2014 Year in Review Part II: “Grantmaking Highlights”

BY Patrick Troska, Executive Director and Joel Luedtke, Senior Program Officer

In our last blog, “2014 Year in Review Part 1: Taking Feedback Seriously,” we shared what we learned when we sought anonymous feedback about the Foundation’s performance from a variety of stakeholders. With this blog, we ask you to indulge us as we share some personal highlights from our grantmaking work last year. These are not necessarily the grants that had the highest impact or greatest influence. Rather, these are the grants that fill us with pride and make us hopeful for the future of our community and our work.

Metro Access to Supportive Housing (MATSH) is Launched: For nearly 3 years, the Foundation staff has been working with Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Dakota County, the State of Minnesota, Family Housing Fund, Heading Home Minnesota, and HousingLink to design and build a centralized coordinated database of all supportive housing opportunities in the metro area. This database, we believed, would be a more efficient way for housing locators and case managers to find supportive housing opportunities for their clients. Plus, it was identified as a community need by supportive housing providers through a series of focus groups we conducted in 2010.

You would think this would have been a fairly straightforward project: create and build a database and populate it with housing opportunities and search capabilities. You’d be wrong! Just think healthcare.gov, or mnsure.org, or any other tech project for which you’ve been involved. It always takes longer than you think, and it rarely rolls out the way you’ve planned. Thankfully with MATSH, we had a wonderful leadership team who gave good direction, asked sound questions and stayed engaged throughout the process. And never underestimate the importance of a first-rate technology design firm, like Internet Exposure, the one we used!

On March 13, 2014, MATSH was officially launched by HousingLink. This followed several rounds of beta testing with real users and bug fixes. By November, there were over 400 registered users and nearly 2,300 unique housing opportunities. The goal now is to increase the number of users and housing opportunities, track housing searches to better inform where need and demand are greatest, and figure out how the system integrates with Coordinated Assessment and HMIS for increased efficiency and improved placement.

In 2015, MATSH will go statewide with funding from Minnesota Housing, putting knowledge about housing opportunities anywhere at the fingertips of those who could most benefit from it everywhere.

Career Pathways Lead to Life-Changing Opportunities

Since 2011, the Phillips Sectoral Employment Initiative has provided funding, technical assistance and AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteers to a cohort of community-based workforce development organizations. Our PSEI partners have used these resources to expand and improve their industry-focused job training programs.

We’ve seen great progress in all of these organizations: new training programs were launched, existing ones were improved, and many new partnerships with employers and community colleges were forged. One powerful example of how these pieces are coming together is the new Human Services Representative pathway at Project for Pride in Living.

Human Service Representatives, or HSR’s, are the frontline workers in Hennepin County government who implement the Minnesota Family Investment Program (public assistance). They enroll low-income families into MFIP and ensure that they abide by the program’s rules while receiving assistance. Although this position pays a living wage of over $18 per hour, it is fast-paced and demanding, leading to high staff turnover.

Hennepin County deserves great credit for using this specific human resource challenge as the test case for a much more ambitious overhaul of its staffing strategy. The County is facing massive staff turnover in the next five years, when up to 40 percent of its workforce will become eligible for retirement. At the same time, it is seeking to diversify its staff to become more representative of the communities it serves.

The HSR pathway provides a model that the County could use to draw new talent to a wide swath of its positions. It works as a partnership between PPL, the County and Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). PPL recruit low-income adults with an interest in social service careers. It screens these candidates for baseline skills, and supports them as they progress through the pathway’s 8-month training experience. MCTC delivers the training, which is provided during the evenings. Hennepin County both informs the content of the training and provides internships to trainees. Graduates earn 9 college credits and are first in line to be hired for HSR positions.

Foundation staff had the opportunity to attend the graduation celebration for the first cohort of 17 HSR graduates. It was an event filled with joy, satisfaction, hope and camaraderie. For many participants, this will be their first opportunity to earn a living wage and enjoy full benefits. Two more cohorts will launch this year, resulting in up to 60 HSR hires at Hennepin County.

Phillips Scholars Program Celebrates 20 Years; New Scholarship Opportunity Announced

In 1994, the Foundation’s Executive Director Pat Cummings working with David Laird, President of the Minnesota Private College Council, conceived of a unique and highly impactful scholarship program. The Phillips Scholars Program was established “to perpetuate the legacy of service to others reflected in the lives of Jay and Rose Phillips, and to support and encourage students who have the potential for community leadership and may be inclined to dedicate a portion of their personal and professional lives to improving our society.”

They believed that community service and leadership, should be recognized, rewarded and nurtured. So they dreamed big! Scholars receive a total of $17,500 in scholarships and stipends over their junior and senior years. They also plan and deliver a summer project following their junior year that addresses a critical need in their community that also nurtures their personal service and leadership interests.

Over the past 20 years, 113 scholars have been selected. Many have gone on to become doctors, nonprofit leaders, community organizers, teachers, corporate leaders, and more. All of them continue to find meaningful ways to serve their community. In November, we gathered with many of them to celebrate the 20 year anniversary. They told us stories about how much the scholarship opportunity meant to them and how it impacts their lives still today. These stories both gratify us and encourage us to do more.

At that gathering in November we also announced a new scholarship program to be piloted in 2015-16 for African American male scholars at the Minnesota private colleges. This scholarship will provide opportunities for young black men to both lead and learn as they explore future career possibilities. More details about this new scholarship opportunity will be announced soon.

Hearing from our Phillips Scholars–past and present–is a highlight each and every year. Over the next couple of years, we look forward to hearing how the new scholarship opportunity impacts the lives of young black men.

Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) Helping to Change the Odds for Men and Boys of Color

Finally, we’ll offer our continuing admiration for the amazing work of the Northside Achievement Zone. Our Foundation has supported this work from its very beginning and it is wonderful to see the deep connections being built with families in the Zone, and the early indications that children in these families are thriving in school.

Here’s a 4-minute video that highlights why NAZ’s work is especially crucial to the men and boys of color in the Zone:

Joel Luedtke

Joel Luedtke is the Senior Program Officer at the Foundation and leads its funding strategies in the areas of Employment and Education.  He joined the Foundation in 2007.