides 300 Tulsa families with young children monthly cash payments of $500 for the next 18 months for a total $9,000 per household. UpTogether Tulsa issued its first set of payments July 2021 and will conclude in December 2022.
Charlene was able to use the funds to get her car fixed, purchased school supplies for her children and began to make purchases in anticipation for her new baby arriving.
CHARLENE, UPTOGETHER TULSA MEMBER
UpTogether employs a strength-based approach, recognizing, highlighting and investing in the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of people in undervalued communities and partnering with government and philanthropy to do the same. With the support of Tulsa Educare, JAMES Inc, Met Cares Foundation, Community Service Council’s Power of Families Project, Family & Children Services and the Parent Child Center of Tulsa, 300 families were identified and invited to join the pilot. In addition to the monthly cash disbursements, families are invited to join the UpTogether Community, an online platform that allows different families to connect to one another and track their own progress. The UpTogether platform allows families to create and join small groups where they can find communities of support.
“Rooted in trust and driven by a deep conviction that families know what is best for them, UpTogether Tulsa uplifts the assets and social capital that already exists in historically marginalized communities, forging a path toward social and economic mobility.”
CYNTHIA JASSO, BIRTH THROUGH EIGHT STRATEGY FOR TULSA
Initial baseline data highlights the diversity of experiences and identities represented in the pilot. Nine in ten participants self-identified as female. Nearly 80% of households identify as Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx with an average household size of 4. Every single participating family has at least one child under the age of 9 and earns an income at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Level. Additionally, UpTogether Tulsa members have been impacted negatively by COVID-19 with 54% of families experiencing job loss or a reduction in work hours. Only 17% of participating families self-reported that they have enough cash on hand to afford an unexpected $400 emergency. Helping put families on an accelerated path toward breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, UpTogether hopes the pilot will “uplift the successes of families to transform stereotypes, beliefs, practices, policies around economic and social mobility and influence government and philanthropy to expand their investment in families’ initiatives.”
Anecdotally, some of the BEST partner organizations who helped identify families participating in the pilot have shared how their families’ participation in UpTogether has alleviated stressors in the families’ lives, allowing families to increase participation and utilization of the services and resources from organizations.
This pilot was only made possible because of the concerns brought up by staff within the BEST partner network identifying the exacerbating issues caused by COVID-19 and the suggestion of cash assistance as an intervention. BEST partners have continued to be essential in UpTogether Tulsa as important thought-partners, as these organizations deeply know and care for the families that they are serving. In the coming months, GKFF-BEST is excited to learn alongside and share back insights with the BEST partner network and community stakeholders on the efficacy of approaches like UpTogether Tulsa.