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Making Progress: Social and Economic Self-Sufficiency

Current Youth, Family, and Community Science graduate students Ivery Niambi and Amber Harkey share all the details on the MCE Program. Amber Harkey worked as a Project Director while Niambi Ivery was an intern for the program.

There is a force coming through Wake County to support its citizens in making progress toward social and economic self-sufficiency.  It’s called Middle Class Express and Wake County residents are ready to get on board. 

The Middle Class Express (MCE) Program was established in the Wake County Human Services Department in 2008 as an innovative approach to help county citizens make progress toward economic and social self-sufficiency that ensures access to employment, educational and financial development opportunities, and other health and human service resources.  Since it’s inception MCE has served 576 Wake County families. 

The program is spearheaded by Vielka Maria Gabriel, a very energetic and passionate leader.  Ms. Gabriel has served for the past 11 years, as the Wake County Human Services Program Manager for Middle Class Express under the Human Services Division of Wake County — Human Capital Development campaign.  There are also 5 coaches that work alongside her to provide MCE participants with Life Coaching and Life Planning support to make strides in areas that they’ve determined they’d like to improve upon.  These areas are outlined in their “Your Ideal Middle-Class Lifestyle” template. They work on this plan over a period of 5 years. 

The work the participants engage in concentrates on strategies to help them and their families gain new skills and knowledge that moves them closer to the fulfillment of their life plan.  The program is open to all Wake County residents with a special emphasis on residents with incomes equal or less than twice the federal poverty level, individuals receiving public assistance, and parents that meet the criteria and have children underachieving in Wake County Schools.  Through this work these families have experienced monumental growth including becoming home owners, improved health and wellness, securing employment, family reunification, college graduation, and the restoration of individual self-worth. The other key piece to the success of the program is it’s collaboration with community partners that help close the gaps and address barriers many of our participants faced.

Upon joining the program all applicants have committed to complying with the work they co-create with the Life Coaches including a 5-year plan and at least 40 hours per week of self-development activities.  While in the program participants have access to the following opportunities:

  • Life Coaching
  • Personal Learning and Career Planning
  • Connections with employment opportunities along with job training
  • Access to educational opportunities

Participants also work on the 8 tracks of self-development

  • Employment
  • Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship
  • Formal Education
  • Training and Skill Sets
  • Attitude and Mindset
  • Healthy Lifestyle
  • Access and Utilization of Resources
  • Family and Community Involvement

The program recently received support through grant funding to review and strengthen its current curriculum.  There were also staff trainings provided with a focus on the five protective factors that can be utilized to build resilience with families that are served.  Those factors are:

  1. Caregiver (parental) Resilience
  2. Social Connections
  3. Knowledge of Effective Caregiving (Parental) Skills and Child Development
  4. Concrete & Emotional Supports in Time of Need
  5. Social and Emotional Competence 

The commitment to the work that has been done through the grant is a testament to Vielka’s steadfastness and persistence when it comes to her staff, the program, and most important to the families that are served.  With a background in telecommunication and engineering, Vielka shared that her role at MCE is the welcomed change. This change has allowed her to take her passion to serve and desire for change to another level, a level where each day she is rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing that she is a part of the positive change that is needed and happening in her community.

I recently observed Vielka in a planning meeting discussing the outcomes of the review and staff trainings.  She expressed an openness to suggestions and adjustments to certain areas of the program for the betterment of the families it serves.  The Middle-Class Express Program is being positioned to create a standard for measurement that will allow replication of this amazing program across the county opening the door for countless families to participate and benefit.

While the name “Middle Class Express” may leave some thinking it implies only to financial improvement, it is evident that the families served by this program receive so much more.  They are equipped with tools that empower them to set standards, goals and a vision for themselves and their entire family unit in the areas of parenting, finances, and health. Ms. Gabriel shared “I believe if we focus on helping build human capital within our community it would strengthen the future for generations to come.”  Middle Class Express families are definitely on the right track for creating and living out their life’s desires and leaving a road map for generations to come.

For More Information contact

Vielka Maria Gabriel 



Watson, S. R. (2019, October 31). Human Capital Development, Middle Class Express. Retrieved from WakeGov: