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Community Partnership Builds Stable Lives

Place-based life coaches help families meet spectrum of needs

When families have immediate needs related to issues like food, unemployment, and substance abuse, United Way’s nationwide 2-1-1 call center provides 24-hour access to information and referrals. But, when families have multiple complex needs, wraparound services and continued support are required.

A local partnership combines the efficiency and reliability of the
2-1-1 service in identifying needs and community connections with the strengths of human-serving agencies in providing coaching services and support to high-needs families.

In 2008, Alliance for Children and Families member Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, Chattanooga, Tenn., and United Way of Greater Chattanooga (UWGC) began piloting the Building Stable Lives program. The effort to increase self-sufficiency has since expanded to three local neighborhoods.

In 2007, UWGC began by collecting information and data on where the highest volumes of calls were coming from in Chattanooga and realized an issue needed to be addressed.

Through several focus groups and interviews with local organizations that specialize in areas of self-sufficiency, UWGC asked, “what would it take for families and individuals to become stable?” The local United Way boiled it down to four life domains:

  • basic needs,
  • employment/education,
  • affordable housing, and
  • health/mental health/support services.

“United Way talked with Partnership and asked if they would be willing to partner with us and look at a different model of service delivery,” says Jamie Bergmann, vice president of community impact at UWGC. “We approached the organization because they have several holistic services they offer and because they had been a partner agency of UWGC for many years.”

Now, when residents in eligible Chattanooga neighborhoods—East Lake, East Chattanooga, and Alton Park—call the 2-1-1 Call Center, their calls are funneled to Partnerships’ life coaches. The life coaches then work with the families on the four previously identified areas for self-sufficiency and empower individuals to sustain self-sufficiency.

“The goal is to create the partnership, have other people participate in it, for the coaches not to be isolated, and to develop the trust of a neighborhood,” says Bergmann. “If you do not have collaboration, there is no way to address the growing needs in a community.”

Since its inception in 2008, the East Lake location has helped 334 individuals in 108 families become self-sufficient. The East Chattanooga site has served 159 individuals in 47 families since it opened in April 2011. The Alton Park location, which opened in June 2012, has served 72 individuals from 22 families.

“The information gathered through the call center has improved transportation efforts and helped to create summer activities for youth,” says Sandra Hollett, CEO of Partnership.

The life coaches work within and become familiar with their designated neighborhood, which aids them in identifying and coordinating resources. They operate from locations that included a double-wide trailer, a housing development about to close down, and an old Baptist church.

To increase collaboration and communication between organizations, Partnership and United Way rely on the ServicePoint Database, an information system used to track and keep up with where individuals have been served, their service history, and if their needs are being met. Trained professionals at United Way’s 2-1-1 Call Center make the initial assessment and put the information into the database, which is available to the life coaches so they have a basic assessment before they meet the individual or family.

“The advantage of this database is that it identifies resources available through nonprofits and also the resources of faith-based organizations and government agencies statewide, as well as documenting those receiving services,” says Eileen Rehberg, director of community impact at UWGC. “Therefore, the resources of the entire community are responsibly distributed, prohibiting duplication of services and conserving resources for those people truly in need.”

Collaboration for Communities

Through collaboration with United Way, Partnership is able to achieve meaningful impact and connect its services to more individuals.

“We learned we need key neighborhood-based relationships with trusted assets in the neighborhood—churches, schools, neighborhood leaders,” says Hollett.

As the lead agency in the program, Partnership was able to create a response for a program around empowerment in high-needs communities.

“Certainly, as the project has grown from one initial site to now three sites, the benefit is that we’ve learned a lot through the process and each time we expand to a new neighborhood we can hit the ground running,” says Hollett. “We were able to take previous experience and merge that with what the particular neighborhood wanted and created, for what I consider is an interesting, new, and creative project.”

Hollett adds that the program’s whole-person, whole-family approach has contributed to its success. When an individual from an eligible neighborhood contacts the call center and is referred to a life coach, their whole family is assessed.

“The holistic approach has definitely contributed to the success of the program. I also think the collaborative approach has been a real key success factor,” says Hollett. “Continued open communication, and even over communication is beneficial to the organizations, residents, and communities.”

The ServicePoint database is used between United Way and Partnership
to promote communication. It allows each organization to track a client’s
service history, so they don’t receive duplicate services.

With more than 20 different programs and services offered at Partnership, the organization is able to customize its approach to each neighborhood.

“One of our life coaches is bilingual, so she was placed in East Lake where there are a fair amount of Hispanic families. We bring together the resources of many other programs to help clients a wraparound fashion. It’s a real collaborative effort,” says Hollett.

Free community classes are held each month in each of the neighborhoods on training for a variety of life skills, such as financial literacy, career development, and parenting classes.

“The knowledge gained through working in these communities helps guide the classes we offer,” says Raquel Hidalgo, Building Stable Lives program director. “It helps us coordinate services with other agencies and nonprofits to maximize the impact we’re able to make in an individual’s life."

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