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Catalyst Fund Grantees

Read descriptions of these timely, early-stage projects that are aiming to shift practice in the social sector.

We Love Philly

Education Human Services
March 2024 $300,000 / 24 months

We Love Philly (WLP) intends to test whether by providing systemically marginalized young people at risk of not graduating high school with access to an alternative paid pre-apprenticeship program, and by building supportive networks and professional contacts with community leaders, they can increase graduation rates and create a pipeline to financially viable careers in growing industries like cyber security and solar software development. This first-of-its kind paid pre-apprenticeship program for high school students is a timely response to Act 158, which provides alternative pathways for students to graduate. WLP aims to serve as a model for others responding to this Act 158 opportunity. A “youth-first” nonprofit, WLP prides itself on listening to and centering the needs of students in developing its programming.


Deep Space Mind 215

Health Human Services
March 2024 $272,800 / 36 months

Restorative practice approaches to mental health care are generally only available after crises occur and in institutional settings that often harm community members in their operations and assumptions. However, these interventions hold great promise as preventative measures, and green spaces are naturally aligned with restorative practice work. By deploying restorative practice trainings, mental health education, and related programming for community members in local green spaces, Deep Space Mind (DSM) 215 intends to test whether facilitating access to community mental health care in third spaces (e.g. gardens, green spaces) makes neighborhoods more prepared to handle mental health issues within their neighborhoods as they arise, and less likely to require systems involvement to resolve them.


The Community Grocer

Health Human Services
March 2024 $400,000 / 24 months

Federal policy governing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows individuals to use their SNAP benefits to purchase highly processed junk food but forbids the exchange of SNAP dollars for freshly cooked and nutritious hot food items. The Community Grocer (TCG)’s pilot location, in close partnership with neighborhood organizations and community residents, intends to test a new nonprofit retail store and workforce development kitchen model that will increase access to SNAP-eligible fresh food for vulnerable populations at local corner stores. At TCG, residents in Southwest Philadelphia will have access to fresh meal kits and the ability to trade unopened meal kits – at no additional cost – for hot prepared versions at the community kitchen next door, bypassing SNAP hot food restrictions. If successful, TCG would be a self-sustaining model that could be replicated in other communities throughout the country.


The Mann Center for the Performing Arts

Arts & Culture
December 2023 $300,000/36 months

The Mann Center for the Performing Arts is testing whether by connecting the dots between public high schools, stagehand unions, and performing arts houses, they can create a pipeline to good jobs in the performing arts industry for young people of color — a field that piques many students’ interests — while diversifying union membership. This project represents a new hypothesis for how large arts organizations might relate to their communities – by forging  pathways for community members to access careers in the arts through union apprenticeship. Currently, there is no direct connection in Philadelphia between public school programs and union apprenticeship in the performing arts. To carry out their experiment, the Mann team will transform a pilot program focused on non-performance-based careers in the arts for youth at Overbrook High School to include a postsecondary component and direct on-ramp to the unionized performing arts workforce. By directly connecting participation in that program with union apprenticeship via the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and forging partnerships with other arts institutions to host student apprentices, the Mann will create a new pathway for more equitable access to careers in the arts, which they will spread via partnerships with other performing arts organizations, and via the Mann’s growing national profile in the field.


Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health

Human Services
September 2023 $400,000 / 24 months

Drexel University’s Dana and David Dornsife School of Public Health is partnering with the Community Research Review Board (CRRB) in the West Philadelphia Promise Zone Community to transform how traditional Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) review and approve their studies. This community-engaged approach to research will better ensure that researchers recruit residents and collect data to address the social determinants of health in the Promise Zone in the most trustful, community-engaged, ethical, culturally salient and scientifically rigorous way, while at the same time increasing the ability to generate data that leads to benefits for the community.

If successful, this practice has the potential for a strong community-led system of ethical oversight, research review and collaboration to solve the most pressing community crises. Such a methodology would be uniquely positioned to spread far beyond our region, promoting broader, systemic transformation of community research in promise zones and other under-resourced, highly researched communities.


Research for Action

September 2023 $400,000 / 36 months

Research For Action is developing a first-of-its-kind Democratizing Education Data Collective that puts research and advocacy power into the capable and knowledgeable hands of the students, families and communities impacted by public education in Philadelphia. RFA will work with community members to source, understand and use research for their most pressing issues.

This emerging model of participatory research will enable people closest to the issues to set the research agenda and the questions being asked.  RFA aims to develop an approach that will change the research conversation and ultimately lead to more just and effective educational systems, policies and practices at the school and neighborhood levels.


Philly Joy Bank

Human Services
June 2023 $500,000 / 36 Months

The Philly Joy Bank is a bold pilot program that provides monthly guaranteed income and voluntary support services to pregnant Philadelphians throughout pregnancy and through their baby’s first year of life, with the goal of reducing racial disparities in infant prematurity.

Among the ten largest cities in the United States, Philadelphia has the unfortunate distinction of having both the highest poverty rate and the highest infant mortality rate—both of which feature profound racial disparities. Black Philadelphians disproportionately live in poverty, and disproportionately experience poor birth outcomes.  The Philly Joy Bank will improve financial stability during pregnancy, enabling participants to better address basic needs, improve their ability to access healthcare, and reduce prenatal stress. Based on evidence of clear links between cash transfers, improved parental and infant health, and birth outcomes, this pilot is positioned to demonstrate a path to decreasing the risks of prematurity in Philadelphia. The Philly Joy Bank has the potential to reveal maternal and child health impacts that would allow federal funding already earmarked for this population to be used as guaranteed income for families.



Pathways to Housing PA

Human Services
June 2023 $150,000 / 12 Months

To address a rising demand for junk hauling services in the community, Pathways to Housing PA created Good Haul, the region’s only nonprofit junk hauling service. It serves as a complementary program to the organization’s Philadelphia Furniture Bank (PFB), which provides no-cost furnishing to 1,400 homes for individuals and families exiting homelessness each year. Additionally, Pathways staffs its Good Haul operations with part-time, wage-paid employees from its Work First transitional employment program that supports individuals who are entering or re-entering the workforce after a significant break. Pathways takes a more coordinated approach than other peer resale or thrift shop nonprofits by matching donated items with nonprofit partners who can redistribute or reuse items to keep them out of landfills and put them in the hands of community members who most need them. Its innovative model simultaneously addresses sustainable waste stream management, gaps in employment opportunities for transitional workers, and a rising need for coordinated and community-based junk hauling services. Barra’s funding will help support the establishment of this novel social enterprise, position Good Haul to generate revenue, and outline a replicable model for other cities around the country interested in developing nonprofit junk hauling services.



Arts & Culture
June 2023 $400,000 / 36 Months

Via the Philadelphia Agreement, Art-Reach is establishing a set of new, groundbreaking standards for arts access in Philadelphia and facilitating the uptake of these standards in organizations across the cultural sector. The most recent U.S. Census shows that over 16% of Philadelphians identify as disabled—over 250,000 people. Unfortunately, people with disabilities still experience exclusion in many areas of life – including the arts, one of greatest avenues for people to learn, develop, find interests, and experience personal growth. Through this project, Art-Reach is testing whether by (a) conducting a community-driven planning process that centers the lived experience of people with disabilities and (b) leveraging its influence in the cultural sector in Greater Philadelphia to change the programs and policies of its partners; it can create a critical mass of community pressure for change that will revolutionize the accessibility of the arts in Philadelphia to people with disabilities and set an example for the nation at large.



Arts & Culture
March 2023 $200,000 / 24 Months

Guilded is the first attempt in the United States to form a cooperative structure at scale to solve the durable challenges of contingent labor in the arts. Creative freelancer income is often volatile, and freelancers are unable to access employer-sponsored benefits and are vulnerable to theft of intellectual property or non-payment of contracts given a lack of human resources protections. These risks and barriers disproportionately impact BIPOC creatives and restrict the kinds of people who can afford to work as artists. Through a concerted recruitment push in Philadelphia, Guilded is testing whether they can attract enough artists to their platform such that it can become self-sustaining and creative freelancers can access the stability and benefits of traditional employment without losing their creative autonomy and control over their work.


Workshop Learning

December 2022 $350,000 / 24 Months

New models of education are taking on very real barriers that constrain many students. Workshop Learning’s Workshop U pilot program seeks to create a college environment focused on real world learning and skills for recent high school graduates, centering traditionally excluded populations. The pilot program aims to reduce the cost of the college experience, help students develop valuable workplace skills that serve them within and across careers, and ground students’ learning journey in a deep understanding of who they are and what they want from life. By working with a cross-sector of partners and organizations, Workshop U is creating a model for collaboration, iteration and long-term systematic adoption of this educational model.


Green & Healthy Homes Initiative

September 2022 $300,000 / 36 Months

The Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (“GHHI”) and the Philadelphia Energy Authority (“PEA”) have partnered on 1,000 Healthy Homes, a program that leverages the work of these two organizations to preserve affordable homes and improve health outcomes. 1,000 Healthy Homes is based on the GHHI Intervention Model, which is a unique, comprehensive process encompassing outreach, centralized intake, resident education, home assessment, health-related housing interventions and resident follow-ups. The partners anticipate completing housing interventions in at least 1,000 Philadelphia homes over three years impacting approximately 4,000 residents. By demonstrating outcomes, GHHI hopes to bolster the case for increased healthcare investment to address the social determinants of health that result in numerous inequities in Philadelphia and across the country.


Philadelphia Contemporary

Arts & Culture
June 2022 $115,000 / 12 months

Philadelphia Contemporary launched a Lived Culture program (2022-2023) with the goal of creating an entire series of programs devoted to the practice of lived culture – the artistry of living and thriving in the everyday. Funding supported a major boundary-pushing project: Supine Horizons (2022), which focused on rest. This project was unique because it centered and institutionalized everyday creative practices within a contemporary art museum setting, and challenged the traditional way of viewing these practices. PC believes that the Lived Culture curatorial program has the potential to help shift the contemporary art world at large and begin to change the discourse around contemporary art, particularly who it is for and who gets to determine what kinds of art get produced and presented.


VestedIn: Philly Rise

Education Human Services
June 2022 $350,000 / 24 months

Philly Rise is a five-year real estate accelerator program for emerging black and brown real estate developers designed to provide them with the training, affordable capital, technical assistance and networks they need to grow their companies. A cohort of 10-12 black and brown real estate developers will be recruited into Philly Rise each year with each developer receiving 14 weeks of high-level training, a committed pool of capital that they can promptly access for their projects, mentorship and coaching through the predevelopment and construction phases of their projects, and access to an ecosystem of developers, architects, contractors, and other residential development professionals in Philadelphia. The Philly Rise accelerator brings together a range of partner organizations (Black Squirrel, Urban Land Institute, Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation and AR Spruce) to provide developer cohorts with these resources.


Food Connect

Health Human Services
June 2022 $300,000 / 24 months

Food Connect is challenging the conventional wisdom underlying the traditional hunger relief model using effective data-driven designed technology. Funds will support the design and testing of a Partner Portal, that aims to address three critical problems plaguing the hunger relief network: lack of predictability, communication barriers and seamless collaboration. The Portal will enable large frontline hunger organizations, food donors and food donation recipients to easily communicate needs and availability to take advantage of the abundance of existing resources that are being massively underutilized. The Portal will act as a one-stop-shop for hunger relief organizations whose singular goal is to feed the hungry. This integrated approach to connecting food donors’ resources, recipient needs, and real-time transport has not been addressed in the field of hunger-relief.


College Unbound

March 2022 $400,000 / 48 months

Seventy-five percent of individuals in the United States from the lowest economic quartile who started post-secondary degrees, never finished. College Unbound (CU) is a contemporary accredited college that aims to reinvent the higher education experience to address the very real barriers that constrain underserved adult learners. A convenient schedule and support system tailored to working and parenting adults initially attracts students. They stay engaged because of the small cohort model and transformational curriculum that develops high-value, field-specific knowledge that builds on their interests and provides credit for life experience. After successfully completing the rigorous, project-based curriculum, students are awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in Organizational Leadership and Change. CU partners with nonprofits and businesses to enable access to CU’s target adult population and to embed degree completion in the workplace. In January, 2022 College Unbound (CU) Philadelphia launched two pilot cohorts in partnership with the Philadelphia Housing Authority and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The business model limits student debt and aims to further economic advancement.


Drexel University: Writers Room

Arts & Culture Human Services
January 2021 $300,000 / 24 months

The neighborhoods adjacent to the Drexel University campus – Mantua and Powelton Village – are rapidly changing. Part of a federally designated Promise Zone program created by President Obama that identifies them as high-poverty but also high opportunity, they are experiencing growth. This often means that existing residents have a difficult time remaining in their homes, due to rapid gentrification. Students also look to this area for more affordable housing options than in University City. In an attempt to ensure that the residents who live in these communities that surround this anchor institution can benefit from its growth, Drexel University’s Writers Room will develop and pilot an intergenerational co-living housing model. They will leverage their relationships with other neighborhood partners to include the voices of residents and students alike in shaping the pilot. Begun in 2014 at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, Writers Room is a university-community literary arts program that uses creative programming and art for social justice. Their mission is to develop inclusive, intergenerational, co-creative places that foster connection and community. Click here to learn more about the Second Story Collective or watch this recently produced video.


Social Impact Commons

Arts & Culture
December 2020 $150,000 / 24 Months

The Philadelphia region is home to hundreds of arts and heritage properties. Challenges faced by organizations holding these assets include ongoing reliance on contributed income and a lack of capacity to manage and maintain their properties. This is financially unsustainable and too often leads to problems with physical stewardship. In response, Social Impact Commons formed the Cultural Equity Realty Trust (CERT) as a community-based, nonprofit development organization with the purpose of developing, activating and sustaining arts and heritage real estate through direct community stewardship and ownership. CERT will develop a portfolio of properties under common management whose diversity in income streams and balance sheet holdings can act as a platform for increased stabilization and efficiency for the arts and heritage community with regard to its real property.


Wilma Theater

Arts & Culture
August 2020 $175,000 / 24 months

Since the coronavirus has created a barrier between audiences and live theater performances, theater companies across the world are looking for solutions to continue engaging with their audiences. The Wilma is seizing the opportunity to reimagine how they make theater and how they might take the lessons learned during the pandemic and change the field at large. Recognizing that audiences crave live theater while needing to stay at home, they are exploring a hybrid model of theater-making for the next season that marries the digital world with live performance. The Wilma envisions a multifaceted approach that involves altering their physical space on two levels: (i) embedding HD cameras throughout the theater to film productions and livestream them while (ii) changing the audience configuration of the auditorium to provide a safe, socially distanced experience.

This grant was made as part of Barra’s Reimagining Theater for Changing Times initiative for projects that reinvent how performing arts organizations can present work at a time when social distancing has caused many to cancel their 2020 seasons. These companies are considering how to not only safely present to audiences but are also being thoughtful about incorporating social justice issues into their programming and engaging diverse audiences. Selected projects stood out for their willingness to be daring, think creatively, work collaboratively and share their learning broadly about new models that can be used throughout the pandemic and beyond.


The People’s Light & Theatre Company

Arts & Culture
August 2020 $55,000 / 5 months

Given their deep community connections and variety of existing programs, People’s Light has the capacity and experience to test unique methods for entertaining the community where they are. They will roll out newly developed socially distanced programming, (which may include the Beards truck as a potential approach) providing new experiences to their community partners that are immediate and timely. If successful, these models of community-based delivery will allow them to be more responsive to current events and community needs and to honor the experiences of community members, especially Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). Others will be able to learn from these experiments, as COVID-19 wears on and into the future.

This grant was made as part of Barra’s Reimagining Theater for Changing Times initiative for projects that reinvent how performing arts organizations can present work at a time when social distancing has caused many to cancel their 2020 seasons. These companies are considering how to not only safely present to audiences but are also being thoughtful about incorporating social justice issues into their programming and engaging diverse audiences. Selected projects stood out for their willingness to be daring, think creatively, work collaboratively and share their learning broadly about new models that can be used throughout the pandemic and beyond.


The Bearded Ladies Cabaret

Arts & Culture
August 2020 $140,500 / 5 months

COVID-19 social distancing restrictions have made anything but the smallest gatherings impossible for the foreseeable future. As an organization used to presenting cabaret style performances in small venues, The Bearded Ladies Cabaret (“Beards”) quickly shifted from delivering programming inside to taking it outside. Joining forces with other organizations throughout the region, they are developing a mobile arts venue that will bring diverse, small-scale experiences to open spaces in neighborhoods. The truck will open out into a stage complete with speakers and other technical equipment, transforming into an alternative performance space for the Beards and their partners. At a time when social justice is at the forefront of conversation, people are looking to engage with each other in new ways. The arts can help to accomplish this. This mobile venue will serve as a forum for connecting with people in their own neighborhoods, providing an opportunity for broader engagement and access.

This grant was made as part of Barra’s Reimagining Theater for Changing Times initiative for projects that reinvent how performing arts organizations can present work at a time when social distancing has caused many to cancel their 2020 seasons. These companies are considering how to not only safely present to audiences but are also being thoughtful about incorporating social justice issues into their programming and engaging diverse audiences. Selected projects stood out for their willingness to be daring, think creatively, work collaboratively and share their learning broadly about new models that can be used throughout the pandemic and beyond.


Philadelphia Learning Collaborative

June 2020 $300,000 / 36 months

Barra’s investment in The Philadelphia Learning Collaborative (PLC) aims to further embed the innovative education approaches the Foundation has previously supported. Through a “thematic review,” in 2018 Barra looked back at several investments it had made in new school models including Science Leadership AcademyBuilding 21Vaux Big Picture and the Workshop School and found that there were challenges to embedding these approaches into practice. These schools (and others) came together to address their need to strengthen the student-centered deeper learning practices in their schools and spread the innovation to other public, independent and charter schools interested in implementation. The PLC is an efficient way for the schools to collectively address these challenges as well as some of the obstacles they face working with colleges and universities to build a pipeline of educators prepared to teach at their schools, professional development, authentic assessment and establishing real-world connections for learning beyond the classroom.


Children’s Crisis Treatment Center (CCTC)

December 2019 $300,000 / 36 months

Value-Based Care is an emerging practice in the healthcare field; shifting the current “fee for service” system, which incentivizes volume/quantity, to one that focuses on quality and outcomes. Children’s Crisis Treatment Center (CCTC) will be the first children’s behavioral health provider in Philadelphia to fully embrace this shift through a transformation of their organizational practices. They will build out a new data analytics system, creating the ability to conduct the sophisticated data management and analyses required, and develop new ways of working both administratively and programmatically including piloting a new value-based contract/payment system with up to two programs. Through these efforts, they will increase the focus on quality and outcomes for the children and families they serve. Their approach has the potential for a ripple effect and could serve as a model for others locally and nationally.


Impact Services Corporation: Kensington Corridor Trust

Arts & Culture Education Health Human Services
September 2019 S350,000 / 36 months

The ongoing commitment of residents and community-based organizations to the Kensington section of Philadelphia has recently been bolstered by significant investments in the neighborhood. At the same time, economic forces associated with city-wide development threaten to change the neighborhood and make it unaffordable and culturally unwelcoming for current residents. Through a partnership with Shift Capital—a nationally-recognized impact developer—Impact Services Corporation will work with neighborhood stakeholders to create an emerging model for supporting the business corridor based on existing community land trusts. The Kensington Corridor Trust (Trust) will support sustainable and equitable community development through thoughtful real estate acquisition, community engagement, broad local ownership, small business lending and technical assistance. There are a few things that make this initiative different from other economic development efforts. The Trust will be controlled by a board of majority community stakeholders who represent the cultural and socioeconomic diversity of the current neighborhood and will hold and manage the properties. This community trust also aims to incorporate the commercial corridor, whereas other trusts have typically focused on residential community ownership. Neighborhoods around Philadelphia as well as other cities are watching the development of the Trust model as they consider how to avoid the economic inequality and displacement that often result from rapid gentrification.

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