A new United Way of Central Indiana (UWCI) fund will support organizations that want to implement more aggressive strategies in addressing poverty.
The large nonprofit awarded $750,000 to 14 organizations in the first round of the Social Innovation Fund, which is designed to inspire new ideas and programs when it comes to helping those who live in or near poverty.
Dress for Success Indianapolis, an affiliate of the worldwide nonprofit, will use its grant to start a new mobile services unit to reach women who don’t have reliable transportation to get to the downtown location.
The organization received a $55,000 grant, according to Shayla Pinner, director of marketing and development.
That money will be used to purchase vans large enough to carry clothes and technology such as laptops.
Other Dress for Success affiliates already have a similar transportation system, but Pinner said the Indianapolis staff — which consists of six full-time and two part-time employees — is too small to pull off that kind of expansion.
“We’ve never had the capacity really to go out into the community,” Pinner said. “It’s been all hands on deck here.”
The organization will hire a mobile services coordinator to successfully implement the program. The job is posted online.
“I think what’s gonna happen is we will be able to serve a lot of women who would never think that they may be able to be one of our clients,” Pinner said.
Flanner House will use its grant to extend its farming operation with a greenhouse that Executive Director Brandon Cosby said will have more than 15,000 square feet of growing space.
“Our farming operation has been fairly successful, but that’s really limited based off of weather,” he said. “This will allow us to provide fresh produce options year-round.”
Flanner House will grow the food through a method called aeroponics, which uses fish waste as fertilizer and doesn’t require soil.
Cosby said locals from the community will be hired as part of the expansion, and the goal is for the newly acquired skills — he described aeroponics requiring “advanced skills” — to be transferrable to high-wage jobs.
When it comes to the work nonprofits do to try to alleviate poverty, the emphasis is usually on just making sure the bottom doesn’t fall out. Families and individuals are in need right now, so reassurance that bigger change is on the way doesn’t help them in the interim. But the projects UWCI is funding through its Social Innovation Fund are forward-looking.
Alan Bacon, senior director of the fund, said UWCI is in a position to both serve people now and try to find solutions to poverty.
“What are we not deploying in the community currently that we could actually start to explore to really see if we can move the needle and solve some of these issues, versus just providing the safety net?” Bacon said.
That safety net is still important, he said, but it doesn’t have to be the only focus.
“Without the safety net, the solutions look different,” Bacon said. “And without solutions, the safety net would get too robust and maybe break.”
Other organizations that received funding included Exodus Refugee Immigration, Trinity Haven, Public Advocates in Community Re-Entry (PACE) and Crossroads Education.
Bacon warned the annual fund probably won’t produce successful programs and ideas every time, but that’s because of the aggressive nature of what the fund is meant to accomplish.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
Dress for Success Indianapolis was one local organization to receive a grant from United Way of Central Indiana to help fight poverty. Pictured are attendees at the 2018 Stepping Out in Style Fashion Show. (Photo provided)