Ashley Fitch has built a career based on helping others. In 2020, she founded the Rise 2 Thrive Family Resource Center, which works with families in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties to break generational cycles of trauma and poverty.
Her nonprofit recently got a $15,000 grant from Mass Mutual Foundation to aid in that work.
The grant, she said, came as a “blessing.”
I recently sat down with Fitch to talk about her work. The Q&A below is based on that interview. Some of her answers were edited for brevity and clarity.
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Q. What inspired you to launch Rise 2 Thrive?
I’ve always wanted to work in the helping profession. I’ve been in the helping profession since I started my career. My undergraduate degree is in human services, and I started in the social work field. I ventured a little bit into the juvenile justice system and then back to the social work field.
This organization came about to fill a gap I saw as I worked with families and saw many continuing cycles of poverty and trauma in the communities we serve.
Q. What impact have you seen from Rise 2 Thrive’s work?
A lot of our impact has been on family stabilization. One of the people we helped was a mom who wanted a better career. So as we started peeling back the layers of that, we asked, “What’s stopping you? What are the barriers?”
We talked about her getting her high school diploma, which she hasn’t been able to get due to being a teen mom. That has created barriers in her parenting and her ability to create better outcomes for her children. But today, she started her GED program, and it was such a great thing for her that she was able to take a picture in front of the building.
So being able to see that growth and that progress is awesome, and it’s something that continues to push us forward, that continues to motivate us to do this work.
Q. How has the pandemic affected your work?
There are pros and cons to what happened.
One of the pros is that it allowed us to be creative and innovative in how we meet families. It broke some barriers that we weren’t expecting it to by taking us virtual – we can meet you anywhere. It’s not a matter of having people come to us, which was a barrier for some of our families.
I think everybody being virtual and having to understand how to meet people and navigate this world opened possibilities that you wouldn’t have thought of before.
Q. Will you continue implementing the virtual aspect that you started during the pandemic?
Yes, absolutely. I greatly value that personal connection. We are made for connection, no matter what kind.
So we will do a mix, a hybrid model, where we will do most of our programming online, but we still meet monthly, we have our community events where people are allowed to come and have that social aspect with each of our programs.
Q. How do you make the initial connection with the people you help?
We reach out to people through our community events, where we tell people about programming. We do some door-to-door canvassing at times to make sure that people know about us. We are a fairly new organization.
We also connect with people through schools, social workers and churches. So people refer to us, but people also self-refer based on hearing about us or seeing us in a community event.
Q. What is the process your families go through, from when they first come in to when they meet their goals?
From the beginning, when we receive the referral, we reach out to the family and do a needs assessment with them during our intake process, which is gathering some general information from them and understanding what they need. Sometimes their need may have to be peeled back a bit to have a starting point.
We do a lot of case management and coaching until they complete the program or until they accomplish their goals.
We have this eight-week workshop. We also realize that people don’t fit in the box. We’re all individuals, and we may be similarly situated, but that doesn’t mean that our situations are similar. So we walk them through, set realistic goals and expectations and re-evaluate them every few weeks.
Although our program is designed for eight weeks, it’s not, “Okay, eight weeks; that’s it.” If you’re close to this goal, if you’re still working on it, we’re still there to support you through that until goal completion.
Q. Do you find yourself keeping in touch with your families?
Absolutely. We have clients — I call them families — who will call and say, “I saw this and thought of you.” Sometimes we’ll reach out and check in.
We welcome past participants to come. We have some participants that completed the program a year ago, and they may still pop in, or they may email us say, “Hey, what kind of events do y’all have coming up?”
We have our moms that get together every quarter, so they’ll email, “Hey, what are the dates coming up for the moms’ event? Are you having anything in person?”
It just depends on the person, where they are in life. We definitely like to keep in touch. We’re a family resource center, so we like to make it family oriented
Q. What does a sustainable Charlotte mean to you?
We’re working on a more sustainable community; we don’t only focus on Charlotte but also have a big presence in Cabarrus County.
We want to build an organization that includes a lot of people and understands that advocacy is not only meeting a need. Advocacy is going beyond that and being able to address the root cause of that need, specifically within systems that our families frequently use. How do we make the system work for them? How do we ensure that they’re at the table where decisions are being made?