04-18-2019 · InForum Series

Change happens in community where ‘leadership, culture and systems’ intersect

By Bradley Roberts

There are a lot of complex needs in the Greater Atlanta region.

In a room full of nonprofit practitioners at the January edition of United Way of Greater Atlanta’s InForum series, those issues were brought to light for a deeper discussion and dive into how we tackle those problems and address those needs.

There was a common pattern among those in attendance: Everybody wants to serve this community.

“The underlying theme is that all of us want to serve,” said Suganthi Simon, the Westside Program Officer for the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. “But we want to address multiple issues. If we are all serving them, then how do we serve people in the right way?”

The discussion Thursday at the Gathering Spot in West Atlanta centered around finding ways to override the current trend across Atlanta and the South as a whole. How do we reverse a lifetime of generational poverty and find innovative ways to improve economic mobility for Atlanta residents?

Well, for a start, you have to make it easier to access services. The talk focused on ways to deliver integrated services to the people that need them most. They focused on ways to remove barriers standing in the ways of families and children from receiving services.

Our partnerships are crucial in ensuring that success, Milton J. Little, CEO of United Way of Greater Atlanta, said.

“We should all feel a responsibility to embrace these partnerships to make sure that we all succeed,” said Little. “It’s going to take us all working together, finding things that I do well and you do well so we can serve everyone.”

Ralph Gildehaus, senior program director of MDC Inc, in Durham, North Carolina, works with communities to design support systems for connecting populations with support services.

MDC has partnered with United Way of Greater Greensboro and community stakeholders across Guilford County, North Carolina, to build a technology-based network to deliver integrated services to connect low-income households with resources.

“We have to build what we call our infrastructure of opportunity,” Gildehaus says.

He said change in a community happens when “leadership, culture and systems” intersect with each other. In order to improve the economic mobility of a community, we need to “change the perspective,” and change the conversation.

MDC looked at ways to change habits that affect a system and change the expected outcome. For example, they focused on implementing ways to have every high school student in Guilford County complete a form for Federal Student Aid.

“The intention was a systems change,” he said. “Every student completed a FAFSA form and sent an application to at least one college. As a result of that, more and more students are going to college.”

There were other examples of finding ways to consolidate services for families and people with low income in the community. What they found was that people needed “stabilization and better preparation” for work, health and income services.

MDC recently developed the Integrated Services Delivery Network model to reduce poverty, improve social determinants of health and advance family economic success. But, this is only possible through collaboration.

The Rev. John R. Moeller, Jr. is CEO of Inspiritus, is a nonprofit in Atlanta that serves adults with disabilities, children, refugees and victims of natural disasters.

Moeller said Inspiritus created a Financial Opportunity Center, which brings income supports to help families “beyond basic budgeting.” In the past 18 months, his organization was able to serve victims of three different hurricanes.

Inspiritus also offers services to homeless youth in a “Youth Post-Home” program where they are able to place young adults in a home with families for up to nine months where they “receive integrated services.”

While Gildehaus’ office worked to develop a system of integrated services, Moeller and his office worked on the frontlines to provide those human services.

In Simon’s work with the Westside Program, it was a way at looking how to do both. She said the building of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium sparked a catalyst for conversation on how to address the needs of the Westside.

“We had to unravel some of the pieces put in place that establish the systems that we see,” Simon says.

The Westside Neighborhood Prosperity Fund works with residents and partners to leverage resources and programs in Atlanta’s historic Westside neighborhood.

Simon manages the implementation of collaborative strategies in health, economic inclusion, safety and security and civic empowerment an engagement. Her work looks at breaking the bonds of intergenerational poverty for Westside residents.

Atlanta as a whole is a city that is thriving, but it has the lowest opportunity for economic mobility of any other city in the United States. That means that people born into poverty are not given the chances to move out of it, and while there’s access to jobs, there’s no knowledge of how to obtain those jobs.

But, through access to these services, and by changing the conversation, we’re able to hopefully reverse this fact.

“Communities are experiencing issues on a much larger scale,” Gildehaus said. “We need to take an approach that we can implement across the community. The public sector and nonprofits need to work together to promote these integrated services.”