Several recent developments have provided an opportunity for mission-aligned investment in Chester, PA. After many years of decline and then vacancy, entrepreneurs are returning to Avenue of the States. With strong entrepreneurial leadership emerging, the arts are poised to ignite an urban renaissance in Chester. Unlike other artist driven urban revivals, the leaders are from Chester and are dedicated to developing and showcasing local talent for local audiences, nurturing arts enterprises and creating a distinct Chester arts movement. A Program-Related Investment (PRI) in the form of a low-interest loan to New Day Chester, Inc. will provide the funding needed to continue rehabbing three of the six buildings, which will be at the core of the arts district. Since this would be Barra’s first PRI there is a significant opportunity for Barra to learn, and share its learning, about this emerging tool for foundations and nonprofits.
Nature Rx will prescribe outdoor recreation to thousands of Philadelphia patient families, reconnecting them to the outdoors through doctors’ “prescriptions.” This online portal for clinicians will be connected to a comprehensive database of the city’s green spaces, the first of its kind in Philadelphia. The partners, Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the City of Philadelphia, will develop a new tool to connect families to Philadelphia’s wealth of green space, maximize scarce clinical time with patients and help ensure patient adherence with support from “Nature Navigators.” Nature Rx will also help ensure that the city’s most underserved communities—those with the most to gain in health outcomes—will share in Philadelphia’s rejuvenated public spaces. Barra funding will allow the Schuylkill Center and its partners to pilot Nature Rx in three communities.
Autism Village, based in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, is a website and mobile application for the autism community. Autism Village’s innovative core is a Yelp-like service that helps families find resources such as dentists, restaurants and playgrounds that are welcoming and suitable for their child with autism’s particular needs. Autism Village has had strong early traction, with more than 10,000 users and a successful Kickstarter campaign backed by more than 1,200 supporters. If they have another year of successful fundraising, Autism Village will put the finishing touches on their platform including several features to attract new users and generate revenue from the business community. Autism Village plans to formally launch in early 2017.
Three nonprofit organizations–Impact Services Corporation, The Common Market and Philabundance–have joined forces to launch a new social enterprise: Community Partnership Kitchen. The project is the first of its kind and leverages the distinct and complementary strengths of the three organizations. Community Partnership Kitchen will provide training and jobs to residents of North Philadelphia, value-added food products to institutional customers and new and expanded business to regional farmers. Barra’s grant will enable Impact to complete the planning phase of the project, including the development of partnership agreements.
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (Law Center) has an illustrious history of ensuring vulnerable populations have access to fundamental resources, particularly special education. Like many legal services agencies, the Law Center possesses deep knowledge in a specialized area of the law that is of interest to varied constituencies (parents, educators, lawyers, social workers, etc.). However, they do not have the resources to create a training delivery model that is self-sustaining. To do so requires understanding marketing, event planning and curriculum development—all areas that are outside the mission of a legal services organization. Further, the training they conduct is not like traditional legal training geared towards attorneys—it is meant to bring the range of constituencies together to build networks and understanding, making it different from other legal education providers. The Law Center proposes creating a separate entity to further their mission of delivering specialized information to the widest audience possible. To do this, the Center hopes to further its mission while creating a stronger business model. As a social enterprise of this type is a new approach for a legal service agency, but one that others could emulate, the research into the viability of this model can serve to inform this sector.
Panhandling is an age-old and complex challenge faced by cities worldwide, but the founders of StreetChange believe that technology could provide new solutions that benefit everyone. In partnership with the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (MHASP), StreetChange will use mobile technology, e-commerce and Bluetooth technology to incentivize Philadelphians who are both homeless and panhandling to visit or return to social services. StreetChange will also provide pedestrians with a modern and simple way to make donations and ensure that their generosity has a positive impact. By facilitating beneficial transactions between homeless individuals and the pedestrians and social services organizations wishing to assist them, this solution has the potential to positively impact the way cities address panhandling nationwide.
Update: Led by its Founder Andrew Siegel and Managing Partner Dan Treglia, StreetChange has taken major strides since it received its first funding, from Barra, in December 2015. In addition to completing the app’s development and launching their website, StreetChange has conducted a beta test with support from Mental Health Association of Southeastern PA, which informed improvements to the app and helped them strengthen proposals to funders, investors and partners. They have engaged critical stakeholders including the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services and Center City District and have begun meetings with other homeless services providers to understand how the platform could provide greater value to this group. They have also received strong media coverage, including several local publications and a video produced by Verizon and Upworthy that has been viewed more than 3.5 million times. StreetChange is in the process of developing a business plan, including formalizing partnerships with providers. StreetChange is seeking funders and investors so that it can build its team and launch the app in summer of 2017.
Healthy Rowhouse Project, a collaborative hosted by the Center for Architecture, aims to tackle the barriers preventing Philadelphia from repairing rowhouses at scale in order to improve the health of residents and preserve critical affordable housing. They aim to improve 5,000 houses per year—thousands more homes than any other U.S. city has been able to repair—at an average cost of $10,000 per home. Building from their preliminary research and with the support of their multi-disciplinary coalition, in the next two years Healthy Rowhouse Project will develop a new home repair infrastructure, including an organized network of service delivery partners, new program designs and creative financing for property owners and investors. This grant was originally made to the Center for Architecture, the initial fiscal sponsor of Healthy Rowhouse Project, but was transferred to Clarifi, Inc. when the project relocated.
Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project, led by two Echoing Green fellows, will achieve shorter and fairer sentences for youth facing adult criminal charges through their innovative sentencing advocacy intervention. Their long-term goal is to use their experience and evidence to inform efforts to change how the city and state’s adult criminal justice systems treat children, by humanizing the sentencing process for youth.
There is currently no system in place to help staff of charitable organizations provide furniture to homeless clients who are moving into new homes. Searching for and delivering low-cost or free furniture creates a bottleneck in housing placements and prolongs the time that people live in an emergency shelter or temporary housing. For hundreds of nonprofit organizations, this approach costs precious staff time and scarce resources. To solve this problem, Pathways to Housing PA and its partners will launch a large-scale, tech-savvy system to redistribute cast-off furnishings at no cost to families and individuals in need: Philadelphia Furniture Bank.
Habitat for Humanity ReStore sells new and gently used donated building supplies and home goods to the public. 850 ReStores across the U.S. generated $89 million in net profits in 2013, covering the costs of 898 Habitat homes. Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia’s ReStore offers a unique and significant opportunity for the organization to increase revenue and, in turn, build and repair more homes for Philadelphians living in poverty. Despite a strong business model and success in other cities, the local ReStore has struggled financially. Determined to diagnose the problem and turn the fledging business around, Habitat enlisted professional counsel on retail management and real estate and determined that the store’s location was dramatically hindering its potential. The Barra grant will allow Habitat to relocate their enterprise to a competitive new location, deliver improved marketing, and secure the financial strategy services of Nonprofit Finance Fund.