New campaign to target specific programs, help with training and support

MARIN COUNTY - This summer the Marin Community Foundation launched a $15 million campaign meant to elevate the lives of the estimated 23,000 local families trapped in poverty.

Now with some cash flowing, the effort has already produced new jobs and training opportunities that will have a long-term impact on the status of participants.

After a several-year strategic planning initiative, the 21-year-old foundation shifted its focus this year from general community support to grants for specific efforts with marked impact and results. Discretionary dollars were divided into four priority initiatives, including one focused on "ending the cycle of poverty."

Near the end of July, foundation officials released the list of grantees for the poverty effort that would attack the issue on several fronts: providing job training, increasing access to public support programs, teaching skills in managing finances and empowering low-income families to engage in supportive public policy change.

Funding will be broken down into grants totaling about $3 million annually for five years. One of the first grants of about $250,000 went to a program aimed at helping women start their own business. The program run by the Women's Initiative for Self Employment provides business coaching and access to loan assistance.

"One reason we chose the Women's Initiative is that they have such a strong track record and can produce income and jobs with relatively little investment," said foundation President Thomas Peters.

"With just a little coaching, the program can help someone with relatively little business experience but a lot of creativity and determination feel empowered to better their situation."

The San Francisco-based group has had a presence in Marin for about two years through an office in Novato and so far has assisted in the launch of about 600 new businesses. Program directors help women write a business plan, assess pricing and organize outreach and marketing.

Another grant of about $350,000 also went to an organization specializing in unique savings accounts for residents in poverty, called the Earned Assets Resource Network (EARN). The group educates participants on managing income while at the same time helping them save for the future.

Through foundation funding, the group will establish 500 "individual development accounts" that match personal savings with donations, reserving the account for spending on higher education, the purchase of a home or to start a business.

The Marin City Community Development Corp. (CDC) also received about $200,000 in grants through the new foundation model that will be dually used to provide green-collar job training and build affordable housing.

"The green sector is one that has been identified as having a need for a trained work force, and we are working to establish a program that will allow participants to have real-life training, while helping to serve their community," said Makini Hassan, executive director for the Marin City CDC.

The corporation is partnering with several housing organizations that are "green-habbing" homes for affordable housing, asking they use workers enrolled in the public training program. The foundation grant will also be used for initiatives related to the medical field and financial industry work education.

Also as part of the anti-poverty effort, the foundation is negotiating with local banks to provide specialty financial services for qualified residents, including no-fee cash and checking services, investment assistance, micro-enterprise loans and counseling for home purchasing.

Another set of grants will provide families emergency assistance with rent, car repairs, food stamps, tax credits and access to other services.

About $120,000 was allocated to the Grassroots Leadership Network of Marin, which will assist in educating policymakers about the needs of low-wage workers. Other organizations receiving funding include the Adopt a Family of Marin program, Homeward Bound, the Canal Alliance, County of Marin Housing Authority, Gilead Housing and the Novato Human Needs Center.

In addition to addressing poverty, the foundation also prioritized funding for programs related to reducing the impact of climate change, closing the education achievement gap for low-income and disenfranchised students and developing more affordable housing.

In 21 years, the foundation has distributed more than $800 million to nonprofit organizations. Its assets total about $1 billion, and it allocates about $50 million annually, around half of which is discretionary.