The Arlington Community Foundation’s Nonprofit Center has worked for two years with Arlington’s safety net nonprofits–those serving the tens of thousands of Arlington residents who are living on the edge economically –to strengthen their effectiveness in collaborating to address pressing community needs. After producing a safety-net report on the nonprofits’ social return on investment and facilitating community dialogue on emerging needs, the Center partnered with the Arlington County Department of Human Services (DHS) to lead a network of senior managers of Arlington nonprofits and DHS programs in a multi-year Bridges Out of Poverty initiative. The model uses research and economic class perspective to understand the dynamics that cause and maintain poverty from the individual to the systemic level.
We have engaged a Bridges Out of Poverty consultant for a series of training and work sessions, and are now a member of a learning community of other Bridges cities. One hundred senior managers from Arlington nonprofits and key DHS service areas are participating. Each participating organization is examining its own “client life cycle”, which in turn provides a springboard for looking at systems level streamlining and enhancements for better client outcomes. We are working collaboratively to build the range of resources and social capital that people need to move out of poverty. This is accomplished through convening all participating organizations quarterly to share expertise, challenges and successes. The Urban Institute is providing technical guidance to support our process.
Bridges Out of Poverty allows individual nonprofits and County programs to help their clients escape the tyranny of the moment that living in poverty entails and begin to build their own future story. At the same time, it gives us an opportunity to facilitate collaboration across the nonprofit sector and County agencies for collective impact at the community level. Working together, we might eventually create Arlington’s own social health index on quality of life measures that we prioritize, such as affordable housing, employment, affordable childcare, and access to health and mental health. Other indices might relate to obesity, food insecurity, transportation and substance use.
With 50 community organizations participating; and more being included continuously, we are united by a common client-focused goal that guides our work:
Organizations serving Arlington residents will improve their effectiveness by consciously incorporating the concrete experiences of those living in poverty. We will work collaboratively to co-create resources with them to move toward greater economic mobility, as defined by each individual’s goals.