Brueck created an easier-to-use fitness plan and helped Ginnelle think about working up to the doctor’s original list—starting with five push-ups, for example, and helping Cyres eventually reach the recommended 25. Looking back, Ginnelle thinks it’s strange she couldn’t break down an overwhelming task into more approachable steps on her own.
“I’m an adult, I have a brain,” Ginnelle said. But she describes her roadblocks much like brain science predicts.
“Depending on how busy your mind is or how busy your life is, you tend to see things in black and white—‘I need to get this done,’ versus ‘If I can’t do this completely I can’t get this done,’” she said, pausing before settling on something closer to reality. “Life is gray.”
In families that have participated in the Intergen Project for at least a year, 86 percent of children demonstrate an increase in EMPath’s externally validated measure of executive functioning, and 86 percent of families report an increase in household order and alignment based on another externally validated measure of “chaos” in the home, according to the most recent program data from Brueck.
Babcock calls these outcomes “kind of startling.” They’re unusually good, and EMPath is in the process of piloting the Intergen tools in Jackson, Mississippi, and the Seattle area to see if they’re replicable by other organizations in the communities they serve.
EMPath’s impact, historically, has been striking.
“We have people in our programs that have made it all the way out of poverty to a family-sustaining wage,” Babcock said. “Most organizations that are working with low-income families are trying to get them connected into jobs. Ours is trying to get them to a place where they can sustain themselves and their families.”
At the heart of these outcomes is a reliance on science. EMPath mentors understand the way the brain works, and their interventions are designed to help families effectively rewire their brains. Again, Ginnelle’s own interpretation of the program lines up. When discussing the benefits for her children, she says the family goal-setting does more than simply foster togetherness, which is a benefit in its own right.
“It’s going to empower them to understand that they can make a change,” Ginnelle said. “That things don’t have to be a certain way if they are not happy.”
Poverty creates barriers to developing this sense of control over one’s own life. And EMPath is among the minority of agencies helping families break them down—using an understanding of the human brain to effect lasting change.