Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why I Started Aunt Bertha (Part I)

My name is Erine. I started Aunt Bertha.

Part of the motivation was around my experience working in government consulting and seeing a culture of ambivalence when it comes to innovation. At times it was as if people forgot why we were doing the work in the first place. The initial exuberance of helping people, gradually, was replaced by, well, fear of screwing up.

Fear of rejection from a self-proclaimed "sage" who had "tried that before" 5 years ago.

Our goal is ambitious, no doubt. We want to organize the world's human service program information so people can find the programs that will help them in seconds. No navigating through virtual slush piles of paper just to find out about programs. No long lines at agencies only to find out you don't qualify - losing an entire day.

We want to add dignity to the process.

Life is hard enough for folks struggling to make ends meet. To think we live in a time when burial plots are still part of the application process shows how little the human services industry has changed with the times. I certainly can understand taking assets into account to determine eligibility, but when only a tiny percentage of people own a burial plot - why even bother wasting staff time and the client's time discussing it? What's the worst that can happen? Someone with a burial plot as an investment gets too much in benefits?

I would probably guess that Texas (a state that I proudly live in and love), has spent 10000 times more money for staff time discussing burial plots than the actual value of all burial plots applicants have owned since the Food Stamp program began.

It's time to re-evaluate what we're doing. It's time to evaluate why we're perpetuating policies that, at the end of the day, just don't matter that much - especially if the trade-off is spending money to administer and support these policies.

Can we imagine something better?

If Aunt Bertha can help educate people enough about these programs, what's out there, to the point where people can feel comfortable navigating the overly complex application process then we feel really good about it. Unfortunately, all too often, people get scared and don't want to apply because it's too complicated - too hard. Who needs yet another aspect of our lives to be confusing?

So what happens now?


People don't get help when the problem starts -- they get help when it gets real bad. It's more expensive to all of us when it gets real bad.

Aunt Bertha's the Aunt we all had growing up. She tells it like it is. She's the first one to give you a high-five when you make the honor roll. She's the friendly face that won't judge you when you get in trouble. She's who you call or visit during those times when you get real with yourself.

She (Aunt Bertha) may not save the day - that's up to you - but she can give you some perspective with a clear set of eyes and a full heart.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Erine - love the site. Have you talked to 211 at all?

    ReplyDelete