Community Involvement Goes Digital

Residents living paycheck-to-paycheck have a hand in designing digital platform.

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Being involved in the community is a part of who Melissa Stanley is. The 42-year-old Stamford mother of a high school student and two grown children has been active for years in everything from the Stamford Youth Board and coaching cheerleading, to working on the Stamford Cradle to Career Early Childhood Committee.

When United Way of Western Connecticut approached the nonprofit agency she works for about recruiting members for its ALICE Advisory Board, she took an interest in the work and became involved herself. Essential nonprofit employees are often living paycheck to paycheck themselves.

ALICE® stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained Employed. It is the 27% of the population in our region living above the poverty level but not making enough to cover their basic needs. In Stamford, for example, the ALICE and poverty population combined is 42% of all households.

United Way of Western Connecticut created the ALICE Advisory Board to engage people with lived-experience in the development of programs and services to meet their needs. The board includes residents of Stamford, Greater Danbury, and Greater New Milford and is reflective of the area’s demographics. The membership is about 30% Black, 30% Hispanic, and 30% Caucasian.

“The members are our consultants, consistently guiding the work of United Way and Prosperity Digital Marketplace (a subsidiary of United Way of Western Connecticut). We are fortunate to have their input and expertise at managing life paycheck by paycheck; it’s an incredible honor to learn from them!” states Kim Morgan, CEO.
Melissa and her fellow Advisory Board members have most recently been deeply involved in the creation of Properi-Key. Prosperi-Key is an innovative online platform that will connect essential resources to ALICE families, 24 hours a day. It is being developed by Prosperity Digital Marketplace.

Adding her perspective to a technology software development team is a new experience for Melissa, but she’s committed to the work and engaged in the process. Throughout the past months of social distancing, she and others from the 18-member board have met frequently on Zoom with software developers to make sure the Prosperi-Key platform will be designed to provide the best user experience for ALICE.

“We go through things piece by piece, from the first button you are pressing to the last button you are pressing,” said Melissa. It’s a very painstaking process, but she and the other board members feel it’s important to get every last detail right.
“This has to be very user friendly, because a lot of people don’t have strong technology skills, and there are seniors who may need help from others,” she explained.

Melissa says that her broad experience in the community and at her job, as well as her own experience as ALICE, has given her an understanding of the needs of struggling families that provides valuable input on how an effective platform can be created.

The work is time consuming, but United Way received a grant from AXA XL in Stamford for $50,000 to compensate the board members for their time. This is important, since most people who are ALICE are juggling jobs, running households, and dealing with family obligations—and many now have the additional demands of helping children with distance learning.

Melissa thinks it will all be worth it.
“I think it (Prosperi-Key) is coming along great,” she says. “It’s going to be very successful. I love being a part of the process.”

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