The Brisben Center (TBC) is the largest full service, year-round, residential emergency shelter center in Fredericksburg, Virginia and the greater community. The Center provides a safe and secure, 24-hour temporary residence for people year round. They can simultaneously serve up to 80 women, children, and men with a wide range of services. At Brisben, hundreds of volunteers and supporters from the region serve people experiencing homelessness each year.

“The Brisben Center pursued EMPath’s coaching model because we were looking for an evidence-based practice that could provide structure connected with outcomes and metrics. [This] adds another layer to our work and additional tools to support clients.”
- David Cooper, Executive Director of The Brisben Center

Implementation of EMPath’s Model

The Brisben Center has integrated a Mobility Mentoring®-informed (MMI) approach into their 80-bed homeless shelter program. The shelter program is structured for residents to have 30 days to stabilize and plan for their next steps through engagement with their case managers and connecting to outside referrals. One of the characteristics staff look for when recruiting residents to TBC’s MMI coaching program, is a willingness to engage with in-depth coaching experiences while in shelter. For residents who will make a good fit, staff connect them with a volunteer mentor. After the match, TBC provides coaching to residents while in shelter and for an additional 12 months after they exit.

To introduce their MMI approach, David Cooper, Executive Director, stressed the importance of engaging all staff in the approach early on in the process. While not all staff were a part of the actual program implementation, this was important to building up support and promoting buy-in. The implementation was supported by a program manager and two master of social work interns.

TBC has deep connections with several different universities in the area, and has been working with MSW students for many years. TBC asked incoming interns to support the implementation, knowing the coaching approach is built upon many fundamental values that social work programs support. In addition to the manager and interns, the program is staffed by volunteer mentors recruited from the community for a minimum of a 12-month commitment. Volunteer mentors build a one-on-one relationships and meet at least twice a month.

To support capacity building amongst the staff and volunteers, TBC holds monthly community of practice meeting to brainstorm challenges and identify good things that are happening with the participants. Topics have included: boundaries, how to be strengths-based and elicit motivation, and ongoing learning about evidence-based practices.

Utilizing Volunteers

Volunteer mentors are recruited from the surrounding community including congregations, businesses, and various civic organizations. Candidates are screened for their self-awareness, appropriate boundaries, and societal roles. The Brisben Center uses social media to recruit, however they rely significantly upon relationship networks to identify candidates. To date, TBC has identified and trained twenty-four coach/mentor volunteers and successfully matched and sustained 14 participants.

TBC is attentive to the strengths of participants and their goals and try to pair them with volunteer mentors with similar strengths and goals to support the most beneficial coaching. For example, one of the participants is recovering from a substance disorder and was matched with another individual who has recovered from a substance disorder and former shelter resident who is a successful small business owner. The match is beneficial as they shared the understanding of substance disorders whereas the mentor coach possesses tactics and skills that are beneficial to the goals sought by the participant.

Lessons Learned

  • Participants are motivated at the shelter to be in the program, but engagement is challenging when they leave shelter.
  • It is important to find sufficient funders who understand the holistic/systemic approach.
  • It is vital to engage case management at the shelter early on.
  • Develop or secure a procedures manual to guide program staff and volunteers. TBC invested in this early, yielding a 51 page manual
  • Screen for volunteers with experience in fields that may be matched with participant goals and/or growth areas