This week, at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s 2Gen Summit, more than 240 leaders from nonprofit organizations, civic groups, public schools, the private sector and local government are gathering to determine how Sarasota and Manatee counties — and their communities — can honor, respect and support vulnerable families as they take steps to break the multi-generational cycle of poverty.

We nee-d help raising awareness about the two-generation, whole-family approach and the opportunity to strengthen families, communities and our nation.

The Kresge Foundation is committed to expanding opportunities for people with low incomes in America’s cities. The Human Services Program supports this vision by advancing and accelerating social and economic mobility — through grantee partnerships at multiple levels, with a focus on person-centered, outcome-focused and data-driven approaches.

Living in poverty is a daily struggle and a reality for many Americans. We know that having to rely on government assistance to sustain a family offers a false sense of security without creating long-term stability. We also know that our country is stronger when we collectively support the well-being of all people.

A little-known or ignored fact is that most parents and caregivers are employed or have been employed. Yet they struggle to break out of the cycle of poverty that is often perpetuated by the “system of support” (public assistance).

We know that families living with low incomes, and adults who often work multiple jobs, are resilient. All families want to create a better quality of life for themselves and their children, no matter their socioeconomic status. A vision of a better life is a human aspiration: No one sets out to live, or remain, in poverty.

The two-generation, whole-family approach provides a framework for maximizing the untapped human potential of children, youth and families across the country.

The approach is strength-based. It makes a positive assumption about the abilities of people based on evidence and effective practices. It requires an intentional focus on the progress of parents, or primary caregivers, and children at the same time. It considers the progress and success of families in education, employment, asset-building, health, well-being and social capital.

Living in poverty can result in toxic stress, causing individuals to operate primarily in survival mode. This often translates into decisions focused solely on safety, hunger, shelter and basic needs.

Common causes of stress in parents include: being unable to afford good-quality, safe child care; making decisions between paying the electricity bill and buying a coat for their child; not being able to attend a school function because they can’t miss a day at work. (For families living in poverty, missing one day of work can set the family back or put it in crisis.)

The system creates difficult choices. For instance, sometimes working adults in families must choose between accepting a nominal salary increase and a resulting greater loss of support for child care or food assistance. In other words, a penalty for progress. This is a false choice. Families shouldn’t have to make this choice.

Why is this important to know? Because living in this environment can create toxic stress that can have a real impact on a person’s executive functioning skills. Executive functioning skills are located in the frontal lobe of the brain and impact long-term planning, goal-setting and organizing abilities.

We know that supports and services should be modified in a manner that does not exacerbate the toxic stress, but instead sharpens executive functioning skills.

This knowledge requires service providers or organizations that partner with families — seeking to realize their potential and create a better quality of life — to change their approach. We are excited about the promise of creating cycles of success by using a two-generation, whole-family approach.

The Kresge Human Services Program has a specific focus on creating conditions at the federal, state, and local levels that foster multi-sector, community-based efforts to work for — and in partnership with — individuals and families. This includes an inherent focus on racial equity.

Our intention is to equip and empower people through systems-based changes to realize their potential in their journey toward social and economic mobility.

We need the public's help in raising awareness and spreading the word about promising practices for success. Prioritizing the well-being of families and maximizing the potential of the people who are our neighbors, our workforce and our civic body can help ensure that our communities remain vibrant places and our nation becomes stronger.

Raquel Hatter is deputy director of the Human Services Program at The Kresge Foundation, which supports the advancement of human-services organizations to accelerate social and economic mobility for people with low income. In a variety of roles, she has spent the past 25 years supporting adults, children and families.