01/28/2013 12:52 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2013

The Building Blocks of Personal Empowerment

My name is Art Berman, and I'm the President & CEO of Twin Cities RISE!. Last week, Keith Simons gave you a look at how the Personal Empowerment program at Twin Cities RISE! leads to strong employment outcomes.

At Twin Cities RISE! we are very hard-headed, holding ourselves accountable to meeting aggressive, market-driven employment goals for our graduates. Paradoxically, we also learned early on that the key to meeting rigorous success standards was developing skills that many refer to as "soft", but that are the most essential -- skills that create resilient, empathetic and emotionally mature employees.

We learned that hard skills training, such as computer literacy, helped our participants get a job, but they weren't sufficient to ensure success on the job. This phenomenon stems from what Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Shipler, in his seminal book on poverty, The Working Poor, Invisible in America, calls the "emotional skill gap." More recently, New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks wrote about this in a recent column and in his book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement.

Our participants, characteristic of people living in deep, generational poverty, come into the program with damaged belief systems and low emotional skills. Many feel powerless and without hope. They lack resilience, emotional regulation skills, and suffer from low self-esteem. These deficits undermine their ability to succeed at work.

Recognizing the implications, our Personal Empowerment program was developed. It was a strong complement to our hard skills training. It revolutionized our program and is breaking the cycle of poverty.

Personal Empowerment comes in five building block phases.

  1. It starts with Self Awareness. We explore issues such as: What are those emotional triggers that set us off, and why? How can we be more intentional in seeking relationships that positively affect us, and in letting go of abusive, codependent or otherwise destructive relationships.
  2. Emotional Regulation skills come next. Once we recognize our emotional triggers, why we have them, and we realize when someone is "pushing my buttons," how do we control our responses? How do we avoid impulsive and angry reactions?
  3. Self Esteem. We teach that positive self-esteem is a choice. Sustaining positive self-esteem, particularly in the face of negativity, is a skill. We all must decide, when we are not feeling good about ourselves, that we are worthwhile. Our participants learn that they, like all human beings, are lovable, important and valuable. We learn how to affirm our self-esteem. We gain a sense of control. We learn to be proactive and respond positively, even in adverse circumstances.
  4. Empathy follows naturally from our core value beliefs. We develop a willingness to try and see the world through other people's eyes. We adopt a more respectful attitude towards others.
  5. Relationship Skills. With this knowledge we are much better prepared to develop and sustain healthy relationships. We will be higher functioning employees, behaving in our own positive self-interest while also being respectful of others. And, as we hear from many of our graduates, we will also be better husbands or wives, better role models for our children.

These five building blocks on the Personal Empowerment journey are taught within a well-designed and time-tested curriculum. Lessons are reinforced through weekly one-on-one coaching sessions, and the transformational changes are remarkable.

According to one graduate:

I have to emphasize the Empowerment program. I don't worry anymore. I look for solutions to my problems rather than run away from them. I wake up every day with a sense of hope. There's something I want to accomplish. Something I want to achieve.

Please take a moment to learn more about Twin Cities RISE! and the work we do for low-income adults. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, check out our website at, and, if you feel compelled, help us with the JobRaising Challenge by donating at Crowdrise.