The United Way of Bartholomew County (UWBC) is located in Columbus, Indiana. They work with local partner agencies to maximize opportunities for individuals and families living in the county. Their goal, through collaborative work with local agencies, is to support the self-sufficiency of their local community through holistic economic mobility coaching and a robust network of support.

Three people sitting around a table with papers in front of them. All are wearing surgical masks.

“Implementing this at the community level takes time and effort but poverty is too big and complex of an issue to solve without everyone being a part of the solution. It was wonderful to see the participants, who have been working with the Bridge for a significant amount of time and have a certain level of stability, manage a crisis (such as the pandemic). Those in the community who have not been part of the Bridge program had considerably more and more devastating struggles when COVID hit, compared to those who have been actively working with a coach on the Bridge.” -Cheri Stone, Community Impact Director at UWBC

Drawn to the brain science informed approach to self-sufficiency and coaching, UWBC joined the Exchange as a Community Network Member in late 2017 to explore how the Mobility Mentoring® model could support UWBC goals of increasing economic mobility in the communities they serve.

UWBC sits at the nexus of a community of support, comprised of local community partners, that offers a number of empowering services such as economic mobility-informed counseling, employment opportunities, education resources, child care, and much more. The close partnerships with certified agencies, community partners, such as the Columbus Education Coalition and other local businesses, allows UWBC to serve their community at both an individual level and at a county-wide level.

While UWBC’s focus reaches beyond economic mobility, in FY19, they served over 25,000 members of their community through their certified agencies, community partners, and hundreds of volunteers who work together every year to provide new opportunities for the Columbus area community.

Implementation of EMPath’s Model

United Way of Bartholomew County (UWBC) executes their vision by building capacity and resources through targeted programming, such as a focus on economic mobility coaching with community partners. Through this, they are able to provide much needed support, training, and resources in their communities.

Before choosing Mobility Mentoring, UWBC analyzed community wide data to identify the service gaps in their county. They discovered that over one third of their local population were not financially self-sufficient. The organization felt that this percentage was unacceptable given the amount of local resources available.

UWBC then moved from analysis to action and convened a group of cross-sector individuals to form a guiding team to look at the issue and collaborate on a solution. As a group, they identified the need for a program focused on boosting economic mobility and then mapped the self-sufficiency field looking for best practices that could inform their vision. Through this search they found Mobility Mentoring and identified their community partners from this guiding team.

Once they decided to move forward with Mobility Mentoring, they moved into the planning phase for implementation. They formed a Bridge Adoption Subgroup which included the eight organizations that now make up the Avenues to Opportunity Program and UWBC. From the beginning of the implementation planning process, the initiative had buy-in because the community was included through the entire process–from the Guiding Team doing the high-level systems work and the Bridge Adoption Group to the future coaches for the program planning out the processes and logistics for every-day operations.

Adapting to Fit Their Community

UWBC applies a Mobility Mentoring® informed approach, particularly utilizing the Bridge to Self-Sufficiency®, for both individual participant journeys and to support community wide efforts as a whole. The Bridge tool, with its dual purpose, is meant to streamline and unify the approach of the eight community partners who are involved in UWBC Avenues to Opportunity Program.

UWBC adapted the Bridge for their program and community partners. In their adaptation, they explored how the Bridge can serve as both a tool for participants to use and engage with, and a way to map their available community supports at large. This mapping process helps identify the resources and opportunities that community members can access and plug into for support. The adapted Bridge is called Avenues to Opportunity Bridge.

The Bridge Adoption Subgroup created a “Bridge Adoption Guide Book” which detailed ways in which UWBC services could flexibly adapt the model for their specific purposes. Each of the agencies could decide how many staff to dedicate to the program and which coaches they wanted to get trained.

Early in the process, the network saw promising feedback and data regarding the impact of the approach. Within the first year of implementing, the network served over 130 participants in the Avenues to Opportunity program, and both participants and counselors alike reported satisfaction with their experience. Over 20 coaches worked with participants, and by the end of the first year, 62% of participants had increased their income. Additionally, 13% of participants are now 200% over poverty compared to where they were before they started work with Avenues to Opportunity. To date, three years after launching, the Bridges to Opportunity program has served approximately 500 participants by 22 coaches across the eight organizations.

To track this data, the community partners all have a similar Excel database where they track data for each participant. They can then aggregate the data into an agency data sheet which they share with UWBC, who then can aggregate all the data into one report to show what is happening in the Avenues to Opportunity Program.

Building Collaborative Impact

What makes the UWBC unique as a member of the Exchange is their community-focused application of the Bridge. As a community network member, UWBC leads a diverse collaborative of eight local partner agencies, including the Columbus Housing Authority and Su Casa Columbus, in order to provide a breadth of services. UWBC serves as the connector, linking community residents to partner agencies based on needs. Through these community partnerships, they are able to coordinate services for housing and education, child care, and employment opportunities. Each partner agency within UWBC interacts with the Bridge in a unique way. For example, Su Casa Columbus focuses on empowering the Latino Community in Bartholomew County by providing access to English lessons, legal services, community outreach and Spanish-language resources for Bridge materials. Other community network members offer different services, such as the Sans Souci thrift store, which offers jobs to Bridge participants.

As a community network-based program, Avenues to Opportunity creates a wraparound approach of services for the communities within Bartholomew County. Because there is no one centralized organization implementing the entire program, a typical day, session, or action can vary greatly.

Program Participants Get the Following Support

  • System Navigators with UWBC provide warm hand-offs to partnering organizations when needs are identified.
  • Coaches from partner agencies can:
    • Support access to additional household income (SNAP Benefits, Energy Assistance, etc) and basic needs assistance
    • Facilitate on-site access to classes to further education
    • Provide ongoing emotional support
    • Check in regularly with participants via email, text, phone, or in person

UWBC Organizations Implementing the Model

  • Columbus Housing Authority
  • Human Services, Inc
  • Lincoln Central Neighborhood Family Center
  • Love Chapel
  • Sans Souci
  • Su Casa Columbus
  • Thrive Alliance
  • Turning Point Domestic Violence Services
  • LifeDesigns

Lessons Learned

  • It is important to have flexible, adaptable, and intuitive tools for new coaches and accessible training resources
  • Listening to all of the participating agencies is crucial. Everyone comes from a different place (funding, reporting, size) so it’s important to make the collaboration flexible enough that everyone sees where they fit at the table
  • Trust building is paramount. This is the only way you can work out issues that arise. It’s all about relationship building – with the agencies, the coaches and the participants
  • Include everyone from the beginning. We all decided on processes together. It was never UWBC telling them what they had to do