In Chester County, businesses and nonprofits team up to address community needs - Generocity Philly

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Sep. 9, 2019 11:30 am

In Chester County, businesses and nonprofits team up to address community needs

Columnist Krys Sipple takes a look at Leadership Chester County, which uses bus tours and a poverty simulator to teach board members about the real, often hidden, needs in the community.

LCC has led more than 450 people into more than 400 social service-centered nonprofit endeavors, says Mary Anne Feeley.

(Courtesy photo)

Leadership Chester County (LCC) was developed in 2000 by community leaders who recognized that when business acumen is engaged effectively on a nonprofit board it can build not only sustainability but the organization’s capacity to provide quality services for those in need.

They realized that in Chester County new business talent interested in serving could bring important diversity when included on local nonprofit boards.

LCC, a program of the United Way of Chester County provided in partnership with Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry, and West Chester University, is a leadership course focused on nonprofit governance and Chester County issues.

2018 LCC bus tour of Chester County.

Mary Anne Feeley was hired to lead the program in 2007, and her enthusiasm for LCC shines through everything she says. “I think Leadership Chester County has benefitted the community is so many ways beyond what was first envisioned,” Feeley said. “The nonprofits we work with gain business knowledge and attention to good governance on their boards, which helps with sustainability, and the community members who participate find concrete and constructive ways to channel their passions for doing good.”

“One thing I hear over and over from participants is how the program moves people to participate in important issues in their community. Those already on boards now feel empowered to speak up and get others to think clearly and logically,” she said.

Part of the program includes taking participants on a bus tour of Chester County. A brief historical overview is provided, including key issues for communities, recent changes to the business landscape, and local efforts to improve conditions and quality of life for all residents. The group then embarks on a day-long, guided bus tour of several Chester County agencies as an orientation to the local nonprofit social service sector. Participants discover the wide range of services provided by these agencies from healthcare to employment and family services, and the challenges those organizations face while meeting the needs of diverse county residents in the current economic and political climate.

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One of the other things LCC offers is a yearly poverty simulation. In this interactive session, the LCC class and their guests experience first-hand many of the challenges facing low-income individuals as they struggle for financial stability using the systems designed to alleviate hardships.

“For one hour, I was able to see the world through my clients’ ‘lens’,” wrote a Chester County Health Department visiting nurse who participated in the simulation in 2014.  “I have seen changes in my practice, my approach, and my overall understanding of day to day struggles my girls go through. I never felt guilty for being upset or not understanding why a client couldn’t get to her doctor’s appointment, start her birth control, get her child vaccinated, pursue insurance, etc., but I do now. I learned the importance of value systems and the respect that I must always have for someone whose system differs from mine. Sometimes excuses aren’t excuses.”

“Since the program started, LCC has launched more than 450 leaders to over 400 nonprofit endeavors to secure a strong future through high quality, capably run social service agencies,” Feeley said. ”Some graduates become so passionate about the issues they see that they have gone on to found nonprofits or to become nonprofit staff members. Others continue to serve on boards and strengthen the nonprofit community in that way.”

Full-day sessions are usually scheduled on Thursdays approximately once per month, October through May, with 75% attendance required for graduation. An invitation-only graduation ceremony is held in late spring, at the end of the course.

Applications are currently being accepted for next year’s Leadership Chester County program, Class of 2019-2020. Applications are due by Sept. 15, 2019. Call 610-429-9400, ext. 4110 for more information, or just fill out the online form.

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