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MDC helps Greensboro United Way expand family success to the whole community

“I want everyone to have the experience I have.”

That’s Cristina Plata, a 40-year-old single mother of five who is studying to get her GED at a Family Success Center in Greensboro, N.C. After her husband died she says she became depressed and then saw an item on Facebook about the Family Success Center. She responded, didn’t expect to hear anything back, and got a call the next day. “They set up an appointment and I’ve been here ever since.”

Stories like these usually end there. A happy participant, a successful program, and no plan to reach the entire community. But the United Way of Greater Greensboro (UWGG), which runs the Family Success Center, has the same goal as Ms. Plata. There are 57,000 people living in poverty in Greensboro—one-in-four children and one-in-seven adults in North Carolina’s third-largest city—and the United Way wants every one of them to have the kind of experience Ms. Plata had.

To accomplish that, they are working with MDC to create and scale-up a family economic success ecosystem using a practice known as Integrated Services Delivery (ISD). The goal is to end the cycle of poverty through creation of four Family Success Centers and a countywide Integrated Services Delivery Network that includes entry points at more than a dozen other service providers around the county.

The initiative goes back to 2014, when the board of UWGG decided to become an issue-based United Way focused on ending poverty in the community. They looked around for model solutions and studied Integrated Services Delivery, which was developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. More than 200 United Ways and other organizations have successfully adopted this practice in San Francisco, Atlanta, Detroit, and across the nation. ISD connects a broad range of service providers and allows counselors to bundle, sequence, and deliver the services needed by a participant and their family in all aspects of their life—work, health, and income supports; education and career advancement; and financial education and coaching.

“Then we said, ‘Well, how do we take those models that we learned from and build something unique to Greensboro?’ ” recalls Frank McCain, Vice President of Community Impact & Investment at UWGG.

The United Way talked to community members, donors, corporations “and anybody in the community who was willing to listen to us,” McCain said, and came up with an ISD model that in 2015 became the Family Success Center (FSC) now thriving in the Guilford Child Development complex.

They decided to take a two-generation approach that focuses on both adults and children, and the site has served more than 300 households that include more than 400 adults and nearly 500 children. It offers a spectrum of services including child care, GED classes, health and wellness, a computer lab, financial literacy, and soft-skills training such as resume writing.

In 2016, UWGG partnered with MDC to apply MDC’s “More to Most” scaling methodology to determine the best strategies for scaling up the ISD work to three more FSC locations, but also through a countywide network that would make the ISD model available through other service providers able to reach a much wider audience than the FSCs alone.

“Lack of coordination and under-use of services are structural problems that require place-based, systemic, and adaptive approaches,” says Ralph Gildehaus, a Senior Program Director who heads MDC’s Family Economic Security work. “Communities like Guilford County need to create ‘ecosystems’ for increasing access to under-used supports, improving systems to coordinate services, and empowering economically vulnerable households to advance their economic mobility.”

UWGG, with MDC’s support and guidance, is now developing a network of human services providers that will be entry points—“no wrong front door”—to a range of services that can help. The network will use online technology to enable intake, assessments, connections, referrals, and outcomes tracking between network providers. And part of MDC’s role is to help build the capacities of those providers so they can use the technology to help their clients across all of their needs.

“The goal of ISD,” says Sarah Glover, Manager of Family Success Centers for UWGG, “is for it to be seamless to the person receiving the services. They don’t know that 30 organizations were part of this. They just know they get the help they need.”

MDC brings programmatic assistance on using the Integrated Services Delivery (ISD) approach to the partnership. That expertise is based on MDC’s national ISD experience, including as a member of the ISD Collaborative and manager of the Working Families Success Network of community colleges that integrated education and training, income supports, and financial education, coaching, and access to asset-building productions for low-income students.

UWGG is building partnerships for collaboration with other service providers in the area as they plan and build the larger ISD network. A second FSC opened in January at The Salvation Army Center of Hope and already has served 78 households with 92 adults and 150 children.

“We had to educate people on what Integrated Services Delivery was because people said, ‘We’re already in collaboration with one another,’ but they didn’t really understand,” McCain says. “They might be in collaboration, and there were different pockets of collaboration in our community, but what we were talking about is a more cohesive, inclusive collaboration—more than anything we’ve ever seen in our community.”

By the end of October 2019, of the 300 families served by the first FSC:

  • 80 percent of new members are typically unemployed when they arrive; 77 percent completed job readiness classes and 39 percent had gotten jobs
  • About 50 percent of those who joined the FSC had never graduated from high school; about 20 percent of those now have earned a GED
  • 39 percent had participated in financial capability classes
  • 21 percent had participated in wellness classes including dance and yoga and, as of June, 12 percent had received help finding health insurance. Many had visited the on-site Cone Health nurse or met with a social worker from the NC A&T and UNC-Greensboro joint social work program.

About half of everyone served were under 18 years old, and 58 children were enrolled in on-site early child care, which is free while parents are in classes or receiving FSC services. Coaches help parents find child care assistance while they’re at work or college.

The first evaluation of the FSC model, completed in-house at UWGG, showed that ISD helped 104 families with young children achieve higher rates of growth on 26 of 29 indicators related to financial stability compared to a demographically similar group. A second, more recent, evaluation by the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work found that participating families are experiencing gains across multiple domains and that longer participation is associated with better results. The FSC’s results are consistent with research showing that ISD improves the odds by three to four times that households will achieve major economic outcomes—including increased levels of education, employment, income, and financial stability.

UWGG leaders say MDC has helped them with scaling up the operation, containing expectations, giving their work credibility, and connecting them to additional resources.

“MDC has helped us really manage expectations and helped us be patient,” McCain says. “MDC helped push us when we needed a push, to ask the challenging, important questions. It’s trusting. It makes very complex and difficult work fun and keeps it challenging all at the same time. Could we have done this on our own? Yes, we could have. Could we have done it as smoothly and as quickly? No.”

UWGG says that a partnership with MDC validates their work and opens doors. “It validates our efforts to say that MDC is a partner with us,” McCain says. “I think it’s a check-mark that we would not normally have gotten. MDC has brought to the table people who are interested in our work that we would not have had an entry to without their involvement. We want to create something that helps individuals and families get on the path to financial stability. Every community has pockets of poverty. We want to develop a sustainable strategy that will change the trajectory of families for years to come. With MDC, we are surely on the right path.”

Next for  UWGG and MDC are opening two more FSCs by 2022,  completing plans for and launching the Integrated Services Delivery Network, and building financial support on top of the $3.9 million raised between March 2015 and May 2019 from 60 community leaders and 30 organizations.

Meanwhile, Cristina Plata continues taking classes three days a week and hopes to have her GED by the end of the year. She says she had never before taken a class or worked at a place with mostly English-speaking people, and the class is helping her acclimate and feel comfortable, and when she gets her GED she wants to go to the next level of training and work. She has referred others to the FSC, brought two friends so far, and knows there are many more people to reach.

So do the folks at United Way of Greater Greensboro. Along with MDC, they’re working on it.