(Photo via facebook.com/peoplespaperco)
We met an Inquirer feature on the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition last October with harsh skepticism. How could anyone expect over 80 reentry and criminal justice nonprofits, many of which have historically competed for the same grants, to fall in line and collectively reduce recidivism by 25 percent in five years?
That was before we met Aviva Tevah.
Tevah is the coalition’s ambitious young director, a subject matter expert with a stacked criminal justice résumé: Nearly two years working at Rikers with a New York-based reentry nonprofit, another two working with reentrants at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Education, a year with New York Reentry Education Network.
She’s spent the past two years with Philadelphia Reentry Coalition. But the coalition she joined up with as a fellow in the spring of 2015 was an entirely different beast.
At the time, there were actually two “reentry coalitions” in town: The one she was involved with was comprised of a targeted group of representatives across city, state and federal agencies. The other was an alliance of service providers led by nonprofit FNC.
Shortly after Tevah signed on, an agreement was made to merge the two coalitions. Philadelphia’s Office of Criminal Justice hired Tevah to represent the public sector coalition as co-coordinator of the newly merged entity, a title she shared with FNC Director of Innovative Partnerships Anja LeBlanc (though LeBlanc was serving as a volunteer).
"We focused on what it would look like to build the infrastructure for deeper collaboration in the future."
“That basically meant the coalition became everybody,” Tevah said. “We set new targets, a new organizational structure and focused on what it would look like to build the infrastructure for deeper collaboration in the future.”
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Tevah officially became the coalition’s sole director last month — just in time for the coalition’s quarterly stakeholder meeting at the Office of the District Attorney.
Besides welcoming members to the meeting, Tevah made sure to stay behind the scenes. She spent the day checking in on a number of presentations happening simultaneously throughout the room from organizations such as Community Learning Center, Reentry Think Tank and BenePhilly.
Furnishing a Future founder Steve Greenberg gave a number of high-energy presentations on his workforce development program, New Leash on Life’s Rob Rosa introduced his intern to community stakeholders between sessions and RISE Director Ceciley Bradford-Jones, who sits on the coalition’s steering committee, held down the fort.
It’s one thing to critique an ambitious idea as it appears on paper. It’s another to watch that ambitious idea take shape.
Still, there’s a lot of work to be done, and playing nice at an event is vastly different than passing on a grant opportunity because another, better-equipped coalition member applied first.
Think of Tevah as a congressional whip: She’s tasked with corralling the coalition’s 80-some members, each of which harbor their own agendas and complex interrelationships, around a shared vision for reentry in Philadelphia.
To make the coalition work, each organization will need to know the grants their fellow members are gunning for. They’ll need to assess, realistically, whether or not they should apply for the same one. They’ll beed to give a little now so they can take a little later.
"We're building on the understanding that we have to do this together."
That’s where the real work will lie. But getting there is a “gradual process,” Tevah said.
“We’re building on the understanding that we have to do this together. That level of coordination is really important,” she said. “Every day there’s more consensus that that’s what we want. This is a very fragmented system, for lack of a better word. We need a system where everybody gets what they need.”
Everybody can’t get what they need if they’re all swarming the same shallow funding pool. But in order to find other pools, nonprofits need data. That’s a big part of the problem, and it’s the reason the coalition exists.
“There’s a severe lack of data on returning citizens. There’s not a lot of data that gives you a clear picture of the needs of returning citizens in Philadelphia,” Tevah said. “We know there are a ton of needs that aren’t being met, but that doesn’t mean we know which needs are being met relative to each other.”
It’s a hard thing to move forward fast when you’re running on limited resources, Tevah said.
“The relationships we’re building in the meantime,” she said, “that’s the fuel that will allow us to eventually have that data.”