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Better outcomes for kids facing time in adult prisons

4/18/2016 |

YOUTH SENTENCING & REENTRY PROJECT

Imagine spending your life in prison for a dreadful mistake you made at the most reckless time of your life—when you were a teenager, maybe even younger. Imagine having no opportunity to explain that mistake in the context of a traumatic childhood. For hundreds of youth in Pennsylvania each year– most of them from Philadelphia, most of them African American – it’s a reality. In Pennsylvania, kids can be considered an adult in the eyes of the law long before they’re old enough to get a tattoo, drive or vote for the district attorney who’s prosecuting them.

There are approximately 525 people in Pennsylvania who were sentenced as children to serve life without parole in adult prison, more than any other state. Here, children as young as 10 who are charged with homicide can be tried as adults; children as young as 14 can also be tried as adults if they are charged with crimes such as robbery or aggravated assault. If they are convicted of homicide, children can go to prison for the rest of their lives. These policies exist despite research that shows children’s brains aren’t fully developed until they’re in their 20’s—specifically areas of their brains that make them more susceptible to peer pressure and less likely to comprehend risks and consequences.

Public interest attorney Lauren Fine cofounded the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP) in 2014 with fellow public interest lawyer Joanna Visser Adjoian to keep kids out of the adult criminal justice system. “The juvenile justice system is treatment and rehabilitation oriented and the adult system, by all accounts, is not designed for rehabilitation.” A child who’s sent to adult prison is 34 percent more likely to commit another crime and end up back in prison. “It’s a warehousing and punishment mechanism,” Fine added.

Widespread reform of the criminal and juvenile justice systems in Pennsylvania and the United States is direly needed, but slow to progress. Many efforts are underway, from political reforms to supportive services for youth. Unwilling to wait for widespread reform to occur and determined to demonstrate that even adequate representation makes a significant difference Fine and Visser Adjoian have begun to implement a new intervention to improve outcomes for system-involved youth.

Fine was propelled to cofound YSRP by a heartbreaking encounter she had with a teenager serving life in prison. He’d been abandoned by his mother; his father was in prison; he’d spent his life in foster homes and group homes and had been bullied and sexually abused. At 13, he was taken in by a gang member who was “the first stable role model in his life,” Fine said. “At 14, he committed a homicide and now he was spending his life in prison. There were points along the way where there could have been meaningful help, but there wasn’t. And so we just threw him away.”

This young man’s traumatic life, leading up to his crime, was to Fine absolutely fundamental to his case. And yet, until recent changes in the law due to United States Supreme Court decisions, attorneys assigned to cases like his had no opportunity to investigate and present the defendant’s “full-picture” story to the judge. Through Fine and Visser Adjoian’s work in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, they confirmed that this problem was widespread and set out to prove that a set of smart interventions could have a dramatic impact on the lives of children facing adult prison.

YSRP is testing a multi-part strategy to improve outcomes for young people. YSRP first conducts a mitigation investigation, which entails talking to anyone who can help paint a fuller picture of the child’s personal story, and making connections to community resources that already exist and are free. They prepare a report that details this information to be presented in court, so that the judge can determine whether the juvenile justice system is more appropriate to handle their case; then, similarly, for the sentencing judge to consider more than the punishable offense. Included in that report is a preliminary reentry plan for the child —a critical component because YSRP believes judges are more willing to move cases out of adult court or to allow for earlier release when a plan is in place. The reports also provide research about adolescent brain development and how trauma and other adverse childhood experiences impact it.

With support from The Barra Foundation, YSRP is refining its program model with guidance from an evaluation expert and has begun supporting kids and families. YSRP has begun to test their model through an initial pilot of 15 cases. Of those cases, 75 percent of them have been diverted to juvenile court, compared to a five-year average of 35 percent. Leveraging Barra’s early funding, an Echoing Green fellowship and a strong board of advisers, YSRP has raised additional funding to expand the program and continue to test its efficacy. Ultimately, Fine and Visser Adjoian hope that their outcomes and evidence will be potent enough to advance real system reforms—eventually eliminating the need for YSRP’s work all together.

Photos by Jeff Fusco.

Bridging Boundaries

2/9/2016 |

WIDENER UNIVERSITY

On a chilly November night on a pedestrian bridge between the city of Chester and the campus of Widener University, Mike Forney spoke out. He was among a group that had gathered for Poetic Bridges, the kickoff of a joint project to unite the campus and the city through creative arts events. The Walnut Street bridge spans the campus and city over I-95 and symbolizes the great divide: it has long been locked by the campus at night.

“I always felt I wanted to voice my opinion about the bridge being locked, and this was my opportunity,” Forney said of the poetry event that launched “Boundaries and Bridges,” a collaborative project of reconciliation.

Forney grew up in Chester—in the economically disadvantaged and crime-plagued neighborhood across the highway from Widener. The Walnut Street bridge was the quickest and safest way home from school. But it was locked on the campus side because “they didn’t want us as a part of the community,” said Forney, 47, now a father of four. “I resented it.”

Boundaries and Bridges is designed to heal wounds like Forney’s and create a community in which students, faculty and residents transcend the boundaries, real and imagined, that separate town and gown. “We want to dispel myths on both sides and develop a strong relationship between the university and the city,” said Devon Walls, a community activist who runs the Artist Warehouse in Chester. Walls is partnering with Sharon M. Meagher, Ph.D., Dean of Widener’s College of Arts & Sciences, to implement the project.

Walls is a Chester native who also had his own unfortunate experience with Widener. “They said I couldn’t come to the library,” he said. “I was 14 or 15 years old. That had an impact on me. The message was that I wasn’t allowed on campus.’

Dr. Meagher, who conceived Boundaries and Bridges with Walls, wants to change all that. “Widener is a metropolitan anchor institution and our core values are civic engagement,” said Dr. Meagher. “If we’re going to talk the talk, we have to walk the walk and develop a democratic partnership, which requires we develop community relationships.”

Utilizing civic arts methodologies, the partners will identify and then bridge community-university boundaries in order to strengthen and support collaboration in Chester. After a series of workshops to lay the groundwork for the collaboration, there are plans for photography workshops, a mural project, spoken word and theater performances and other cultural events on both sides of the bridge. Similar arts methodologies have been utilized elsewhere, but not in the combination nor for the purpose envisioned by this project.

Boundaries and Bridges builds on the momentum of Chester Made, an urban planning process designed to reverse Chester’s decline, coordinated by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council with support from Widener. That project uses art to heal and engage the community and envisions the creation of a mile-long arts and culture corridor in the heart of town with shops, galleries and restaurants. Boundaries and Bridges is designed to address the divide between campus and city that’s seen as a potential obstacle to the efforts of Chester Made. Boundaries and Bridges also comes as the city is readying a new zoning map and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is completing plans for the reconstruction of the bridges that connect Widener to Chester’s downtown business district. The stories will be documented and will provide data both for future artistic interventions and policy, zoning and infrastructure recommendations. This unique initiative could be a model for other schools to unite campus and city through the arts.

The sun was going down on the Walnut Street bridge as Poetic Bridges ended with Mike Forney’s essay. As a youth, he said, he saw the bridge as “my passage to hope and opportunity. You can make it to the other side of the bridge. When you lock the bridge, you tell me there’s no hope for me.”

Leadership. Performance. Adaptability.

12/7/2015 |

Barra Awards 2016-2017

At Barra, we believe that these strengths—leadership, performance and adaptability—are the defining characteristics of exemplary organizations committed to strengthening the Greater Philadelphia region. This year, 40 exemplary organizations—the 2016-2017 Barra Awardees—have been selected to receive $50,000 in unrestricted funding over a two-year period. In addition to financial support, Awardees become members of a diverse network of organizations from the fields of Arts & Culture, Education, Health and Human Services and are provided with opportunities to connect, think creatively and share ideas.

This cycle of applicants was recommended by 31 nominators who represent a broad spectrum of expertise, geographies and backgrounds. Nominators include past Barra grantees and other colleagues, which creates a unique opportunity for nonprofit leaders to support their peers as they work together to strengthen our region. An entirely new slate of nominators (who serve anonymously until the awards are announced) is selected each grant cycle. Eligible nominated organizations are invited to submit an application which goes through a rigorous review process. Ultimately, awardees are approved by Barra’s Board of Directors.

The 2016-2017 Barra Awards represent a $2 million commitment in unrestricted funding over a two-year period, because we recognize the importance of unrestricted funding to nonprofit organizations—particularly as they must continually adapt and evolve to a changing environment.

But the Barra Awards aim to provide value beyond grant dollars as well. Through events and resources, the organizations’ leaders are encouraged to reflect, share ideas and learn from each other. We at Barra believe that this combination of flexible financial support and the chance to connect with peers from different disciplines can further creative thinking and lead to even better solutions.

The Barra Foundation congratulates its 2016-2017 Barra Awardees:

1812 Productions
Achieve Now
African Family Health Organization
AIDS Law Project
The Attic Youth Center
BlackStar Film Festival
Catholic Social Services of Montgomery County
ChesPenn Health Services, Inc.
The Common Market
Community Integrated Services
Depaul USA
Eastern State Penitentiary
Face To Face
The Food Trust
Gearing Up
Graduate! Philadelphia
HIAS PA
Kulu Mele African Dance and Drum Ensemble
Lutheran Settlement House
Manna on Main Street
Maternity Care Coalition
Mission Kids (Child Advocacy Center)
Neighborhood Bike Works
Public Citizens for Children and Youth
Philadelphia Academies Inc.
Philadelphia Folklore Project
Philadelphia Futures
Philadelphia Outward Bound School
Philadelphia Public School Notebook
Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks
Philadelphia Youth Network
Philadelphia’s Children’s Alliance
Puentes de Salud
Research for Action
Scribe Video Center
Springboard Collaborative
Theatre Horizon
Vetri Community Partnership
Visiting Nurse Association Community Services
Women Against Abuse

Accelerating Teacher Skill Development

11/10/2015 |

JOUNCE PARTNERS

Paul Dean was observing a fifth grade class at KIPP West, a charter school in West Philadelphia, when he saw it. As the teacher prepared to introduce a new concept, she leaned toward her students and got quiet before she started to speak in a soft, slow voice. All the students leaned forward in anticipation—and so did Dean. This is what he was looking for: the tools that the best teachers use to focus and motivate their students.

High quality teaching has consistently been shown to outweigh any other factor when measuring student achievement. Conversely, poor teaching, even for one year, has significant negative long-term effects on students.

“This is a performance profession,” says Dean, himself a former English and science teacher. Together with Bobby Erzen, a fellow Teach for America member, Dean founded Jounce Partners to identify these effective techniques and to replicate them in classrooms across the country. “Little changes in teaching style can make a big difference in students’ academic performance,” Dean says.

Through Jounce’s program of high-repetition practice of key teaching skills, and very specific criteria for execution of those skills, teachers get better by learning, practicing and performing the most effective teaching techniques. In addition to working directly with teachers, they train both current and future school leaders to use this model to accelerate their teachers’ skill growth, and to commit more time to teacher development as a school priority.  As teachers across the school develop these skills, a climate of consistency is created where students understand teacher expectations and respond accordingly.

“Research—and experience—says that the quality of the teacher in the classroom makes a huge difference on the students’ success,” Dean says. “And we found that teacher quality isn’t a fixed thing; it can improve quickly if you have coaching.” The Jounce coaching model emphasizes short, frequent coaching sessions with immediate feedback in the classroom and high-repetition practice of specific skills like “lean-in/get quiet.” “We want these skills to be automatic for the teachers,” he says.

The model was a success for the teachers and students of KIPP West, says former school leader Greg Leap. “I saw classrooms transformed because Jounce showed teachers how to engage their students in a thoughtful, respectful way.” With assistance from The Barra Foundation, Jounce will further test its model in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Tennessee and Washington, DC.

Maura Schiefer had been teaching for a two years when she was first introduced to the Jounce model at KIPP West. “I hadn’t been taught how to engage the students,” the fifth grade teacher recalls. “It was trial and error.” With Jounce, she received frequent coaching in the classroom—or even walking down the hall. “We’d practice the techniques as we walked, even if we only had three minutes.”

“I had no idea how much really small details can effect everything that goes on in the classroom,” Schiefer says now. “When I execute the skills really well, I see a difference in my students and how they engage with the lessons.”

Illustration by Narrator Design.

Location, Location…Iteration

8/26/2015 |

Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia’s second-hand shop, called ReStore, seemed to have everything going for it. It sold donated building supplies and home goods to the public at affordable prices. It had a large, affordable location. And it had a noble purpose: to provide revenue for Habitat for Humanity’s mission to build and repair homes for people living in poverty.

The store’s concept was hugely successful nationally: 850 ReStores across the US generated $89 million in net profits in 2013, covering the costs of 898 Habitat homes. “It’s Five Below meets Home Depot,” said Corinne O’Connell, Habitat Philadelphia’s Associate Executive Director, referring to the youth-oriented store whose entire stock sells for $5 or less, and the home improvement warehouse giant.

But the performance of the store in Kensington was disappointing. It was breaking even, but not driving the kind of transformation and growth that they knew it could. Habitat regrouped and took a hard look at their business. They made adjustments to their model and team and business improved slightly. Last year it grossed more than $415,000, but the amount still paled in comparison to ReStores elsewhere. Customers were so few that merchandise had to be sold at rock bottom prices to keep inventory moving.

Undeterred, Habitat enlisted the counsel of deeply experienced retail management and real estate professionals. To them, the problem was obvious and unavoidable. “Location, location, location,” O’Connell said. The ReStore was in an old warehouse tucked in a dense pocket of Kensington, surrounded by streets packed with rowhouses. Even for customers who were looking for it, the store was difficult to find. With no other retail on their tiny street, walk-in foot traffic was virtually non-existent.

For The Barra Foundation’s Catalyst Fund, relocation was not a particularly inventive solution. However, innovation often requires iteration. Habitat was able to clearly diagnose the shortcomings of this early stage enterprise and demonstrate its significant potential. “We knew it was a great idea, but we hadn’t given it the best chance to succeed. This is our opportunity to try again,” said O’Connell.

The extensive relocation search led to 2318 Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia, a wide commercial corridor which is easily accessible and heavily trafficked. Nearby businesses sell tile, lighting, building supplies and other home-related merchandise, which attracts the perfect clientele: individuals who are remodeling or redecorating. O’Connell estimated that the new store location would double sales. So far, they are right on track: the first two weeks of sales topped $120,000.

The revenue from ReStore is particularly beneficial because it offers unrestricted dollars and can be applied where needed, unlike government and foundation grants which often are designated for specific purposes. Not to mention that “there are only so many philanthropic dollars out there,” O’Connell said. The fact that ReStore will be self-sustaining makes it an appealing project for funders, and potentially other investors.

Photography by Laurie Beck Peterson in partnership with InLiquid.

Making Craft Accessible

7/7/2015 |

THE CLAY STUDIO

The 28-foot long table in The Clay Studio gallery is draped in white cloth, decorated with flowers, stemware and beautiful platters. The event—a dinner party called The Crafted Table—represents a new vision of art engagement: making craft accessible by using artisanal pottery for practical purposes instead of pondering it at arm’s length. In this case, the ceramic dinnerware was designed and handmade by various artists.

There’s gaiety in the room as the 30 paying guests engage in happy chatter and The Clay Studio’s President Chris Taylor hovers, making sure all is well. A tantalizing aroma wafts from the kitchen, where Chef Anna Maria Florio of La Cucina at the Market is preparing dinner. It’s a fun evening with a serious goal: “First and foremost is our mission to get people in to experience and fall in love with this great craft,” Taylor said.

Naomi Cleary, Retail and Communications Manager, was one of the staffers who inspired this new paradigm. “In a relaxed social atmosphere, people don’t feel intimidated the way you can be when you walk into a gallery and everything’s on a white pedestal and you’re not supposed to touch,” she said. “When it’s something you’re being asked to physically touch and use, it breaks down a barrier for people.”

The Clay Studio, an internationally acclaimed non-profit which provides studio space, classes and a gallery, has been hugely successful in creating such new avenues to attract a coveted younger audience unfamiliar with this niche art form. Special events such as introductory classes, date night workshops, family workshops and special occasion Sunday brunches, are always sold out.  The school has doubled its revenue and quadrupled its enrollment in five years. The Clay Studio was cited as a successful case study in building arts audiences in a recent Wallace Foundation report The Road to Results. One of the focuses of The Wallace Foundation is to foster the vitality of the arts for everyone. The report found that “The Clay Studio saw such success because it developed multiple ways for its target audience to get to know it.  Audience-building practitioner and expert Donna Walker Kuhne calls this creating ‘points of entry…creating doors where none had existed before.’”

Over the next three years, with the support of The Barra Foundation grant, The Clay Studio will leverage this momentum.  It will continue to host Crafted Table dinners and four to six smaller events which present ceramics as functional beauty: tea tastings with handmade teapots and cups; coffee tastings with handmade mugs; flower arranging in handcrafted vases. Once people become familiar with the work of The Clay Studio, they often turn into students, collectors or frequent visitors.

“It’s a movement in the culture industry,” Taylor said. “Arts institutions aren’t going to survive by saying, ‘Here’s a piece of art work, get it or not.’”

Photography by Jeffrey Holder, in partnership with InLiquid.

College In the Palm of Your Hand

6/10/2015 |

Connect2College

In a library in Philadelphia’s Fairhill neighborhood, Cathey White patiently guides a mother and her college-bound daughter through the lengthy and often confusing FAFSA, the federal form required for most types of college financial aid. The mother hasn’t completed her taxes yet—one requirement of the FAFSA—so White offers to schedule a second appointment and suggests someplace the family can have their taxes done for free.

White is part of Connect2College (C2C), a new outreach project of the Mayor’s Office of Education’s PhillyGoes2College project that provides Philadelphians with the information they need to pursue a college education. C2C launched in October 2014, three days before the nonprofit College Access and Success Center at the Gallery closed its doors after 22 years. It was a loss, says White, who managed that center, but also an opportunity to reimagine how to best help residents on the path to college: “With C2C, we can reach more people in their neighborhoods.”

“We want to meet people where they are,” echoes Sayeh Hormozi of the Mayor’s Office of Education. For C2C, that means looking at options in addition to partnerships with libraries and other community centers citywide. “We asked: How can we reach people who can’t or won’t come to a brick and mortar location?” Hormozi says.  The 21st-century answer: using everyday technology in smart, innovative ways to increase the reach of C2C.

C2C offers three different options to access college information. For those who prefer to access college information online, C2C has a comprehensive website offering tips on preparing for, applying to and affording college. For those most comfortable using use their cell phones or who do not have a smartphone or computer access, C2C offers an interactive text message system that guides users to the existing resources that will be most helpful to them. And for those who want one-on-one guidance, C2C works with libraries, KEYSPOT computer access sites and community centers, providing training and resources to partner staff to answer common college questions. (White is available by appointment for more complex queries.)  Along SEPTA’s subway lines, bright blue and yellow signs advertise the many new options for Philadelphians considering college. “Some people have questions about completing the FAFSA. Some people have questions about getting their GED. We want to help people at every step along the way to college,” explains Leana Cabral, also of the Mayor’s Office of Education.

Each student has a unique situation and his or her own preferences for receiving information, says White, who fields questions from teenagers who will be the first in their family to attend college as well as from adults who are returning to the classroom. “We can provide people with reliable resources to help them make realistic decisions, the best decisions for themselves,” says White. “We want them not just to enter college, but to graduate.”

To learn more, text YES to 215-458-5892 or click here to visit the C2C website.

Photography by Jeffrey Holder, in partnership with InLiquid.

Coordinated Comfort

4/21/2015 |

Pathways to Housing

Stella arrived in Philadelphia with little more than the clothes she was wearing. Fleeing from domestic violence, she found safe haven in a Women Against Abuse shelter and assistance in finding a new home in this new city.

“I was starting from scratch,” she says. Her apartment was empty.

Philadelphia has made great strides in providing housing for people in need, says Pathways to Housing PA Executive Director Chris Simiriglia. But a home needs furniture. Until recently, housing assistance organizations scrounged for donations or spent scarce dollars on second-hand furniture. Precious staff time was wasted searching for free or affordable furnishings.

Just as troubling, the wait for furniture often kept people in shelter longer and strained the already-crowded emergency shelter network. While researching the issue, Simiriglia found that a family could spend as much as three additional months in a shelter while waiting for beds for their new home.

With assistance from The Barra Foundation, Pathways to Housing PA launched Philadelphia’s first furniture bank, which operates from a 20,000 square foot warehouse in Kensington. Furniture donations to fill the Philadelphia Furniture Bank come from individuals and organizations like universities and hotel associations. Nonprofit organizations serving people moving out of homelessness pay an annual membership fee to gain access to the new, coordinated system—saving them valuable time and money.

Stella was among its first clients. “I got a desk. I got a couch. I got shelves to put my books on. I’m a reader and that made my day,” she says. “I was coming out of a bad situation, and the Philly Furniture Bank made me feel like I had a place here.”

The furniture bank model is a familiar one in cities across the country, but Pathways to Housing PA has taken a decidedly tech-savvy approach, customizing software to organize donations, manage inventory, schedule volunteers and connect with clients. Stella learned about the Philadelphia Furniture Bank through her case manager at Women Against Abuse, who made an appointment online for Stella to meet with a Furniture Bank team member.

The ultimate goal: An efficient system that can serve upwards of 3,000 clients each year. “The Philadelphia Furniture Bank will be a success when people aren’t spending more time in shelters than they need to because of lack of furniture,” says Simiriglia. “It will be a success when no child is sleeping on the floor while waiting for a bed.”

Photography by Laurie Beck Peterson, in partnership with InLiquid.

A Fresh Approach to School Design

3/18/2015 |

SCHOOL REDESIGN INITIATIVE

Imagine this: a school in which pupils are taught in small groups in dynamic combined classrooms; where they go on expeditions in the city; where they can take a stock market or guitar class and go dragon boating after classes; where they continue to learn during summer breaks.

That’s the education plan developed by J.S. Jenks Elementary School in Chestnut Hill, one of four schools selected to take part in the School District of Philadelphia’s (District) School Redesign Initiative (SRI). The SRI seeks to implement innovative grassroots teaching and management models suitable for the 21st Century.

While straining financially to provide the basic educational necessities to its students, the District has harnessed a commodity as potent as money–the passion, hopes and visions of its teachers, parents and community–to create unique approaches to education based on the schools’ individual needs.

“This is a chance to actually be a key part of the plan and integral to the way things are done,” said a parent involved in the process. “This is the most excited I’ve been in seven years.”

In addition to Jenks, the schools participating in the pilot of the SRI are:  Chester A. Arthur Elementary School in South Philadelphia, which will partner with the Science Leadership Academy and use its inquiry-based approach; Laura H. Carnell Elementary School in Oxford Circle, which will employ project-based learning; and Tilden Middle School in Southwest Philadelphia, which will implement a technology-rich, blended learning approach to instruction.

The schools will be provided technical assistance as they develop their redesign, as well as consultations with scholars and innovators.  Their teams also will visit schools that have implemented similar instructional models. SRI will advance the District’s goal of researching, identifying and implementing more effective methods of reaching the needs of all students.

“We really think that providing this kind of space and opportunity is something that’s incredibly energizing and empowering to our teachers, principals and community members and gives us a way to leverage their strengths and energy,” said Ryan Stewart,  Executive Director of the Office of School Improvement and Innovation, who is overseeing SRI.

“Hopefully we’re going to attract and retain a lot of people who see this as an opportunity to do something that’s really in line with the reason they got into education and educational leadership in the first place,” Stewart said. Money may be tight but vision and vitality may well save the day.

Small Loans for Big Impact

12/2/2014 |

Kiva Philadelphia

When Arthur Verbrugghe was laid off from his non-profit job at the age of 59, the life plan he’d pursued for 35 years – to retire at 65 to be with his grandchildren – was in ruins.

“My life was upended,” he said. His unemployment benefits ran out at the end of 2013 and he had no job prospects.

What Arthur did have were design and sewing skills from his first career in the garment industry during Philadelphia’s heyday as a center of clothing manufacturing. And when he read about the demand for individuals to fill the growing need for small batch “Made in America” garment manufacturing, he decided to open a workshop called Atelier Arthur.

He poured his savings into it, but without a business track record, traditional loans were out of reach. Fortunately, Arthur discovered Kiva Zip, a unique non-profit that allows individuals to provide crowdfunded loans through the Internet to small entrepreneurs anywhere in the world. Arthur applied for a $3,000 interest-free loan.

In his online Kiva Zip profile, Arthur told his story to potential lenders. He wrote that a loan from Kiva would allow him to buy equipment and hire an employee for his Roxborough workshop, where he and a paid apprentice do everything from routine alterations to creating one-of-a-kind gowns.

Arthur’s goal is, of course, to earn a living. But his larger mission is to teach a new generation the lost skills of the needle trade – pattern making, cutting and sewing, marker making – to help create family-supporting jobs.

Much like Arthur’s time-honored trade, Kiva Zip’s platform enables a traditional kind of lending: trust and relationships. This is especially important in low-income communities, where entrepreneurs are often disconnected from traditional forms of capital. Loan qualifications are not based on credit scores, instead they are based on the social capital and trustworthiness that the borrowers have already earned in their communities and through their online profiles. “I felt connected to Arthur because he’s involved in sewing, as I have been my whole life,” said Sarah, one of his lenders.

Since its founding in 2005, Kiva has enabled 1.3 million individuals to make $630 million in online loans – some as small as $5 – to entrepreneurs across the globe. Philadelphia is one of a dozen U.S. cities with a local, Kiva Zip program, thanks to funding from The Barra Foundation. Barra funded Kiva Zip’s first two years of operations in Philadelphia, after which it is financially self-sustaining through voluntary donations from lenders. Barra’s Catalyst Fund supports significant new approaches that have yet to be tested, as well as proven innovations not yet available in Greater Philadelphia – such as Kiva.

It took just five days for the two-year loan to Arthur Atelier to be fully funded by 86 lenders from Philadelphia, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, London and elsewhere.

Asked what he thought about Kiva Zip, Arthur’s response was simply: “It was incredible.”

 

Photography by Laurie Beck Peterson, in partnership with InLiquid.

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