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Current Programs



Current Programs


Change the Narrative Fellowship Program


WESI’s Change the Narrative Fellowship Program seeks to change the predominant narrative by using a women-led, bottom-up, intersectional approach that focuses on the voices and stories of diverse women with lived experiences of poverty. The fellowship trains and empowers women with the lived experience of economic insecurity to share their personal stories through professional-level audio, visual, and print. The purpose of the program is to generate awareness of racial and gender inequities in economic opportunity and spur actions among the public and private sectors that improve economic security in the Philadelphia region. Ultimately, fellows’ stories will be widely promoted and easily accessible through partner organizations, and fellows will convene with journalists, policymakers and philanthropists to identify actions to improve the economic security of women and their families. The first fellowship cohort was in January-June 2021 and we plan to serve more women through a second fellowship cohort in 2022.


“Women with lived experiences are the experts on economic insecurity, yet their stories get overlooked or become folded into someone else’s narrative, on someone else’s deadline. Solutions-and shifting the language and attitudes of change-makers must be crafted by these women directly. We are proud to set this standard and for Philadelphia to serve as a leading example.”- Diane Lu, WESI Community Partner


Learn more about the fellows and read their bios here.


Below, you can read and watch the stories of the fellows in our first cohort!


Stories of Lived Experience Experts: Listen and Learn



“There once was a girl named Persistence. Persistence had many dreams like having a big stable home with enough bedrooms, a white picket fence to keep the danger out, a college education, a career she was proud of, and enough money to explore the world beyond the barriers that kept her confined. However, she faced many obstacles on the road to pursuing her dreams. But that didn’t stop her, Persistence knew that she was special, she just needed enough people to see it.”


Read Barbie’s full story here.





“Every obstacle is an opportunity. When life gives you, lemons make lemonade, look on the Brightside.” Sure, optimism is better than pessimism but how do you expect me to be optimistic after losing four years of my life to a system that failed me?”


Read Devon’s full story here.




“My son was born into a world of trauma, but he has no idea. Like any good Mother I try to shield and protect him as best I can. I protected us both during my pregnancy when my partner is abusive to us, jeopardizing both our lives. I left that relationship with my son and some serious PTSD. I was barely existing, I relied on my own Mother, a non-profit and the State to help me bridge this difficult time.”


Read Kate’s full story here.




“I am doing this to save what is left of my family, a home for my children and a way to turn this pile of debt back to normalcy. This is all because you want out, you no longer want to be with me and you no longer wish to be responsible for our home, our children and me. I mistook your abusive ways for love. I thought I could keep you happy by buying you things. I thought that I could buy your love and your respect and that would stop you from treating me like dirt. I still feel like dirt, and I am paying for in the worst way possible.”


Read Kelley’s full story here.




“The Experience that I’m just about to share with you is about the cruel reality that my family and I have been subjected to in the USA, for more than 6 years now.  About one year after coming to this country with my little children, to be a family with their dad, and when I was still being used to live here, we separated… 

…my marital separation meant that I had to start seeing my children supervision and arm guards around…”


Read Marina’s full story here.




“It was on October 23, 2008, that a single life-changing event uprooted my security in ways I could never imagine. It was at this time that my daughter prosecuted her father for sexually molesting her. Not only was this event emotionally pivotal in my life but also financially. I was living below the poverty line without even knowing it. Unfortunately, even though I had two jobs and child support from now my ex-husband these were trying times. I would find out fast how low this line was when my children’s father was prosecuted and I lost all child support.”


Read Nicole’s full story here.




“None of the jobs I had were enough to cover my financial responsibilities. Every paycheck was like a raffle, which bill gets paid today. And every paycheck I cried until I had no money left. There were times when I said screw this and treated myself to some retail therapy to help with my depression, the depression that was triggered by my financial insecurity.’


Read Taina’s full story here.




”Years later looking up from the carnage of what my life had become I would try to undo what years of devastation did with no clue as to “How”. How to take care of my family or get out of debt. How to make more money or even how to manage the little money I had. This lack of knowing “How” would leave me working hard with little or no momentum stuck in the cycle of poverty tethered to a life I so desperately wanted to escape.”


Read Tracey’s full story here.



***The Fellowship is supported by a $100,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge.


For more information about the Women’s Economic Security Initiative or to get involved, please contact:

Camille Nickow

(215) 985 – 3322 ext. 227



Financial Coach Training Program


After seeing great results from the Financial Coaching in ECE pilot program (see below for more information), WESI stakeholders sought to expand its reach so that more organizations in the region could incorporate financial coaching into their existing services. We decided to underwrite a Financial Coach Training Program to empower partner organizations in the region that serve women and girls. The program trains staff of these organizations to become financial coaches as well as provides a learning community and technical assistance to help them with successful integration. The 6-month structured program includes a 1-day supervisor training, 3-day coach training, monthly learning sessions, support with data collection, and webinars on various relevant topics. Thanks to a generous grant from BLBB Charitable, we hope to reach 15,000 women in the region by the end of 2023.

The first cohort was launched in January 2021 with 25 coaches and 12 organizations, and we plan to launch a second cohort in the fall of 2021.


PECO First Sunday Partnership with Barnes Foundation


WESI will partner with the Barnes Foundation during their PECO Free First Sunday Family Day 3-4 times per year in order to build awareness of economic, educational, and leadership disparities among women and girls and highlight the resilience and resourcefulness of women experiencing economic insecurity. The first event will address the theme: “Women’s Work: What work is out there? How is it valued?” The day will feature a piece of performance art devised by a group of women with lived experience from Crossroads Women’s Center in partnership with a local artist. There will also be a panel discussion focused on this theme.


*This was postponed due to COVID-19 but we hope to begin this partnership in 2022.*


Financial Coaching in ECE Pilot


WESI’s first pilot, Financial Empowerment in Early Care and Education, integrated financial coaching into early care and education programs throughout the Philadelphia region. Through the pilot program, coaches empowered center directors, employees, and parents/caregivers with long-term, goal-oriented, structured support that paved the way for sustained behavioral change and financial capability. With funding and oversight from WOMEN’S WAY, the pilot program was implemented by First Up and Urban Affairs Coalition’s PHLPreK team, each of whom hired one coach.


“Working with Alicia over the past couple of months has greatly improved my confidence in how I manage my individual finances. I believe that I am on the right track with how I manage my time and money in order to gain personal financial success. More specifically, she has helped me learn how to create a budget and how to realistically stick with that budget. I am very fortunate to work with her and believe that this personal financial coaching has helped me to achieve my current financial goals, and will continue to help me achieve any goals set in the future.” -Financial Coaching Client


Click here to read the 1st Year Pilot Report.


Click here and here to read articles about the pilot that were published in the Philadelphia Citizen.


For more information about the Women’s Economic Security Initiative or to get involved, please contact:

Kelly Sheard 

(215) 985 – 3322 ext. 227