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May 31, 2017 12:35 pm

What 3 Philly homelessness nonprofits have learned about building community partnerships

Lessons from UliftU, Back on My Feet and One Step Away.

A UliftU program participant flexin'.

(Screenshot via Vimeo)

Community partnerships are vital for nonprofits with workforce development efforts.

Just ask Back on My Feet, UliftU and One Step Away, which each have different methods of helping their participants gain employment.

Here’s what Back on My Feet Philly ED Cathryn Sanderson, UliftU founder Wylie Belasik and One Step Away Program Manager Emily Taylor have learned about building community partnerships, from finding new participants to developing relationships with possible employment partners.

1. Your reputation precedes you.

Sanderson and Taylor both spoke about the important role “word of mouth” plays among current participants and in finding new participants.

At Back on My Feet, “the best promoters of the program are the other participants or other members that are going out there, that are setting their alarm clocks for 5 in the morning, coming back ­­­in to the shelter maybe for breakfast, and they’re looking alive and they’re looking happy and positive” after a BoMF run, Sanderson said.

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“People talk a lot about how they receive services here or what their experience is like here and I think that that has a lot to do with how [potential program participants] interact with you.”

2. Ask what you can offer others.

This was Belasik’s biggest piece of learning in creating partnerships for UliftU, he said: “It definitely means that you need to find a way to develop strategic relationships and approach that from the standpoint of what do you bring to the table, rather than what do you need to run your program.”

For example, UliftU works with STOP, an outpatient behavioral health provider in North Philadelphia. The partnership is mutually beneficial, as UliftU’s participants are able to provide health and exercise training to a facility that might not otherwise get access to health education.

3. There’s no need to recreate the wheel.

“There are so many great organizations and nonprofits in Philadelphia,” Taylor said. Ask, “how can you partner with those other organizations to create mutually beneficial relationships?”

Flexibility would help avoid duplicated efforts, according to Belasik. For example, think: “This was the vision in my head, if I tweak this a little bit, I can work with an organization, or we can kind of share resources or share knowledge,” he said. “And by doing that, you can have a broader impact than you could have had on your own.”

4. Look for a good culture fit in employment partners.

For BoMF, Sanderson mentioned the Marriott as an employment partner with which BoMF participants have had a great deal of success. “They’ve had this culture and this family to go to, which is similar to Back on My Feet’s culture as well,” she said. “And they’ve also had an opportunity within employment there to have mobility in their positions.”

5. This work has the potential to alleviate isolation in homelessness.

“One Step Away gives [program participants] the opportunity to work within our program, work with our partners, work with the community as a whole because our vendors are on the street and are very public,” Taylor said, “and kind of help build those communities, build those partnerships that in turn help build your self-esteem and your independence.”

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