The city’s tourism website offers the following description of its Latino hub:
Culture thrives in the community and invites you to explore the treasures that wait around every corner. Here bold murals have blossomed in the most unexpected places. The artful vibe continues within storefront galleries. Thanks to diversity, you’ll find offbeat vintage shops, independent coffeehouses and quaint cafes alongside bodegas, panaderias and restaurants serving authentic Mexican cuisine.
While this aptly defines San Francisco’s Mission District, it is actually describing a community 2,100 miles away: the Pilsen neighborhood on the Lower West Side of Chicago.
That’s why it made sense for Pedro Diaz and Madeline Cruz (photo, fourth and third from left) of The Resurrection Project (TRP) – a major player in building community assets for low-income Latinos in Pilsen for a quarter century – to fly in from Chicago to share ideas over two days with the MEDA asset-building team. The goal: best practices. It’s called benchmarking.
How this happened
Last year, MEDA’s Juan Diego Castro (photo, second right) met TRP’s Diaz in San Antonio. Turns out both had been chosen as 2015 National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB) Colegio Community Economic Development fellows, whereby the next generation of Latino leaders is trained.
In early May, MEDA Director of Asset Building Programs Lucy Arellano (photo, center) attended a National Council of La Raza (NCLR) conference in Las Vegas. NCLR staff thought MEDA and TRP should meet, as the organizations’ missions aligned, so a dinner was organized … and an important connection was made.
Then in late May, Arellano was invited to teach two trainings at a NALCAB conference in Dallas, one on culturally specific financial coaching and another on service integration. TRP’s Cruz was in attendance and then wanted to visit MEDA to learn more.
The catalyst for sharing the model and exchanging best practices is MEDA’s $600K grant from JPMorgan Chase & Co. MEDA is collaborating with NALCAB on this project, which identified member organizations Community Resource and Housing Development Corporation (CRHDC) in Denver, Colo. and Ventures in Seattle, Wash. as the initial organizations at which to share the model. Arellano has been doing so over the course of this year.
What was learned during TRP’s visit to MEDA
TRP and MEDA have much in common, with financial coaching a major part of each community-based organization. While MEDA calls its program Financial Capability and TRP’s is named Financial Wellness, it all boils down to the same goal to reduce Debt, increase Income and Savings, and improve Credit (DISC outcomes). Both agencies have successfully strengthened families, with 1,090 families receiving financial coaching at MEDA in 2015 – and with a 199-point average increase for those who raised their credit score. Sharing financial strategies around how to strengthen families was a focus of the conversation.
Two main differences in such financial strategy were discussed. TRP was interested in learning how to integrate financial capability into all of its programs, noting the successful service-integration model at MEDA’s Plaza Adelante neighborhood center in the Mission.
MEDA sought to understand how and why TRP separates credit score outcomes into two pieces: one for those with a zero credit score, often the case for newcomers off the radar in this country; and a second for those with bad credit scores they need to raise. As two-thirds of MEDA clients are immigrants, this strategy may be a better way to track outcomes.
The organizations found commonalities in that they have extensive housing opportunities programs and engage in organizing so that the community’s voice can be heard.
To avail the community of free services offered, both nonprofits employ a promotoras model as one marketing channel. Promotoras are trusted community outreach workers, with culturally relevancy the key to their success.
TRP was also interested in learning about MEDA’s Welcome Orientations, which started last November and have already met desired outcomes. It’s all about program flow and service integration — a way to ensure clients are not siloed into specific programs. At a Welcome Orientation, offered weekly in English and Spanish, every new client receives an overview of asset-building programs, coupled with guidelines for a path to success. Once into a specific program, a more detailed plan is generated via one-on-one coaching, with a financial education integrated into all MEDA client success strategies.
“Financial health is vital for everyone, regardless of income level or the program that is their entry point at MEDA. Core DISC components are universal, even if the strategy is different based on income level,” explains MEDA’s Arellano.
To truly measure outcomes and a program’s success, MEDA believes in the power of data, with an evaluation team on staff and Salesforce as their tool. TRP is looking to optimize their data management, reporting and analysis, so this was also a topic of discussion during the visit.
Both organizations were definitely left with much to ponder.
Thankfulness, and future partnerships
TRP and MEDA quickly realized the synergy of meeting to discuss best practices, both organizations now having innovative ideas to better services based on their specific client needs.
Director of Financial Wellness Pedro Diaz of TRP summed up his visit to MEDA as follows: “Madeline and I were very impressed with the work that MEDA does and how you have been able to integrate financial capability into all areas of your organization. We brought back many ideas and best practices to help us enhance our work. I’d like to also thank your team for such warm welcoming and openness to share with us what they do and let us shadow the Welcome Orientations. We are looking forward to connecting again soon and possibly collaborating on a project.”
Echoed MEDA’s Arellano, “Thanks to TRP for visiting MEDA and educating our staff on their best practices. We found much alignment in our mission and services offered, plus have a number of items for consideration as MEDA seeks to expand its services to best meet the needs of its habitually underresourced clients. We plan to stay in touch with TRP as we look for future opportunities as we continue to share the model and potentially partner more formally on projects and grants. This was definitely an impactful two days.”