Personal Impact Story – Within My Reach

Through the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative and Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services, a relationship education program called Within My Reach (WMR) is provided to TANF (public assistance) clients. Providing relationship education to individuals who may not currently be in a romantic relationship, has proven effective in teaching participants skills to help them communicate better with others while developing a strong foundation for future relationships.

A 2008 implementation study conducted by researcher Anne Sparks provided some insight into the lives of Within My Reach participants and summarized what these women learned and retained from their experience. Most participants interviewed in this study described very unstable family lives during childhood. Information given by participants in individual interviews confirmed that their life histories and past relationships had lacked stability and that problems experienced in past or present relationships were a serious concern. One of the goals of the WMR program is to instill in each participant the belief that she deserves to be treated with respect and be physically and emotionally safe in an intimate relationship. The curriculum focuses on various other issues that help individuals evaluate whether or not a relationship is healthy and whether it is a “good fit.” The curriculum stresses recognizing and changing communication patterns that have a negative impact on the women and on their children (which can include interactions with a current partner, with a former partner who is their child’s biological parent, and with their child).

Sparks interviews showed that almost all of the participants who were interviewed were able to give examples of at least one situation in which they had successfully applied a concept or skill from WMR long after completing their workshop sessions. Several participants spontaneously mentioned that they found the concept of “sliding vs. deciding” useful and important, and some commented that they remembered the pyramid that illustrated the instability of a relationship based primarily on sex. Several mentioned using the speaker-listener technique successfully with partners, children and parents. Others mentioned specific use of the time-out skill in order to become less caught up in negative interactions.

The findings from this study are significant, as they indicate the usefulness and transformative nature of relationship education for individuals, as well as the efficacy of delivering this kind of service as a part of traditional human services.

The full study can be found at

Personal Impact Story – Strategic Coaching Project

Public Strategies provides Strategic Coaching to program participants who can benefit from dedicated and intensive skill-building and support around workforce development issues. Living in poverty is a day in, day out battle for survival for many of these individuals, and this often leads to an inability to plan for or even imagine a better future. Strategic Coaching provides a safe place for participants to create positive solutions and take steps toward their ultimate destination. The following includes a staff member’s account of one participant’s experience.

One of our participants was recently released from prison after 20 years of incarceration. He was homeless and living in a tent with no job or support system. By helping him stay focused on a positive future and teaching him critical communication and self-empowerment skills, we were able to help him take necessary steps toward finding quality employment.

One night, he was eating dinner at the homeless shelter when he heard that an acquaintance had been taken to the hospital. The participant wondered whether he might be able to fill in for the acquaintance at his job. He went down and talked to the manager and, instead of just filling in, he was hired for a full-time position. In his next coaching class, we celebrated his success and made him hero for the night. During the next class, his boss came by to see what he was participating in and was thrilled that the participant was a part of such an encouraging group.

The participant has since found a safe place to stay and has been able to start paying his incarceration fines. He also has several hundred dollars saved and a new wardrobe that helps him look more professional. Looking at his Action Plan, he is on the right track and has realized his goals of finding a good job, a safe place to stay and an encouraging support system.