Creative Community Collaborations: Making Your Community Work For You

When Judith Dittman left for yet another conference, little did the executive director of Alternative House in Dunn Loring, Virginia, know that her organization’s Assisting Young Mothers (AYM) program was about to welcome a new addition.

Photograph of two smiling babies.
 Young residents of Alternative House

After a conference session where she and various other directors described their FYSB-funded transitional living programs, Dittman was approached by a representative of Christian Relief Services, who asked, “If you had more housing, could you put up more girls?” Absolutely, was her reply. And a collaboration leading to three new townhomes was born.

In these days of shrinking dollars and tighter budgets, transitional living programs (TLPs) and Chafee Foster Care Independence Programs (CFCIPs) across the country continually seek new funding sources to better meet the needs of the young people they serve. Programs like AYM are finding community connections and leveraging them in creative ways. By doing so, they can increase the financial, human, and social resources for youth moving toward self-sufficiency.

To meet the diverse needs of its young mothers, for example, AYM collaborates with a range of organizations: Dress for Success and Women Giving Back provide professional clothing for young women starting their first jobs; WEAVE (Women Empowered Against Violence) teaches aboutrelationship violence and abuse; a local church provides daycare; Skill Source provides employment training; Healthy Families teaches about preventing child abuse; and the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry educates residents about HIV/AIDS.

Photograph of Ain Dah Yung staff.
Ain Dah Yung staff

At the Ain Dah Yung Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, residential director Anthony Drews, says, “We are not only working in the community, we are part of the community.” As a TLP with a Native American mission, Ain Dah Yung strives to showcase their culture to the community. They invite community agencies, businesses and the general public to pow wows, sweat lodges, and drumming and dancing events held throughout the year. These venues provide networking opportunities and can lead to both collaborations and donations.

“We research many different areas of resources for the youth we serve,” says Meghan Huebner, residential services director at AYM. She believes working with other community organizations and agencies opens the doors for sharing information and creating new resources and connections.

Tips for building successful collaborations in your community:

  • Become familiar with other agencies, businesses, and faith-based organizations in your community. Invite potential partners and decision makers to start a dialogue about how you might join forces.
  • Before the first meeting, think about how your groups can work together, and come up with a plan, including:
    • What are the advantages to both programs or agencies?
    • What are the advantages to the youth being served?
  • If you don’t have a well thoughtout plan, brainstorm some ideas before the meeting with staff, and continue brainstorming with potential partners. Get creative!
  • Educate potential partners about your organization’s mission and what kinds of services you provide day-to-day. If partners understand the big picture of the collaboration as well as the details, they may be more willing to commit to teaming up with your organization.
  • Once you have some ideas for how you might collaborate, draft a memorandum of understanding. Outline what’s expected and who’s responsible for each part of the collaboration. Ensure there will be clear communication. 
  • Schedule regular meeting times to work on the partnership and review how things are going. Be open to making changes and working out details that might be causing problems. 
  • Expect that collaboration will take more than one meeting and the process might take months. Be patient. 
  • Showcase your program and what it does. Talk to anyone who will listen. Someone may be looking for you!