Trusted Advisors—You Rely on Them and Lower Income Families Need Them Now

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Trusted Advisors—You Rely on Them and Lower Income Families Need Them Now
By: Cynthia Rivera Weissblum, CEO, The Edwin Gould Foundation Accelerator 

The pandemic has shown us many things, but the biggest might be this: we need others. 

We need advice from those who know more. We need the advice of others who think differently; we need access to experts, especially during hard times. Who do you turn to? Who do your loved ones turn to for advice? How many times has the power of your network guided and connected you - to a doctor, a lawyer, a job, or advice that you needed quickly? How many times has your network saved you time or money? Where would you be without your trusted network? 

Now, imagine yourself without a network during these times of deep struggle. 

If this pandemic had struck when my parents, Rolando and Norma, were raising their family on 135th Street and Broadway, they would have desperately needed a network of advisors—trusted wise counsel—to advise on how to endure the unimaginable.  With three children under the age of eight -  and one with chronic heart disease caused by rheumatic fever - my father worked as a short-order cook at three restaurants and my mother worked in the garment district; they would have certainly lost their jobs and ultimately their pathway to the middle class. Striving for opportunity would have turned into struggling to survive. 

What I know would have been true for my family – and what is true, today, for many low-income families – is that they are desperately asking, “Where do I turn? Who can I trust? How will we pick up the pieces?” How could they make such important decisions with such imperfect information?

All my professional life, I have worked with organizations that provide a safety net for low-income families, specifically around education. Families rely on these highly credible organizations to provide services, guidance, and access to resources—the things affluent families provide their children with the resources and networks at their disposal. These organizations are providing students and families with practical and timely guidance to help them reimagine a path forward. 

Shirley Acevedo Buontempo leads one of those organizations, Latino U College Access (LUCA). Arriving in the Bronx from Puerto Rico at ten years old, Shirley knows firsthand the struggle to rise up in a system where you do not speak the language or possess the financial and social capital that opens doors. She founded LUCA in 2012 to advise families and students on how to make the best higher education decisions as they face unemployment, increasing student debt, tremendous learning loss, COVID-19 on campuses, and both health and economic crises that have disproportionately devastated low-income communities. 

LUCA staff have been advising students as never before. Elisa (not her real name) is one of those students. When Elisa’s college closed, she lost an internship needed for her pre-med major and was told to vacate her dorm immediately – LUCA paid for her moving and storage expenses. Once back home, Elisa found work at a grocery store but was worried about the health risks. A few months later her grandfather was diagnosed with cancer and her chances of returning to college diminished.  The LUCA team helped her secure the financial aid needed to return to college. 

During my time speaking with Shirley, she captured how LUCA serves families, she said There are a million little decisions that each student and family must make, and the LUCA staff and volunteers understand what families have been through and what they are facing right now. LUCA Staff is thinking ahead—alongside families, planning a strategy for each student that will allow for the best outcome.”  Bottom line – LUCA students do have a place to turn. 

There exists a strong and respected network of nonprofit organizations, like LUCA, that directly serves low-income families and they come in many forms.  The most important of those organizations are those whose staff have deep and trusting relationships with families. Why? Because when you are in crisis you seek out wise, informed, and trusted advice.  The strongest of these organizations possess the technology platform that allows for high quality virtual advising. 

During this pandemic these organizations:

  • distributed emergency financial relief quickly and helped  families navigate the bureaucracy of applying for unemployment and other available programs
  • provided rigorous academic instruction to address the crippling learning loss children face
  • helped students and parents recalibrate under the most arduous conditions-- schools opening or not--some of the time,  all the time or none of the time, high school graduates whose post-secondary plans are stalled, college graduates with no prospects for work, and multiple siblings indoors for months. College work-study income gone and financial aid in turmoil. Income providing internships gone.  Students back home where there is little room to work, study or sleep, and where the financial burdens are overwhelming.  

How are these organizations able to provide such effective and timely services?   Because they have deep trusting relationships with students and families. 

As funders, we seek to support organizations that have the most meaningful impact. That is why I am an ardent advocate of providing long-term support to organizations that serve families deeply.  I urge others to do the same---support them and stay with them. Take a moment right now and reflect deeply on the power of your network and your alliances.  Where do you turn for informed advice? Can you imagine yourself without your trusted network? It is somber thought, to pause and imagine yourself with nowhere to turn for the advice you need to guide your family. 

For my parents, Norma and Rolando, while they did not face a pandemic, they did struggle mightily. They found their wise trusted network in the church and parish of the 1960’s, the community health center that saved my sister’s life and the kindness of my father’s employers.  Join me and so many others who support organizations that provide struggling families with wise advice and a trusted network. 


About Cynthia Rivera Weissblum:
Cynthia is CEO of the Edwin Gould Foundation and is the architect of the EGF Accelerator, a residential and remote incubator for nonprofits focused on educational inequity. Previously, Cynthia was President of Results Collaborative, advising on donor strategy.  She served as CEO of Sponsors for Educational Opportunity and during her tenure earned the N.Y. Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Award. She was the director of New York State’s Mentoring Program. She honed her skills and developed perspective in student development and educational equity at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University at Albany, and Rutgers University. Cynthia recently was the commencement speaker at Mercy College and is a lecturer at New York University’s Steinhardt School. She serves on the board of Guttman Community College, Hispanics in Philanthropy,  Solon E. Summerfield Foundation,  and uAspire. She has informed legislation and strategies to address obstacles preventing low-income students from thriving. Cynthia is an advocate and entrepreneur building organizations that advance positive outcomes for underserved youth.