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How three Birmingham-area groups Thrive Together 

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Pam Bates, executive director of East Lake Initiative, Jacob Smith, Grants and Research Director for the Women's Fund (left) and Myron Thomas, site director for Hope Inspired Ministries, discuss the services offered by Thrive Together Jefferson County in Birmingham, Ala. The collaborative of three family assistance agencies is a project of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. (Photo by Mark Almond)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times  

Thrive Together Jefferson County does just that in East Birmingham.

The combination of three nonprofits—Hope Inspired Ministries, which provides workforce training; East Lake Initiative, which provides housing and health and nutrition education services; and Serving You, which provides emergency food and utility services—“all work together,” said Myron Thomas, president of Thrive Together and site director of Hope Inspired Ministries.

“We were put together by The Women’s Fund [of Greater Birmingham], and we came together under one roof to provide one-stop-shop assistance for families,” he added. “Our goal is to disrupt the cycle of poverty and create a pathway to success for families.”

Thrive Together is a result of the Collaboration Institute, a strategy-based funding model developed by The Women’s Fund

Beginning to Thrive

Thrive Together was started in 2017, after each of the three partner organizations, then separate entities, attended The Women’s Fund Collaboration Institute event, where representatives of each group had the opportunity to sit near and talk to one another.

“We started looking at each other and saying, ‘You know, maybe there’s something here,’” said Pam Bates, vice president of Thrive Together and executive director of the East Lake Initiative. “We all had been referring people back and forth, but we knew there had to be a better way to do it.”

Bates said her organization, along with Hope Inspired Ministries and Serving You, started working together to complete the application—and, soon enough, it paid off. 

“We knew we were relatively small organizations by Birmingham standards, but The Women’s Fund took a chance and brought us together,” said Bates. “It has been absolutely monumental first and foremost for our families but for our organizations, as well.”

Jacob Smith, grants research director with The Women’s Fund, said the Collaboration Institute assembled the nonprofits.

“If we really want to change things, we need to rethink about how services are delivered for families,” he said.

The three combined organizations benefitted from guidance provided by The Women’s Fund.

“We have unified intake. We share supplies, sometimes personnel. We certainly share space. We share equipment,” said Bates. “We’re grateful to have had 18 months of intense training because without that we could have not been as successful as we have been.”

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How it Works

In the past, visitors would go the East Lake Initiative for housing or health and nutrition services, then they would be referred Hope Inspired Ministries and Serving You for additional support. Now, all three organizations are located in a single location and use the group’s Empower database, so each team has access to the same information about every person who comes in for help.

“We meet quite often internally to discuss the families and [whether] we need to address this need or another need,” said Thomas, “so we’re all approaching it from a group standpoint as opposed to just [one individual] trying to figure out [someone’s] needs.”

If there are resources that cannot be found under Thrive Together’s roof, he added, “we go out and form relationships, whether it be with Christ Health Center or [the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)]. I think that has helped, as well.” 

Impact

Since joining forces, Thrive Together Jefferson Count has been able to increase services and the number of volunteers.

“Each program has its own set of volunteers, and then we’ve inherited volunteers from each program across the board,” said Thomas. “[Bates’s] team has about 40 people tutoring in the schools every week, and they’re all volunteers; there also are regular volunteers over the weekend.”

The partners have been able to serve about 25 percent more families.

“We made a commitment to serve about 30 families per year collectively, and we each are continuing to serve the families we were working with prior,” said Bates.

“We made that commitment to serve 30 for 2019, and we’re already at 28, so we’re definitely going to exceed that.”

Those families are getting better services, too.

“We’re able to go much deeper [and] look at things in a more comprehensive manner,” Bates said. “Before, [East Lake Initiative] focused only on housing or health and nutrition. Now, we’re even looking at workforce [concerns]: … ‘[We] go deeper, [asking questions like], ‘What kind of education or classes can you take that would increase your pay?”

Thrive Together also plans community events, such as the upcoming Trunk or Treat that will at Barrett Elementary School on October 19 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and a Garden Planting Day at least once a quarter to offer activities families can do together.  

For more information about Thrive Together Jefferson County, visit thrivejc.org.

Click here to read more Women’s Fund stories.