Innovative programs for women and families
July 30, 2013 12:29 PM   Subscribe

What are some innovative programs for women and families that you've seen, heard of, accessed, or wished for? I am on the board of directors for a small women's organization in a small city in Canada, and we are tired of the workshop model of community development. I want to start some new programs that have tangible results.

Our flagship program is providing a piece of government issued photo ID to women who have none (we do the advocacy required to get the supporting documents, pay for the ID, and accompany the client to make the request), which opens up doors re: employment and housing. The diaper thread on the blue has me researching diaper banks. I've also thought about making arrangements through a local second-hand clothes store to provide an interview outfit to unemployed women as part of a financial literacy program. Maybe we could do our programming in the apartment buildings where women live? Just some ideas to show you what I'm thinking of.

Specifically, I'd like to build an evidence-based program. Or at the very least, not a program that has been demonstrated to be ineffectual.

Some background: we've typically provided a lot of programming to Aboriginal women, but shifts in our city's demographics and the local funding situation has left us wondering if we should change our focus to New Canadians (immigrants, refugees). We have 2 part-time staff, and otherwise are purely volunteer-driven. We do not qualify for most grants as we have been explicly a feminist-organization for 25 years and so do not get charitable status. We are changing that, but expect status to take another 2-5 years.
posted by arcticwoman to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How about setting up or facilitating co-operative child care?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:35 PM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

In my city, there's a clothing bank for professional clothing for women for interviews/ work. They get so many great donations that they sell the surplus at semi-annual sales. My state had a long effort to help women gain entry to non-traditional jobs that often pay more than traditional women's work - assistance with steel-toed boots and tools, in addition to training might be a big help.

I used to work for Adult Education, teaching people (mostly women) computer skills they'd need for office work. The program offered a wide range of courses, including medical billing, home health care, etc. It included job skills and resume help.

Maybe ask the women you serve what the barriers are in their lives?
posted by theora55 at 12:37 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is there any way you can survey women who've gotten ID through your current program and ask them about their lives and their needs? Then, armed with that information, you could search for what evidence-based programs address the needs of your clients. (Whether that turns out to be job/resume help, diapers, child care, etc.)
posted by ActionPopulated at 12:41 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

We do not qualify for most grants as we have been explicitly a feminist-organization for 25 years and so do not get charitable status.

Could you expand on this?
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:52 PM on July 30, 2013

I grew up poor, never expected to be anything but, and was told throughout my entire life that I should not ever expect anything more, different, or better.

Going to job training programs like theora55 mentions revolutionized my whole existence. They pretty much single-handedly provided me with the opportunity to crawl out from the wreckage of lifelong poverty: classes that taught basic computer literacy, touch-typing skills, phone manners, "business English" so I could learn how to speak above my class without using turns of phrase that would mark me as poor (double negatives, etc.), business writing so I could ably craft resumes and cover letters, even basic social etiquette.
We did fake job interviews, created budgets, explored what would need to be cut if we made less money or lost our jobs, and collected pictures of working professionals from magazines so we could see what sorts of stuff people wore to office jobs. I can't describe how life-changing and helpful this was for me -- it gave me an out, THE out, something to daydream about while I was slinging frozen patties into the broiler at Burger King for ten hours a day.

This could be way too ambitious, but you could even make different "tracks," like an office job training track, light assembly/machinist job training track, financial literacy track, professional writing/speaking track, etc. that would run as a set of weekly programs, and give out completion certificates at the end. (I still have all of mine! I'm still proud!) I've been a working professional for nearly half my life now and owe absolutely everything I have to those programs. So, um, definitely stuff like that!

Co-operative childcare would also be amazing, or maybe a bulk buying club/co-op to help people acquire basic necessities and foster a sense of community.

Thank you for the work you do, it is wonderful and exciting!
posted by divined by radio at 1:35 PM on July 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

Could you expand on this?

In Canada, organizations which explicitly advocate for changes to law are not eligible for charitable status. Many feminist and other social justice organizations advocate for a number of reforms to criminal law, which means they can't get status.
posted by Jairus at 1:37 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: In Canada you have to apply for charitable status, and certain activities or ideologies exempt you from that. Being critical of the government (which we are, as we believe many goverment policies to be anti-woman and anti-feminist) cuts you out. We used to get funding through the Status of Women, but the Harper government put an end to that (which non-coincidentally put an end to dozens of women's orgs across the country), and with no charitable status we do not qualify for government grants, foundation grants, and most corporate grants. We exist because our community generously supports us through individual donations.

We have asked the women we serve what they need, and what they need are systemic changes. These changes are exactly what we cannot campaign for if we ever want to get charitable status. Our hands are tied with regards to the Big Issues.
posted by arcticwoman at 1:39 PM on July 30, 2013

Most charities that do second-hand clothing actually make the bulk of their money selling bales of bagged clothing to exporters. A one ton bale from a charity is worth around $1,800 to a wholesaler.

Check out they have lots of good ideas.
posted by parmanparman at 1:55 PM on July 30, 2013

Response by poster: anti-woman and anti-feminist
(oops, I meant anti-woman and anti-family)
posted by arcticwoman at 2:56 PM on July 30, 2013

Rachel's Women's Center
This isn't just for homeless women. It is also for low income women, so they do not abandon you just because you got off the street. I mention that because a lot of programs are designed in a way which helps keep you trapped: The qualifying criteria are such that continuing to be poor gets rewarded, actually improving yourvlife gets you abandoned in a way which makes it very hard to make the transition. They provide a lot of different services, but nothing like what you are doing. However, I think it is an excellent program that does good work and you can check out the website and memail if you wish. I was a client for several months last year.

Presbyterian Urban Ministries
This is not limited to women but provides some of the same services you provide, like paying for government ID. The model for this program is probably a lot more within reach for you than the above program. They are open limited hours, five days a week. They give free coffee and pastries in the morning while you wait, you can get clothes once a month, you can get a snack pack, fruit and bread once a week. I don't know what all else they do. I know some of the staff is volunteer, like the guy giving out coffee in the morning. They also only service x number of people per shift (morning and afternoon). After the numbers run out, you can come back another time. So they explicitly limit things and it is a really great program. I liked it a whole lot better than most programs I participated in last year.

I have done a lot of reading over the years. A small "library" with books about women's financial issues, dress for success, etc type books could do a lot of good for very little in resources. I have no idea what a practical structure would be, but information is power and a single bookshelf can be fit in almost anywhere.

You could also pick up the book "The Clemente Course in Humanties" by Earl Shorris. It was designed to help poor people escape poverty. It is a great read. I suggest the staff read it if only to help you think more clearly about some of the roots of poverty.
posted by Michele in California at 3:14 PM on July 30, 2013

What divined by radio said. Teach the women standard English so that they will not be dismissed as ignorant because of their speech. Add office skills. Reliable child care would be a blessing for any mother who must support her children.
Also, by teaching mom passable speech, you raise the prospects of her children who may learn her improved grammar/vocabulary. As they say at 'girls schools', "When you educate a woman, you educate a family."
posted by Cranberry at 3:45 PM on July 30, 2013

Daycare outside of 9 to 5 hours. Many women I know have fled abuse. For some of them, after school care is unavailable and they would prefer to work evenings and weekends, when their kids are asleep and so on. Finding flexible childcare that lets you take your kids to counsellors, social services, tutoring and all the other things kids from those families need is very difficult. So, for many women, evening and weekend work is preferable. But it's next to impossible to find steady, affordable childcare on evenings and weekends. Many women work in fields where it isn't possible to get 9 to 5 work - look at the latest census data on the most common jobs for women in Canada. I know some women who have ended up on social assistance because they don't have the skills to get 9 to 5 jobs and they can't find childcare after hours.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:28 PM on July 30, 2013

I second the suggestion to survey or ask the women that have already used your programs to see what their greatest needs are, this well help the women you serve get services that are needed and will allow their voices to be heard. You could help start the conversation with some suggestions and if no one has any added suggestions, you could ask them to vote on the existing options.

This is one of my favorite local woman focused NGO's--A New Way of Life. For inspiration!

Thank you for the work that you do!
posted by dottiechang at 5:31 PM on July 30, 2013

The most useful thing I can imagine is being a resource center. It sounds like you've developed a lot of trust with a group that is wary with good reasons, and serving as advocates and researchers is an extremely useful service because you help them access a lot of resources available either free or at low cost at other organisations that they aren't aware of or are intimidated about approaching. The organisations get happier to accept referrals from you if you provide good notes and follow-up with the clients.

We do this at my organisation for our legal and specialist medical needs and it is a huge benefit. We will find the right partners, schedule appointments, and very often accompany clients to meetings and do follow-up support. We also have a fund for transport and to cover lost wages so people can actually get to these "free" resources. For example, we have great free training offered to us that once we had factored in the cost of transport, meals and lost wage covering to attend came out to cost just as much as if we had run the training ourselves. But it is worth it in getting more experienced trainers and access to job searching through that partner.

Have your staff put together a giant binder or internal wiki with all the contact info for these orgs and govt. services plus the details like "Call Barbara Ng if the issue is domestic violence, she will be much more likely to make an early appointment", and start telling clients to come by for a half-hour sit down to see what services you can help them find.

Financial budgeting workshops are a huge benefit, especially tied to setting up a small savings account. We do it individually or in very small groups because of shame/privacy stuff about bad finances and debt. I think small groups are better because you get mutual support.

Mentoring programs have lots of good statistics about their impact - had good research when we first set up our program. You can have adults mentoring - older mums to new mums, successful grads mentoring teenagers thinking about college, the usual Big Brother/Big Sister thing. Just facilitating access to a mentoring program for your clients is really helpful if you do the legwork to educate a partner about the needs of your group and help them with matching.

There's some good research around book clubs and sports clubs as social support. We run a social club for sex workers at our program in very different circumstances than yours, but the idea is to provide a day where a group of women in very difficult situations get to share a meal and bond with each other in a fun activity. At their request, we usually alternate with health workshops and excursions to possible alternative job sites (bakery that let us tour the kitchen and talk to staff, upmarket hotel that gave us a behind-the-scenes tour etc) but the trips to the parks and touristy things are also really valuable. You can't just provide a space and logistics, you need a trained counsellor along to facilitate - it's a delicate balance because the participants need to "own" and decide to take part, but you also need some support when discussions get painful.

Have you done a proper survey of your clients to get feedback before launching anything? I would do at least 2-3 focus group discussions, one with similar people who are not your current clients, and then a broad survey with a 1-2 page questionnaire listing the most likely programs and asking people what they want personally, what they would volunteer to help with and what they think other people in the community need most.

Daycare is tricky - you have lots of regulations over that, and getting involved as an organisation with a co-op could expose you legally if something tragic happens. We have free daycare for some of our participants, and the uptake is really low because of social factors. I would do a lot more research before doing this.

Toy and children's books lending libraries are a great way to reach out to families with young children in poverty. Have a monthly swap party at different houses and have someone collect and redistribute the (sanitzied) toys and books, with a simple replacement policy for damaged items. It's a good opportunity to have someone share parenting guidance and playing with children as teaching, and for kids with little, it's a huge blessing. You can get books and toys donated pretty easily.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:37 PM on July 30, 2013

Response by poster: Oh wow, this is amazing. We have a board meeting tomorrow and I'll find out if we have the budget to run a couple of focus groups. I am feeling very inspired by all these ideas. Thank you.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:11 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

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