From left, MAP for Nonprofits staff, Renae Oswald-Anderson, consultant; Joan Schlecht, director, Eastside Family Center; Mari Bongiovanni, executive director, East Side Neighborhood Development Company; and Armando Camacho, president, Neighborhood House. (AAP staff photo by Tom LaVenture)
By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (January 26 2011) – In an effort to continue providing direct assistance to families at-risk on the east side, the Eastside Family Center will continue its work as part of the Neighborhood House.
Joan Schlecht, director, EFC, said they are in the schools, where they use a holistic approach to address family stability issues that help eliminate barriers to academic achievement.
While the schools need to focus on education, she said EFC is the “one-stop” center for families to tell their story and then advocate for them in the community to county caseworkers and nonprofits with various programs.
“Along the way the staff may discover other needs,” said Schlecht.
Those needs may be food or adequate clothing for youth, a housing crisis or other issues that disrupt learning and require assistance or intervention. Some families need one-time assistance while others may be referred to crisis intervention and management workers and build a long-term relationship.
She said schools don’t have these resources and that it’s the external support of organizations that work with high poverty schools and with a history of low achievement that helps families break the cycle of poverty and not fall through the cracks.
The East Side Family Center program has operated as part of the East Side Neighborhood Development Company since 2003. Board members stated that the program has quadrupled in size and had outgrown ESNDC’s infrastructure capacity and was taking resources away from its other programs in housing.
“The board made a tough decision and it decided to focus on community engagement, housing development and economic development for ESFC and find a home for the family center that could keep it or strengthen it in the community,” said Mari Bongiovanni, executive director, ESNDC.
Housed in four schools, the Family Center works to support family stability with assistance in basic needs such as food, clothing, medical insurance, mental health services. It also helps with homelessness and housing, emergency rent, utility payments, violence prevention and life skills.
The ESNDC decided the organization would refocus its core work on its core mission of housing, commercial development and community engagement on the east side. Rather than discontinue a needed program, the ESFC began searching for a new partner.
MAP for Nonprofits, a management and board recruitment service to nonprofit organizations, stepped in last June to “match” ESFC with about eight organizations that could help continue its mission and after a six month process decided on Neighborhood House.
The work began last October and the merger became effective January 1, 2011. All the Family Centers are coming over in total to Neighborhood House, a stipulation that core services are continued in partnership with Saint Paul schools. The agreement also ensures that its community advisory committee continues, along with their classes and events.
“Of course we know things are going to change when you join a new organization, its inevitable,” said Mari Bongiovanni, executive director for MAP, said ESFC. “But the core work and delivery in a multicultural and inclusive way had stayed put.”
Armando Camacho, president, Neighborhood House, said it is important for families to let people know that things haven’t changed with regard to the ESFC services, but at the same he said its also important to that Neighborhood House now has a presence on the east side.
“I feel that we have a moral obligation to help other organizations that are in the social services field in the city of Saint Paul and the east metro,” he added. “We have a 113 year history of working with immigrants and refugees and low income individuals in a culturally appropriate way.”
Camacho is a former elementary school principal, and said adopting a school-based program is consistent with a mission of family stability and community connections that help individuals and families to thrive – and in collaboration and not in competition with other east side organizations.
Once the 2011 budget was approved, Camacho said the staff are terminated from ESND and are then brought to Neighborhood House through a hiring process.
“We are bringing the Family Center over intact,” said Camacho. “We will be able to keep all staff members on board.”
Neighborhood House has experience in this area. Seven years ago they took over the West Side Community Center and the Mac-Groveland Family Centers. The West Side Center “fizzled out,” but he said the Mac-Groveland still operates at Sibley Plaza.
The decision to take in ESFC was not about the Neighborhood House becoming bigger, but was a question of strategic necessity, of adapting to the changing demographics and needs of people and enhancing its mission of strengthening the community.
Renae Oswald-Anderson of MAP for Nonprofits, said the match is also about identifying mission alignment criteria and that in this case it was about finding an organization with high-level accounting skills to handle complex government contracts. The other criteria was that it that it have experience running programming for families and children.
“This $1 million program and its 11 staff members will move to a new home that’s large enough to sustain and grow the program over time,” said Oswald-Anderson. “We needed a nonprofit organization whose mission was aligned with the Family Center’s and whose capacity was significant enough to provide for the Family Center Program’s accounting needs and its fundraising and development needs.
“Neighborhood House, a $5.3 million organization, meets those criteria and more,” she added.
Neighborhood House is located at 179 Robie Street East, St. Paul, MN 55107-2360. Call 651-789-2500 or visit www.neighb.org. East Side Family Center is located at 925 Payne Avenue, Suite 201, St. Paul, MN 55130. Call 651-771-1152 or visit www.esndc.org.