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Stephanie Hoopes Halpin: The Woman behind ALICE

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If there ever was a woman who believed in the power of individuals to improve communities, it is Stephanie Hoopes Halpin, author of United Way of Northern New Jersey’s new ALICE Report.  And it is really no wonder when you learn a bit more about her roots and rearing.

Stephanie’s formative years were spent in Delaware at Wilmington Friends, a Quaker school known for “challenging students to seek truth, to value justice and peace, and to act as creative, independent thinkers with a conscious responsibility to the good of all.“

These ideals were further cultivated while attending college at Wellesley.  As an all-female college, women are empowered to hold all positions – from powerful department heads and college president to all support roles involved in keeping the college running.

“Odd as it sounds, I was not really exposed to prejudices until later in life,” commented Stephanie.  “Maybe that is why I was so profoundly affected by it when I finally was.”

Stephanie + United Way = ALICE

It may have been Stephanie’s schooling that initiated her respect for the dignity of each person and inspired her passion for the pursuit of social justice, but it wasn’t until she got involved with United Way that she was afforded the opportunity to make her mark in this arena.

When Stephanie first joined the former United Way of Morris County as a board member, she brought a passion for research-based problem solving. With a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and M.A. from the University of North Carolina, Stephanie brought her expertise to the team that produced the first ALICE project, which focused on the low-income population in Morris County. In 2011, when the newly merged United Way of Northern New Jersey decided to undertake a statewide ALICE report, it was a natural progression for Stephanie to lead the charge. 

This time, as the lead researcher and penman of United Way of Northern New Jersey’s ALICE Report, Stephanie spent countless months investigating the effects of the Great Recession on ALICE. So inspired by her findings, and frustrated by the lack of existing data, she developed new metrics to realistically redefine financial hardship in New Jersey, one of the wealthiest states in the nation.  As a result, we now have appropriate language to define this population and discuss how their everyday struggles reach beyond their personal trials, but also impact the wider community.

While Stephanie’s role is critical to the ALICE project, she credits United Way for having the vision and forethought to initiate and support this important research.

“When we embarked on this project it wasn’t totally clear what this research would reveal,” Stephanie said.  “I commend United Way for being forward thinking, for being comfortable with asking difficult questions, and for the ability to attract the caliber of individuals necessary to have meaningful dialogue about community issues.”

We all have something to add

Understated by nature and humble to the core, it comes as somewhat of a surprise to see how much energy and passion Stephanie has when she talks about this research and the individuals behind the numbers. 

When asked what folks could do to help ALICE, she delivered an impassioned plea, “We all have something to contribute.  What that something is, may be different for each person.  For me, it is being a role model for my children, a participant on multiple boards, and leader for community committees.  That is where I can contribute; others have different abilities and means.”

With assistant professor, director of the New Jersey DataBank at Rutgers-Newark, and now author on her list of current credentials, one may wonder how Stephanie has time for it all – especially raising her two teenagers. 

“We’ve all had to make sacrifices - but that is good.  My daughter, Ellie, is so supportive and proud of my work.  Her contribution may seem small, but her willingness to pack her own lunch and walk home from school everyday allows me to put in the hours necessary to focus on this work.  And she does this without a compliant – well, most of the time anyway.  After all, she is 13.”

“In our house, my husband, Charlie, and I talk a lot about getting outside the comforts of home to learn and value how others live,” Stephanie said. “Last year, my son, Jake, took this to an extreme when he decided to spend his sophomore year of high school in China living with a host family. He returned so appreciative of the luxuries and comforts of home.” 

Hopes for the ALICE Report; Hopes for ALICE

The Report is freshly released and initial response has been quite favorable.  The logical question is: So what happens next? 

“Initially, my hope is that this Report makes everyone stop and realize that ALICE is an important part of a community, providing essential services for all of us,” Stephanie said.  “I also hope those that are ALICE feel more valued as a result.”

As for the future, Stephanie is quick to comment that this Report is not the end but rather the beginning of the story.  “ALICE is not just in New Jersey.  If we could look at ALICE across the country, it would provide so much more info and insight.  A national study would identify what is being done well and/or poorly to help ALICE.  We could all learn a lot from each other.” 

A national study?  We at United Way agree that sounds like a great idea.

Thank you Stephanie for all you do to help ALICE.  Your commitment to the health and well-being of our communities defines what it means to LIVE UNITED!

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