From Poverty to Freedom: The 19 Rungs to Becoming Self-Sufficient

There are 19 rungs on our Ladder of Self-Sufficiency that we are working to fill at the Serve Denton Center and The Wheeler House. Each rung represents an area of need that must be addressed for someone to become self-sufficient. These areas of need were first identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as areas that people must address in order to escape poverty.

The bottom of the ladder includes the most basic needs for survival such as food, clothing and housing. As you move up the ladder, the areas of need move from helping someone not just survive, but thrive.

The 19 areas of need on our Ladder of Self-Sufficiency are:


Having nonprofits under the same roof that address every barrier someone might face to become self-sufficient is critical to helping those in need here in Denton County. Two of the main barriers that keep people from receiving the help they need are awareness and accessibility.

Barriers to Receiving Assistance

The first barrier is awareness.

It can be difficult to know where to turn when you need help. If someone needs help paying a utility bill, buying boots for a new job, receiving trauma counseling that they can afford, or just getting food for the next day, it isn’t always clear where to turn in order to receive such services. Additionally, when services are being duplicated across similar organizations in the city, it’s not always clear how the organizations are different or who is best suited to meet your needs.

The second barrier is accessibility.

One of the biggest limitations when it comes to people receiving help is transportation. Whether their car has a flat tire or has broken down or they simply need gas or don’t own a car, transportation can be costly for those who are seeking assistance.

Often times when someone has multiple needs, the organizations that can provide for them are in different locations scattered across town. Even if someone knows where to receive the assistance they need, it can be difficult to get to those places. This makes accessibility difficult.

People also often have more than one need. They might be coming to you for transportation help, but they also need their car fixed so they can get to the grocery store to get food. It’s important that we address people’s most basic needs before we try to help them with more complex needs.

  • It's hard to counsel someone who is hungry.

  • Someone's parenting skills might be affected by their lack of access to affordable medication.

  • A person’s substance abuse might stem from mental health needs.

People’s situations are far more complicated than we often give them credit for.

That's why having nonprofits that address each rung of our Ladder of Self-Sufficiency under the same roof is so important. Someone can move from simply needing food to becoming entirely self-sufficient all in the same location. Nonprofits can work together to move someone up the Ladder of Self-Sufficiency.

Without this level of collaboration, someone might get help for one need but neglect to receive help with another need because of the lack of accessibility. They might not know where else to turn. But with multiple nonprofits working together, the likelihood of becoming self-sufficient increases dramatically.

Collaboration eliminates the barriers of awareness and accessibility so people can get the help they need.

Looking for Help

When someone falls on hard times, what is the first step?

Just imagine … a young mom who recently lost her job. Her husband left her last year. Rent and her other bills were already hard to pay, now she’s just counting the days until her water gets shut off. Her son is about to start school, and he needs to get a physical, but that doesn’t seem to be important right now. She just needs to know they can make it one more week. She starts to consider she might need to ask for help, but she feels humiliated. She’s feeling vulnerable and scared.

Our hope is that the Serve Denton Center can be this woman’s first step.

Our hope is that when she walks in the doors, her dignity can come in with her. Our hope is she is welcomed by friendly faces and immediate solutions. Our hope is that we can refer this woman down the hall to meet with Community Services, Inc. to receive help with her bills. Our hope is her son can get a physical at Health Services of North Texas while she talks with someone from Giving Hope, Inc. about finding a more affordable place to live.

Our hope is she is able to move into the emergency shelter at The Wheeler House managed by Grace Like Rain, then move into the transitional housing facility managed by Giving Hope, Inc. a few weeks later.  

This is just one possible story of why having multiple services in one location is crucial for helping people get back on their feet more quickly.

People’s situations are far more complicated than we often give them credit for.

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Services Available at the Serve Denton Center

Multiple organizations housed in one location to meet every need for every person in Denton County.

That's what we're working hard to accomplish at Serve Denton. We're creating a clear and effective ladder for people in need to climb to get back on their feet. Right now, we have 11 nonprofits at the Serve Denton Center with 3 more moving in this year and 2 at The Wheeler House.

Our vision is to be a one-stop-shop for people in Denton County to get all the help they need. We want to fill all the rungs of the Ladder of Self-Sufficiency so that people can climb their way back to living—not just a stable—but a thriving life.

Here are the services currently available at the Serve Denton Center and The Wheeler House:

The Wheeler House

  • Emergency shelter for moms and their kids (2-4 weeks)

  • Transitional housing for moms and their kids (3-6 months)

Serve Denton Center

  • Food (coming soon)

  • Healthcare (coming soon)

  • Children’s Support

    • Children’s Advocacy (coming soon)

    • Children ages 0-6 with developmental delays

  • Utility Assistance

  • Housing

  • Parenting Classes

  • Developmental Delay

  • Youth Mentoring

  • Counseling

  • Veteran Support

  • Women’s Support

    • Sex trafficking survivors

    • Women ages 18-26 who have aged out of foster care

When you partner with Serve Denton, you help us welcome more nonprofits to our team to fill the rungs of our ladder. If you would like to help us make this possible, please consider joining our Circle of Support, a group of monthly donors who come alongside our mission.

Every donation makes an impact and helps us keep our doors open at the Serve Denton Center and The Wheeler House.