Seeking out the greatest needs

Even though the pandemic has engulfed the nation, creating unprecedented challenges, City Connects is working with its funders and community partners to meet students’ and families’ needs. One example is in Minnesota.

“This year, because of the pandemic, the needs of students and families have shifted,” Laurie Acker, Minnesota’s City Connects Program Manager, says. “A lot of these needs – food, housing, computers, and mental health services – we have the resources to meet. But it’s hard to find resources for families who want to stay in their homes when they can’t pay the rent because they’re unemployed or underemployed.”

“Fortunately, the GHR Foundation contacted me. They knew that families needed help with rent.” 

Based in Minneapolis, the GHR Foundation is a longtime supporter of City Connects. Its mission is to “be of service to people and their limitless potential for good.”

While there is a moratorium on evictions for unpaid rents, evictions for other reasons are still allowed. And as Acker points out, some unemployed parents have no way to plug the holes in their earnings and come up with back rent.

So Acker took action.

“I contacted all the coordinators and asked them to find out how many of their families are struggling to pay rent. That’s delicate work, reaching out to families for the information without being intrusive, and then being honest about the fact that we might not be able to help.”

It was also the winter season, when coordinators were busy processing whole class reviews and making sure families had food, clothes, and gifts for the holidays. 

Acker estimated that the coordinators would find a total need of $40,000 to $50,000. But once all the information was collected, the actual need was more than 100 families who needed closer to $100,000. And even after the tally was done, coordinators learned about more struggling families, some of whom couldn’t make their mortgage payments.

“I thought we would have to pick and choose among the families.” 

Instead, Acker and the GHR Foundation worked with the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community. GHR sent $90,000 to St. Joan, and St. Joan distributed the funds to individual landlords, working closely with Acker to double check names and addresses. Help also went to families who needed help making one month of their mortgage payments.

When an unexpected $3,000 of additional need was found, St. Joan closed the gap. And although St. Joan’s typically focuses its giving in Minneapolis, it expanded its reach, also meeting needs in St. Paul and the suburbs.

This kind of teamwork shows how City Connects can quickly discern the nature of families’ needs, and help philanthropists and organizations meet these needs. Even under great pressure, Acker and her team helped weave together new services and safety nets to connect students and families to the community partnerships that fuel City Connects.

“It was pretty awesome to see how everybody working together really made a difference for these families,” Acker says. “Everyone wanted to move the dial to help these families and students improve their lives and be able to succeed.”

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