Pathways to Economic Opportunity: Dow Last Mile Fund for Manufacturing & Skilled Trades

As wealth and income inequality continue to climb in the United States, some employers are developing innovative models and catalytic partnerships designed to bring new skills, job access, and ultimately economic opportunity to financially vulnerable and historically marginalized individuals.

In a new interview series, Pathways to Economic Opportunity, NationSwell is taking a closer look at some of the solutions companies are pursuing in service of leveling the playing field and expanding their talent pipelines. In spotlighting some of these partnerships, this series hopes to uncover the “secret sauce” that makes these solutions successful for the benefit of other employers and their leaders.

For the first installment of the series, NationSwell spoke to Ruthe Farmer — founder & CEO of the Last Mile Education Fund — and Fabio Mendes, Global Citizenship Manager at Dow — about their talent pipeline partnership, the Dow Last Mile Fund for Manufacturing & Skilled Trades. 

Here’s what they had to say:

Bird’s Eye View:

The Last Mile Education Fund works to identify students in the “last mile” of their education journeys and provide them with no-strings-attached, grants to help them overcome any financial hurdles standing in the way of the finish line. Through its partnership with Dow, Last Mile recently expanded its scope to include grants of up to $5,000 for low-income students specifically nearing completion in manufacturing and skilled trades programs at institutions in Dow communities.

Fast Stats: 

  • Launched in 2023, the Dow Last Mile Fund for Manufacturing & Skilled Trades currently services talent populations in ten key markets: California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.
  • On average, the grants Last Mile awards are less than $4,200. Unlike traditional education grants, Last Mile’s investment model specifically incentivizes the use of the money in any area a student needs it, including groceries, gas, childcare, or anything else serving as a roadblock to completing their education.
  • Founded in 2019, Last Mile has awarded more than 5,132 grants to date. Grantees are 42% Black, 19% Hispanic or Latinx, 12% Asian, 16% White, and 1% Indigenous.
  • Last Mile awards three types of core grants, all of which manufacturing and skilled trades students are eligible for: rapid-response emergency financial assistance (mini-grants); bridge grants; and larger Last Mile grants.

1) NationSwell: What helps to differentiate Last Mile’s approach from some of the existing investment models designed to support educational attainment? 

Ruthe Farmer, Last Mile: 

I sometimes refer to our model as universal basic income for students. Scholarships are typically for tuition, housing, maybe some books, but there are other parts of life that require financial resources, too. I just approved a Dow grantee who has been on a long journey of trying to cross the finish line in her education, but the cost of living — medical bills, insurance, all the things that are not part of the scholarship landscape — had just become too much.

She also shared that she had an old laptop from 2017 that was barely functioning and needed a better device. Those are the kinds of gaps that Last Mile fills — the same gaps that are sometimes filled by a student’s parents. 

The other thing we do differently is that there are no deadlines; the application is rolling, and students can apply any day, all year. We’re not comparing the students against each other, we’re looking at them as individuals. 

We’re also very fast. If a student is facing a housing or a food crisis, they cannot wait months to hear back from a scholarship. Many scholarships can be really wonderful, but it takes months of process to get selected — they’re not designed to address immediate, pressing, basic human needs, which is what we’re doing. 

2) NationSwell: Adaptability, open communication — are there any other key lessons that you’d like to impart on other nonprofits or companies hoping to form a similar type of synergy? 

Ruthe Farmer, Last Mile: 

There’s been tremendous participation and engagement by the local Dow team members. We’re not physically on the ground in all of those communities, but they are, and they have relationships with, you know, the local colleges and institutions. They have relationships with the local chamber of commerce and the local media, and they also have relationships with the folks that are already in their apprentice pathways.

Fabio Mendes, Dow:

Like Ruthe said, we took an existing model that was initially for computer science graduates and we said, “Hey, maybe this could be a fit for skilled trade students, which are completely different.” 

When working with four-year graduates, Last Mile usually works with them on the last two years of their educational journey. So initially we were working with that same mindset for skilled trades, but along the way we realized those audiences had very different needs, so we switched to supporting students from the very beginning. That openness to adapting the program to a different set of needs in real-time — that has been one of the great successes of this partnership so far. 

3) NationSwell: What are some of the biggest roadblocks you’ve encountered?

Fabio Mendes, Dow:

I think one of the things we realized early on is that a lot of times the students don’t necessarily think this program is for real.

Ruthe Farmer, Last Mile: 

We’re so different from what students understand scholarships to be that they can sometimes be very skeptical. I remember one grantee told me that she had let that application sit on her desktop for three weeks because she was ashamed to ask for help, she didn’t think we would say yes. And then when she finally did, we were like, oh, absolutely, yes, here’s the money. Four months later, she’s graduated and she’s in a full-time job.

We don’t have any kind of GPA gatekeeping, your grades are not a factor in whether or not we say yes to you. The only thing we’re interested in is, are you enrolled and are you on track to get this program finished? 

We’ve had to re-train the educators, too, because they’ve been taught to only send their select best students for these opportunities. We want every student who is striving to have the resources they need to finish; we see value in every striving student. Getting over that hump has been a really big challenge. 

4) NationSwell: What have been some of your most significant learnings or unlocks in the course of doing this work?

Fabio Mendes, Dow:

I think one of our biggest learnings from Last Mile has been the perspective that a life-changing investment in a student doesn’t need to be gigantic — it can be a $200 grant that you promote to someone because they don’t have food for the day, and that alone could lead to them completing the course that they are on, completing the major that they’re in, and potentially securing a life-sustaining job in the future. 

Ruthe Farmer, Last Mile:

I would say the thesis that we’re trying to prove is that there is better ROI when we invest in what we call “striving students” versus the historically dominant model of rewarding outliers for prior success. If you only pick the students who have the best grades, the best GPA, have never missed a class, then you’re picking the ones who can afford that, and you’re not recognizing the immense value and problem-solving skills of a person who has struggled and persisted. 

I think a company that figures out how to bring that talent into their workforce is going to be building an incredibly strong, resilient workforce, which is what all innovation-based companies need.  

5) NationSwell: What are some of the ways this partnership is mutually beneficial — how do each of your organizations work together to advance a shared goal? 

Ruthe Farmer, Last Mile:

Our partnership with Dow is unique in that we’re specifically targeting students that physically go to school and live in Dow communities, where Dow is one of the biggest employers in the field in which they are studying. This is very specific: Dow is helping you graduate in a Dow community, hopefully into a Dow job. 

It’s not a direct ask for the students, but we do have that expectation that they become at least an available pipeline for the company. That’s one of the reasons we’re geographically focused with this funding. 

It’s a great example of the spirit of our work: It’s local investment to solve local workforce issues, and you’re really investing in your own local economy. It’s really kind of working hand-in-hand to solve this gap in tech and skills, but then simultaneously investing in communities. 

6) NationSwell: What’s one call to action that you’d like other leaders or organizations like yours to heed as they consider their own opportunities to improve educational attainment and economic mobility? 

Fabio Mendes, Dow:

I’d say to be more creative around some of these things. One of the crucial things Last Mile did was immediately ask how they could make the student support process more accessible. They could have just thought, let’s do a scholarship program for low-income students that have struggled throughout their journey. At Dow, we were creative in thinking that if this was designed for one specific audience, maybe we could apply the same mindset to a different audience. 

I also want to say you don’t have to start big, you can just start with a pilot. We started with a small fund in select communities with very different perspectives and contexts, and we said, let’s see if this works out, then we expanded it. 

Ruthe Farmer, Last Mile:

I think my call to action is simply for everyone to please take an abundance viewpoint as to who has the potential to be successful in your organization, and in the field broadly, whatever your field is.

The Opportunity Network’s AiLun Ku on the Importance of ‘Unstoppable Learning’

As President and CEO of The Opportunity Network, AiLun Ku has devoted her professional life to harnessing the inherent talent of every young person of color from historically underrepresented backgrounds, matching their talent with access to resources and helping them thrive in both college and career.
NationSwell spoke to Ku about the road she’s walked along her professional and personal journey, what she and The Opportunity Network have been able to accomplish, and what the future looks like for her and her organization.
This is what she had to say.
NationSwell: Thanks for taking the time, AiLun. When did you first know you wanted to devote your life to purpose-driven work?
The Opportunity Network’s AiLun Ku: We moved to the United States from Taiwan when I was 10, and we moved to a predominately white town in New Jersey. The culture shock was real. It was a hard transition for my family to leave our communities and our families back in Taiwan and to move to a town that seemed… really different. Yes, we had our aunt and uncle there, and my cousin. We didn’t really have a full community like what we had in Taiwan.
When we moved to the United States, we attended your typical small, suburban public school. They hadn’t had to welcome an immigrant family for probably decades before we arrived, and so the teachers weren’t prepared to support us to learn English or to just become a part of the learning community. The teachers would say things like, “Why are you talking to her? She doesn’t speak English.” One time I used the word “yeah” instead of “yes,” and the teacher reminded me, “That’s an American word.” It made me feel like, “Oh, that word is not for me,” essentially.
It was a hard thing to come from a public school in Taiwan where everybody pitched in as a community of learners, and to come into the American public education system being singled out as an outsider who was made to feel like, “You’re not worthy of the learning resources.”
That was a tough thing for us to reckon with. Then, we just persisted because that’s what you do. That’s what you do when you move to a different country. And having experienced both that overt and underlying racism growing up and as an immigrant, I quickly realized I didn’t want anybody else to have to feel that way again, and that I wanted to prevent others from feeling it.
NationSwell: Part of the work that you do is so that people who come from other countries, who speak English as their second language, it’s so that they can move towards sort of thriving from an earlier age, rather than persisting, I imagine.
Ku: Thriving should be the absolute norm of the education system; but it’s often an exception to the rule when somebody thrives in the American education system. Especially if you look at really segregated communities in urban areas, and if you look at historically under-resourced, underserved communities — that continues to be the case. I think it’s the fact that only few people thrive in the American education system from preschool, from early childhood, all the way through post-secondary, is all the evidence we need to see that the system is designed to leave many of us behind.
NationSwell: That’s a perfect segue into my next question, which is, what is the opportunity gap, and how is The Opportunity Network working to close it?
AiLun Ku:I define the opportunity gap as something that was systematically, historically produced in our social context. That means between systematic oppression, systematic racism that has created generations of resource hoarding and gatekeeping that prevents young people of color and first generation students to access the resources that match their ambitions and talents, to thrive. That is the opportunity gap. The opportunity gap exists both in resources as well as in relationships, and in social capital as well as financial capital. That’s what we’re working to address.
The Opportunity Network works to close it from a few different entry points. From a direct service entry point, which is meeting students’ immediate needs. How do we serve young people of color in high school all the way through college graduation, open up access that provides them with awareness of all the college and career opportunities that are available to them, and then secure those resources and support them on their self-directed journeys toward college and career success?
We also change the way people think about what opportunity and access look like from an institutional level as well as the systems level, which is why we also have a capacity building program. We work with other non-profit organizations and schools to reimagine what college and career look like when your young people are the center of decision-making. The Opportunity Network is doing that work across 18 cities in the United States. This year, we’re slated to serve 5,000 students. Those are the ways that we’re working to address the opportunity gap.
NationSwell: What’s a touchstone that shows you that you’re on the right track here, even if there’s still so much to be done?
Ku: One of the things I’m really proud of is building an asset oriented and asset-based space for all of our young people, all of our staff, all of our stakeholder groups. I think it is important that we continue to underscore that every person inherently has something to offer, and every community inherently has something to offer. It’s a belief and a core value that we continue to nourish within the organization and with our partners, and also in the broader social change conversation and narrative. We know that it matters because our students, our young people and our partners enter spaces knowing their value, and are unapologetic for activating their agency because they know that they have value in every space that they enter.
NationSwell: What is the Purpose Library? Why are you launching it?
Ku: I think “purpose” is an evolving thing. It almost feels like a privilege when you have time and resources and the access to live your purpose. That should be a right for every person on the face of this planet to live fully into your purpose, and to lean fully into your purpose. One of the things we believe really firmly at The Opportunity Network is the more you can hear about stories of purpose, the more you can self-reflect, and self-direct, and shape what that purpose means for you, and it doesn’t have to be a privilege.
The idea of purpose, it’s embedded in stories, it’s embedded in storytelling. I think the only way we learn about how people have arrived at their purpose is through storytelling, and so what a better way than to create an entire library of people telling the stories of their journeys from their roots to their purpose, so that young people, as they’re on the road to discovery, their own purpose, they can learn from everybody else’s experience and activate the power of storytelling, and be authors of their own futures.
The Purpose Library will live on OppNet’s brand new open-access platform, UninterruptED: Unstoppable Learning, which we launched in response to COVID-19. The platform will help first-generation college-bound students and young people of color from historically underserved communities to stay the course in their postsecondary and career goals.
About The Opportunity Network 
The Opportunity Network (OppNet) ignites the drive, curiosity, and agency of students from historically and systematically underrepresented communities to connect them to college access and success, internships, career opportunities, and personal and professional networks. We work with 950 students in our direct service OppNet Fellows program for six years—from the summer after 10th grade through to college graduation, and into careers—with remarkable results: 92% of OppNet Fellows graduate college in six years; 93% will be the first in their families to graduate from college; and 89% secure meaningful employment or graduate school admission within six months of college graduation. Additionally, OppNet drives national student impact through Career Fluency® Partnerships, our capacity-building program for schools and youth-serving organizations across the country looking to boost college and career readiness in their young people. To date, OppNet has worked with over 60 Partners to support thousands of young people in 20 cities across the country reimagine college and career success.

How You Learn Will Matter Much More in the Future Workplace

In today’s technological workplace, knowing how to learn is key to keeping pace with change. We’ve entered a new work culture, one where technology executes while humans learn and create new value. Being able to acquire new skills is becoming a skill in itself: In this new era, those who learn and adapt fastest will thrive.
We‘ve all heard that different people learn in different ways. But the idea that personal learning styles are crucial to successful education models has been debunked as little more than a myth. As it turns out, learning styles aren’t entirely innate, so it likely doesn’t matter whether you’re a visual learner or a kinetic learner, a “reflector” or a “theorist.” What matters more is your experience of learning — how you’ve learned how to learn — and the experience you bring to what you’re learning. 
While people might not strictly learn in their own unique style, they do tend to learn differently depending on their age. For example, several studies have compared the way that older and younger adults learn and found that there are important differences that can be leveraged by employers. 
A 2014 Brown University study scanned students’ brains as they learned. When humans acquire new information, our brain cell structures change in order to store it, a phenomenon known as “plasticity.” The researchers found that older and younger adults learned at the same rate, but they tended to store new information in different parts of their brains.
What does that mean in practice? One study compared traditional-age college students in their late teens and early 20s with adults returning to college in their 30s, 40s and 50s. It found that the older group tended to take more time to analyze and break down new information rather than simply memorize it. 
And yet another study found that older students were better at staying organized and felt less stressed by coursework than their traditional-age peers. “Students with more life-roles and responsibilities” — that is, older students — “may be more adept at the mechanics of time management such as making lists and scheduling activities in advance,” the researcher concluded.
There’s also evidence that as people age, understanding the process of learning becomes more important to them. Mid-career and older workers often want to understand why they’re learning a new skill — how it will contribute to their overall mission, how it fits in with what they already know and how they can deploy it creatively in the future. In contrast, younger learners are often ready to soak up knowledge as it’s presented to them and figure out how it fits into their work later.
This is important because all people are being called upon to keep learning new skills much later into adulthood than ever before. We’re in the midst of an unprecedented, rapid technology shift. Whereas previous generations could learn a trade and stay at it for a lifetime, today’s workers are asked to constantly assimilate new information, new skills and in some cases, entirely new jobs. 
As future-of-work strategist Heather McGowan, co-founder of Work to Learn, has said, “this shift [in technology] requires us to think differently about both work and learning. In the past, we learned once in order to work, but we must now work to continuously learn.” 

Then there’s the fact that older adults are staying on the job much longer. Summarizing a 2018 study, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that in 2000, about one in 10 Americans aged 65 to 74 worked. Today, roughly a quarter of that age group works, with that figure expected to grow to one in three in the next few years. 
Economic strain can play a role in that, as do longer lifespans. But many older employees also say they simply take satisfaction from having meaningful work. As they reach the mid- to late-career stage, people start to take inventory of their work as it pertains to both purpose and self-expression. Some find a greater connection to their passions, whereas others wish to recast their career in greater alignment with their values.
The result is a much more multigenerational workforce, according to the AARP. It isn’t unusual for a 22-year-old and a 65-year-old to be learning the same new tech skill at the same time from the same supervisor. Or perhaps one employee is teaching the other — and either could be the instructor. That makes it important to understand your own learning style as well as that of others, so you can better communicate no matter if you’re the teacher or the student. 
Here’s an example: Imagine that your manager is showing you and a colleague a new process for publishing documents online. Are you most likely to: A) Memorize the sequence of clicks and keystrokes; or B) Figure out what each click in the sequence is doing?
If you answered “A,” you learn in a way typical of people in their 20s. It might seem easier to simply memorize or write down the sequence of commands without worrying about why it is the way it is. It might seem frustrating when your fellow employee insists on understanding the inner workings of every process. But bear with them, because it will help the lesson stick in the long run — and you might learn something in the process that you can apply in your work.
If you answered “B,” you learn in a way more typical of people over 30. You don’t just want to go through the steps, as you won’t remember them unless you know the logic behind each one. You should realize that your coworker might not need the full explanation of what they’re doing — they might just need a quick rundown of how to work the system. That doesn’t mean they’re not absorbing what’s being said, but they might need to come to you if they run into trouble since you might have a deeper understanding of the process.
When you understand how you approach new information and new skills, it will be easier to adjust your style to help others. As AARP’s Debra Whitman has noted, “In today’s era of rapid change… a single dose of education is not enough. Explicit knowledge is easily accessible from our devices and ripe for automation. Workers maintain their value by continuing to learn and adapt.”
As multigenerational workplaces embrace how different people learn at different stages of life, it will become easier to unify all employees across cultural and technological divides. In this way companies will be better able to optimize the different skills and experiences their age-diverse employees bring to the table. AARP believes that learning is a social act that is much more fun and meaningful when it happens in collaboration with others.

This article was produced in partnership with AARP. You can learn more here about how AARP is shaping the Future of Work.

Paint and a Paintbrush Are Rebuilding Community for Austin’s Homeless

Homelessness is on the rise in Austin, Texas. In 2018, more than 7,000 people experienced homeless in Austin, according to the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO). On any given day there are over 2,000 individuals living in shelters or unsheltered — a number that’s risen nearly 5% between 2018 and 2019. 
But building a community can play an important role in supporting individuals experiencing homelessness. Since 1990, Art from the Streets has been doing exactly that. 
The organization helps the housing insecure find a greater sense of stability through art. Three times a week, individuals gather at a local Austin church where they can paint for free during an open studio session. There, artists have a refuge from life on the streets while also building a greater sense of community.
“We create a place of safety for people who are on the street to be able to come inside to just be, and be supported to create,” co-founder Heloise Gold told NationSwell. “I don’t refer to this as ‘art therapy’ per se, but it is very therapeutic.”
Art from the Streets also helps its artists get paid for their work. For the past 27 years, it’s hosted an end-of-year show and sale where artists are able to sell their original pieces for 95% of the profits. In more recent years, Art from the Streets has opened an online store to sell reprints and merchandise. Artists earn 60% of the proceeds from reprints, while the remaining 40% goes to support the organization.
Though the sale of artwork is important, Gold maintains that it’s the sense of community instilled that drives Art from the Streets’ mission.
“The heart of the program and what I was wanting in the beginning, that essence is still apart of this program,” said Gold. “We really want people to be apart of the community and to be influenced by each other.”
More: This Website Empowers People in Need to Make Art — and Sell It for Thousands of Dollars

Children in Arkansas Are Getting a Storybook Moment Because of This Program for Incarcerated Parents

On bookshelves across the country, there are stories about mice and cookies, princesses with long hair and a very hungry caterpillar. 
But in Arkansas, thousands of children won’t curl up with a parent in bed and listen to a bedtime story. Instead, they’ll listen to a recording of a family member reading them a story. That’s because 16% of children in Arkansas currently or previously have had a parent or guardian incarcerated —  the highest percentage in the nation. 
“Families serve a shared sentence with their incarcerated loved ones, so we’re trying to ease, if not break, that cycle,” Denise Chai, the director of outreach for The Storybook Project of Arkansas, told NationSwell.
The Storybook Project of Arkansas saw a place to bridge the gap in both literacy and family connection for children with incarcerated family members. Four times a year, the nonprofit brings books, tape recorders and volunteers into five of Arkansas’ correctional facilities. 
There, individuals can record a message and read a book for their family members. Grandmothers will read stories to their grandchildren, fathers will read to their daughters and uncles have the chance to read to their nephews.
“It’s a little piece of the parent at home with them,” Chai said. 
In 2019, The Storybook Project of Arkansas reached 1,793 children. The children ranged from infants to high schoolers, and the readers have included aunts, grandmothers and older siblings. 
Keeping a connection with incarcerated family members can be a challenge. Prisons aren’t designed for children, and it can cost families time and money to visit facilities. Meanwhile, video conferences and phone calls can quickly become a financial burden on families. 
But with Storybook, the parents can partake in their children’s’ lives. 
“For the person who’s reading to their children, it’s an opportunity to parent their kids, to play a role in their children’s lives, to be present when they’re not really present,” Chai said. “As they are reading a book to their children, it’s an opportunity to be a good role model.”
Additionally, that continued connection can be one of the keys to success after prison. Studies show that when released individuals have family support, social integration is easier and they’re more likely to find a job and financial stability. A study published in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography found that incarcerated individuals who remained in contact with their family throughout were less likely to reconvict. 

storybook, audio, recording, Incarcerated
Incarcerated parents are able to read their kids a bedtime story with this program.

Jan Schmittou is one volunteer behind the audio recorder. Schmittou, who has served as a volunteer for over a year, has watched fathers moved to tears and listened to mothers read their favorite fairytales to their children.
Schmittou’s first visit was to the Wrightsville Unit. Schmittou went through the metal detectors, heavy doors and walked through the cement facility. 
“Once you get past all of that, the reality is the people there aren’t too much different from you or I,” she told NationSwell. 
The nonprofit was launched 21 years ago by founder Pat Oplinger and a few volunteers. It worked with incarcerated individuals in two correctional facilities until 2019, when it expanded to three more. 
Chai said that expansion is part of an effort to deepen the work they’re doing. Beyond working in more facilities, the nonprofit has started motivating individuals to “do a little more emotional homework” by sharing more impactful lessons and words of encouragement with their children, Chai said. Most recently, they incorporated a bookmark program where family members can create a bookmark to send to their children. 
“We’re a really simple program but we’re always trying to do just a little bit more with what we do and have a little bit more impact,” she said. 
The Storybook Project of Arkansas isn’t the only organization to adopt this idea. Groups, like the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas and The Seattle Public Library’s Read to Me Program, have similar goals of keeping families connected. 
“It’s such a reassuring and loving message about how much they’re cared for and missed even though the person is physically absent from their lives,” Chai said. 
More: For Prisoners, Reading Is so Much More Than a Pastime — It’s a Way to Change Their Lives 

These Mobile Showers for the Homeless Offer Much More Than Hot Water

In Jersey City, New Jersey, weekday mornings are bustling at the Journal Square station. People rush in and out of trains and across platforms; most are coming from or going to New  York City, commuting to work or dropping children off at daycare.
But a few people near the Journal Square station won’t be stepping onto a train. Instead, they’re stepping into a mobile shower. They’ll be met with soap, warm water and clean towels.
This month, the City of Jersey City launched a pilot program offering free access to showers, bathrooms and a new set of clothes to anyone in need. Many of the people visiting these showers are experiencing homelessness; after their shower, they have the opportunity to talk to coordinators on site who can refer them to additional resources.  
A hot shower creates a launching point to connect people with what they need, whether it’s mental health support, checking in with a case manager or receiving SNAP or Medicaid benefits. 
Mayor Steven Fulop said that the program goes beyond cleanliness. The goal is to build trust. 
“We started to think about how to use the resources — simple things like a shower — as a conduit to building a bond and trust and a larger conversation to steer people towards better services,” Fulop told NationSwell. 
The pilot program was created after a series of meetings between citizens and the mayor’s Quality of Life Task Force, a group of leaders from across city departments involved with issues pertaining to the public. One common concern from Journal Square business owners and residents was sanitation in and around the station. 
“This isn’t a police issue, this isn’t a prosecution issue … this is really a health and human services issue,” Stacey Flanagan, the director for Health and Human Services of Jersey City told NationSwell. 
For a solution, the city turned to a similar one implemented after Hurricane Sandy. To help with recovery from the superstorm’s impact, Jersey City used grant funds to purchase a mobile shower unit. For years, the showers sat unused. Today, the unit has a new purpose. It serves about five people every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. 
Jersey City isn’t the first place to implement mobile showers. In Oregon’s Washington County, Community Connection, a coalition of nonprofits, finished building a mobile shower unit earlier this month. The City of San Antonio, California, is currently in discussions to purchase a $58,000 mobile shower.
Since 2014, the nonprofit Lava Mae has been driving throughout San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland serving hundreds of people every week. In California, where there are thousands of individuals facing homelessness and few public showers, the ability to get clean is a challenge. 
“Here we are in this first-world country, in a super affluent city, and still, we have people who don’t have access to water and sanitation,” the founder, Doneice Sandoval, told NationSwell
Flanagan noted that “we’re not promising a shower’s going to change your whole life,” but that being clean can create a sense of dignity. It can give people the courage to interact with business owners, apply for jobs and move through the world without fear of judgment. One man left saying he “felt like a million bucks,” she said.
Currently, the project is projected to run throughout the rest of the year. Afterward, the city will assess the best location and times to offer showers. 
Jersey City is part of Hudson County, where homelessness has been on a steady rise over the last three years. A 2019 study conducted by the nonprofit Monarch Housing Associates found a 3% increase — approximately 30 individuals — in the number of people experiencing homelessness from January 2018 to January 2019.
Jobs and affordable housing were among the top causes of homelessness, which gives insight into areas of improvement for Hudson County. 
“There are organizations doing great work around homelessness, but there are some things that fall through the cracks,” said Flanagan.
Jersey City also has plans to open a shelter next year that would provide rooms for 150 individuals, with space for 14 people living with HIV/AIDS and six permanent homes. 
“I think the system has failed these people in many different ways,” Fulop said. “So doing a simple gesture that most people take for granted on a daily basis, can really go a long way.”
More: Showers and Toilet on Wheels Give Homeless a Clean Slate 

One Woman’s $5 Vegan Meals Are Served in an Unexpected Place: The Bodega

Picture your local convenience store. It might be the 7-Eleven around the block or that one bodega with the best drip coffee. The image that comes to mind is likely filled with shimmery, plastic-wrapped candy bars, brightly colored lotto tickets and, well, unhealthy food. 
While bodegas and corner stores often aren’t known for healthy snack options, they are known to foster community. Bodegas, most commonly found in New York City, have a deep history. Puerto Rican and Dominican business owners coined the term in the 1960s, and over the decades they’ve become places to share stories, celebrate cultural identities and strengthen neighborhood ties. 
Since they’ve become centerpieces in their communities, bodegas often become a point of outreach and information sharing for nonprofits and other organizations. For bodegas located in low-income neighborhoods, where knowledge about nutrition is lacking and healthy food is expensive and often inaccessible, messages around healthy eating become even more important.t  
That’s why LaRayia Gaston decided to fuse the low costs of bodegas with the health of Whole Foods. She launched LaRayia’s Bodega, a healthy take on the traditional convenience store.  
Step inside and you won’t find Twix Bars or cans of Pringles, but crystals and candles in the entryway and a counter teeming with healthy granola bars, jars of organic pasta sauce and natural juice boxes. 
And while most of the products have “all-natural” or “organic” written before its name, every item in the Westlake, California, store costs $5 or less. 
“The price point is the activism, the price point is the focus,” Gaston, the bodega’s founder, told The New York Times
Beyond packaged food, the convenience store, which opened in August, also has a café offering homemade meals. Everything, from the salad to soups, is vegan. It’s all priced under $5, with options ranging from Caribbean-style potato coconut soup to jackfruit tacos.
“This is about giving people a chance to have fresh foods,” Gaston said. “There are people who want salads that don’t have the means. I have war vets that are 60 years old that are like, ‘Give me arugula today, baby.’”
The store is part of Love Without Reason, a nonprofit started by Gaston about four years ago. Outside of the bodega, the nonprofit also provides vegan meals to people experiencing homelessness on Skid Row, a 50-block area with over 4,750 homeless individuals. Gaston and volunteers gather food from grocery stores and restaurants that would have otherwise been thrown away and turn it into meals. The nonprofit delivers about 10,000 meals each month to people in need.  
Similar to the meal program, the bodega receives misshapen fruit for free and many of its packaged snacks are donated, offsetting some of the café’s costs.
Eventually, the bodega aims to also support veterans, at-risk youth and people experiencing homelessness with jobs and job training.
“We want to address everything — food injustice, food waste, homelessness, giving people a second chance. I wanted to kill multiple birds with one stone,” Gaston told L.A. Times
Besides the goal of offering affordable, healthy meals, Gaston aims to make the bodega a space to celebrate neighbors and strengthen community. Whether it’s a weekend birthday party or an open mic night, Gaston wants to foster relationships inside the little store. 
That’s why she settled on the term bodega. In Los Angeles, the term “bodega” isn’t often used — “tienditas” is much more common — but Gaston grew up in New York and was raised by Puerto Rican Caribbean parents. Calling her store a bodega is a way of reflecting her roots. 
“A bodega is personal,” Gaston told L.A. Taco. “It’s knowing people on your block.” 
More: Kids Are Learning to Read in a Place You’d Never Expect: The Laundromat

This Group’s Approach to Ending the Jail-Homelessness Cycle May Actually Make a Big Difference.

On any given night, approximately 40% of San Francisco’s jail population identifies as homeless. Many of these vulnerable individuals will face jail time again after their release. A fraction will cycle in and out of the criminal justice system anywhere, between eight and 23 times in a single year. 
“Arrest is not an inevitable result of homelessness,” said Jake Segal, vice president of advisory services at Social Finance, a nonprofit that mobilizes capital across the public and private sectors to improve social outcomes. “But stable housing with appropriate support can provide a strong buffer against future jail stays.”
If people have access to assistance immediately after their release — if they’re connected to housing support services and a case manager, for example — they’re less likely to end up incarcerated for another offense. Knowing that, last year Social Finance partnered with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and Tipping Point Community, a local philanthropic funder, to pilot a program that refers inmates to housing and other social services upon their release.
“Social Finance got its start working in criminal justice. Increasingly, much of our work focuses on homelessness, and this project is a natural intersection of the two,” Segal said of the San Francisco Jail Discharge Planning Project. 
Much research was needed before the program could launch and for the Sheriff’s Department, time was of the essence.  “We were building the airplane as we were flying it,” said Ali Riker, director of programs for the Sheriff’s Department. “We wanted to get [the program] up and running because there was such an overwhelming need, but the biggest question we had was, ‘Discharge to what?’ It’s fine to tell people, ‘This is where the shelters are,’ but we really needed more resources to offer, particularly for those familiar faces coming in and out of our jail cells.”

To help them assess and learn from other jail-discharge programs across the country, Social Finance turned to GLG. The world’s largest knowledge marketplace, GLG connects professionals from across sectors with more than 700,000 subject-matter experts — a vast network of expertise representing nearly every industry, market, and issue area. By enlisting GLG’s help, Social Finance was able to quickly and accurately examine trends and best practices among discharge and reentry programs. 
“We wanted to find programs that focused on comprehensive, community-based collaborations with the intention of driving impact on recidivism and housing,” Segal said. 
GLG tapped into its extensive database to identify the right experts, including former prison officials, community leaders and policy experts, and arranged phone calls with each within 48 hours.
Because of GLG, “we were able to get a more comprehensive understanding of the key factors we needed [to focus on] for the program,” said Segal. 
For example, it can be surprisingly difficult to identify the most frequently arrested inmates within the jail system and effectively intervene. Their jail stays may be short — the result of minor violations — and they may be released in the dark of night. With the guidance and advice of GLG’s experts, the Sheriff’s Department and Social Finance set up a database to better locate those who need help and ensure they’re matched with high-quality housing and support services the moment they leave jail. 
Segal and his team learned other best practices too, such as the importance of collaboration between jail staff and community partners; robust screening and assessment criteria of a client’s needs; and giving case managers a key role.
“Successful reentry starts with risk assessment while the client is still in custody,” said Segal, adding that caseworkers are really the “glue” of the project. “They can make sure vulnerable people get to where they need to go.”
One year after its launch, the San Francisco Jail Discharge Planning Project has helped some 200 people transition more smoothly from jail. If GLG hadn’t played a part, “we wouldn’t have had the same knowledge about what makes a great program,” Segal said. 
Citing their positive experience, Segal and his team at Social Finance have already decided to draw on GLG’s experts for help with future projects. “It’s become an incredibly important part of our research,” he said.
This article was paid for and produced in partnership with GLG. GLG Social Impact delivers the power of GLG’s platform to the social sector.

These Shelters Are Accepting Unexpected Family Members — the Four-Legged Ones — and It’s Saving Lives

*Last name has been removed to protect privacy
Elizabeth* feels the scar every time she eats. A gash on her lip that took four stitches to repair is a reminder of the many years she endured domestic abuse at the hands of her partner. 
For five years, the list of physical scars grew: five concussions, six staples in her head, numerous bite marks and bruises.  
Although the physical wounds have mostly healed, she’s just beginning to recover from the mental, emotional and financial abuse she also endured. “It’s a slow process getting back to myself,” she told NationSwell. 
But through all of this, she’s had a constant companion who has played a key part in the recovery process so far. 
His name is Bebe, and he’s a tuxedo cat.
Elizabeth adopted Bebe from the ASPCA as an apology present the first time her abuser attacked her. She went into the animal shelter with plans to get a kitten. “Something tiny,” she said. But when she stepped into the cat-filled room, one cat immediately gravitated towards her, rubbing against Elizabeth’s black-heeled boots. They quickly fell in love.

cat, domestic violence, survivor, shelter, pet
Elizabeth’s tuxedo cat named Bebe.

Four months ago, Elizabeth’s abuser kicked her out of her home. She decided she wasn’t going back. She took her 2-year-old daughter and the $40 in her pocket and left permanently. At a friend’s apartment, she connected with a domestic violence shelter. Quickly, Elizabeth realized she was leaving behind an important part of her family. 
She remembers a wave of worries racing through her thoughts. Will her abuser remember to feed him? Will he hurt Bebe? How can I trust this man with my cat?
After getting connected with the Urban Resource Institute (URI), the largest provider of domestic shelter in New York City, Elizabeth learned that she could bring her cat with her to the shelter.
Within three hours, Bebe and Elizabeth were reunited. 
“Once I had Bebe, I knew I was home and I was safe,” she said.
Elizabeth is thankful that she was connected to one of the few domestic violence shelters that welcome pets. In another circumstance, she would have had to bring Bebe to an animal shelter or leave Bebe with her abuser. 
And if she chose the latter, Bebe, too, was likely to suffer from abuse. Multiple studies and surveys show a link between domestic abuse and pet abuse. Women in domestic shelters were 11 times more likely to report that their partner had hurt or killed pets compared to a control group of women. 
But even more alarming is the fact that women are refusing to seek shelter for fear of abandoning their pets. Surveys show that up to 40% of women report being unable to escape out of fear of what will happen to their pets.
“[Survivors] had risk factors, obstacles preventing them from seeking shelter,” said Nathaniel Fields, the CEO and president of URI. “Part of our work here today is to help understand those obstacles and not judge those obstacles.”
URI believes that by housing pets, it’s one less obstacle for seeking help.
But URI is an outlier when it comes to pets. According to Sheltering Families and Animals Together, there are about 150 shelters that allow pets — an average of three per state.
URI has been providing shelter for pets and families since 2013, and last fall, it opened up the nation’s first shelter built with animals in mind called PALS. Of the nonprofit’s 12 shelters in New York, seven can accommodate pets — everything from dogs to bearded dragons have found a home under its roofs. 
Danielle Emery, the director of the PALS program, said she’s seen growing recognition of the importance animals play in domestic violence situations. More shelters are accommodating pets, and more survivors are learning about the options they have when leaving an abuser. Part of her work includes advocating for domestic hotlines to ask questions about pets during the intake process that way women and men know from the start that their pet has options, too.
URI leaders are working with other shelters to adopt similar pet-friendly accommodations and extend the PALS program nationally, said Fields. 
But Emery notes that it not as simple as a rule change. 
At URI shelters, survivors are connected to veterinarian support, animal behavior specialists and groomers. Carpet is removed, furniture is bought with dogs and cats in mind, and things like play space have to be reimagined in a shelter situation.
For example, at PALS shelter, an indoor pet park was built. Animals have a place to play while survivors can stay safe.
Urban Resource Institute has retrofitted six of its 12 shelters to accommodate pets.

 Leaders also see animal abuse as a point of intervention. Summer Dolder, the senior manager at New York City’s Animal Care Centers, oversees the surrender prevention program. People bring their pets to her and her team when it’s the last resort. 
“Oftentimes people think that animals coming into the shelter are unwanted, and that’s really not true,” she said. “It’s just people facing acute issues in their life.”
And one of the many issues Dolder sees is people are experiencing a form of domestic violence. 
While Dolder and her team work with the person to plan the best course of action for his or her pet, whether that’s an animal shelter, temporary foster or something else, they’re also there for the human. Dolder, who has worked at the shelter for six years, has seen her work as a point of intervention for humans. 
Recently, Dolder had a woman come in with her deceased cat looking for after-life services. Through intake interviews, Dolder’s team quickly learned that the cat had died because of the woman’s partner. They helped the woman with her cat, helped file a police report and get the woman connected to other resources. 
“It’s turned into as much of a prevention program for the animals as it is for the humans,” she said.
Dolder makes sure the help doesn’t stop there. The shelter helps to supply places like URI with the resources they need. Litter, pet food, crates, toys, leashes. 
And even cat scratchers.
“He’s been scratching up the whole apartment,” Elizabeth laughed. Dolder’s team will send over a scratcher for Bebe this week. It’s moments like this that remind Elizabeth that she’s no longer alone. 
“There are days that I don’t even know what to do with myself because I have never felt this free.”
More: How Do You Stop Abusive Relationships? Teach Teens How to Be Respectful Partners

If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic violence you can call the 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

This Nonprofit Helping College Students Knows What It Takes to Succeed: Information Capital Plus a Network of Mentors

If you were trying to get your first nonprofit off the ground, you’d probably have a lot of questions — but not necessarily the money or the expertise to answer them. So what would you do? In the case of Aimée Eubanks Davis, CEO and founder of Braven, a nonprofit that helps promising, underrepresented college students land strong jobs after graduation, you turn to GLG.
As the world’s largest knowledge marketplace, GLG gives professionals the opportunity to connect with more than 700,000 experts — a worldwide network of leaders who represent nearly every industry. For Davis, a current GLG Social Impact Fellow, that means two years of free access to GLG’s vast resources — an unparalleled opportunity to help her grow Braven by soliciting advice on the strategic and operational challenges faced by young organizations. 
Before launching Braven in 2013, Davis taught sixth grade in New Orleans with Teach For America. However, it was only when she moved into senior leadership roles for the organization that she fully realized the education-to-employment gap: specifically, that a college degree doesn’t guarantee a career. Only about a quarter of first-generation college students, students from low-income backgrounds and students of color go on to graduate school or secure a quality first job. Through Braven, Davis vowed to change that.
Braven partners with large public universities to build career education into their curriculum and give underrepresented students the skills and networks needed to succeed in the workplace. Braven also fosters a sense of community among the students they serve, along with a healthy dose of self-confidence — the soft skills, Davis realized, their affluent peers had already developed.
“They were underselling their greatness,” Davis said. “If no one tells you how to write a resume or what a cover letter looks like, you’re shooting in the dark.”

In 2014, Braven launched its first program at San José State University in California with just 14 students. In the five years since, the nonprofit has grown exponentially. Today, they’ve reached over 1,800 students at additional partner schools: Rutgers University–Newark in New Jersey and National Louis University in Chicago. 
College students enroll in an accredited course that allows them to explore their individual strengths and the career paths that might prove a good fit. They practice writing resumes, drafting cover letters, building portfolios and participating in mock job interviews. By the end of the semester, they’ll have a team of mentors whom they can turn to for help. 
It’s a support system not unlike GLG’s, Davis said. Working with the organization’s network of experts was like “hitting the jackpot on advice,” she added.
When Braven’s chief of staff asked GLG for feedback on the nonprofit’s organizational design and operating model, the response was robust — so much so that Davis said that “the input from those calls is helping to guide a two-day retreat this fall.”
Braven’s product and tech teams tapped GLG experts for their insights on building an innovation team: How should they staff it? How do they budget for innovation? Braven executives were also curious about how leaders at other companies approached staffing as their companies grew in size and scope.   
“We ended up using GLG’s input to decide on our staffing structure, the roles we would hire for and their responsibilities, and how we would distinguish core product work from innovation work,” Davis said.
Braven also relied on GLG’s expertise in shaping a new product designed for the nonprofit’s employer-partners, which include corporate heavyweights like LinkedIn, Salesforce and Charles Schwab. 
“We were able to get great insights that helped us design a pilot product suited for their rising talent,” Davis said.
Davis praised both the volume and quality of the advice and feedback Braven received through her fellowship with GLG. 
“Some of the questions we had — what it would take to get all these opinions would have been impossible [without the fellowship],” said Davis. “GLG set us up for success.”
And that’s not unlike what she and her team at Braven do for their own Fellows.
This article was paid for and produced in partnership with GLG. GLG Social Impact delivers the power of GLG’s platform to the social sector.