Self-Sufficiency Program helping people who are struggling

TEMPE, Ariz. (KSAZ) -- There's a relatively unknown but very effective program in the Valley that's helping countless people who are struggling.

It's called the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program, and some call this program the housing development's best-kept secret for families, mostly single moms, helping them find a full-time job and become financially independent.

Adriana Alvarez, a single mom of four kids, said it still hasn't sunk in how far she's come in three years. She now works full-time in the medical field, owns her own house, and still has time to play Uno with her kids.

"Like, there's no words to express how thankful I am," said Alvarez.

Things weren't always so rosy. Back in 2015, Alvarez moved from Yuma to the Valley, but was laid off after just one month. She eventually found out about Tempe's FSS Program.

"Give them that hope again, help rebuild them, help them see their strengths and gifts and talents," said City of Tempe FSS coordinator Lilia Sanchez-Gonzalez.

Leaders with Tempe's housing services say the FSS Program is unique, in that rather than setting short-term goals, it helps with long-term ones for up to five years.

"They were there at times when I was like, done," said Alvarez. "Like this doesn't seem like I'm reaching it. I'm ready to be done with this."

Experts say working long-term with single moms like Alvarez is more effective in helping them become truly self-sufficient. Another reason why this program has been so successful is that it teaches families the value of saving money, by automatically saving a part of their income for them, while giving them affordable housing.

"That money is put into an escrow account for them, and then when they graduate, they're able to use that money to go back to school, to purchase a car, to put towards buying a home. Whatever their dream is," said Theresa James, City of Tempe Housing Services Supervisor.

Alvarez ended up graduating early from the program.

"It's awesome because I know that there's other women on this program who can totally benefit from it," said Alvarez.

Many cities and counties, including Maricopa County, have their own FSS Programs, which are funded federally.

Tempe's FSS program is ranked 1st in Arizona and is in the top 15 out of over 700 programs across the country.