Several members of the Mission Throttle team recently had the honor of attending the 2018 Starfish Trauma Summit: Building Resilient Communities. The summit sought to answer two questions that are especially relevant in Detroit, namely:
How can we create a community of strength and hopefulness that recognizes the prevalence and adverse impact of trauma on too many children, families, and communities?
How can we as a community of leaders help build trauma-informed, resilient communities that support healing?
During her opening remarks, the event moderator, Rochelle Riley, reminded us that “every criminal was once a child, just as every lawyer was once a child, and yes, even every journalist was once a child.” Children are often guided down divergent paths by the trauma they experience at a vulnerable age, rather than by deliberate choices. However, children can also be influenced by how the adults in their lives respond to and (hopefully) counteract that trauma.
The entire event was both informative and energizing, but I was particularly inspired by the keynote speaker, Bryan Stevenson.
I first encountered Bryan’s brilliance when I read his book, “Just Mercy,” in 2016. At that time, I was deeply moved by his first-hand experiences working to improve the U.S. criminal justice system and ban the death penalty. During his address at the Starfish Trauma Summit, I heard some of the familiar stories of triumph and heartbreak from his book, but I was reignited by hearing his sentiments through the lens of trauma-informed child care.
Bryan described four steps to enact change in our childcare and education systems, and to provide children with an equitable chance in life:
Get Proximate. “Many of our parents taught us to stay away from the bad neighborhoods,” Stevenson said, “but in order to appreciate the humanity of each individual, we need to make the effort to see our disadvantaged neighbors, to talk to them, and to connect with them person-to-person. Without close encounter, and even embrace, it is far too easy to create a perception of ‘them’ and ‘us’.”
Change the Narrative. Stevenson (who also initiated the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL) asserted that “the greatest crime of slavery was not the forced labor or even the brutal beatings and murders that slaves endured, but rather, it was the dehumanization of the black race and the propagation of white supremacy that persists even today.” He explained that in order to overcome racism, we need to first acknowledge and confront the continued, present-day impact that slavery has on our country. “Truth and reconciliation are consequential, he said. “We cannot make peace without first confronting the truth and our own culpability.”
Remain hopeful. Stevenson then cautioned against hopelessness, calling it “the single greatest weapon of oppressors.” He noted that “we can only maintain the strength to continue fighting for ourselves and/or others if we remain hopeful that the status quo can be changed.” This point was acutely appreciated in an audience containing so many educators and caretakers who had experienced recurring indirect trauma during their work with disenfranchised youth.
Be willing to do things that are uncomfortable and inconvenient. “To really make significant progress, we have to be willing to speak out, and to act out, against unjust systems and prejudiced sentiments, even those that seem immovable and unchangeable,” Stevenson continued. “For those of us who have been blessed to have wonderful opportunities for education, employment, and fulfillment, I believe it is our responsibility to do our part, no matter how big or small, to help ensure that vulnerable children are given an equitable opportunity to direct their future.”
Starfish Family Services is actively carrying out these four steps through their trauma-informed early childhood education and mental health services.
Starfish is dedicated to healing the effects of toxic stress on children who have experienced trauma. While learning to cope with adversity is an important part of healthy child development, undue exposure to conflict and fear can cause PTSD, similar to that which many military veterans endure. This toxic stress can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity, such as: physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support. When stress occurs continually, or is triggered by multiple sources, it can have a cumulative (lifetime) toll on an individual’s physical and mental health. The more adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood of developmental delays and later health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, and depression. Research also indicates that early-life supportive, responsive relationships with caring adults can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of toxic stress response.
In 2015, Starfish Family Services enlisted the assistance of Mission Throttle to create a coordinated business strategy to scale several of its core service offerings. The strategies were focused on Starfish’s desire to promote early detection/intervention of mental health issues, mitigate barriers to health care access, and improve behavioral and physical health outcomes. As the project progressed, the vision evolved. It was soon evident that by creating a more integrated organization, Starfish was uniquely positioned to accelerate its core passion of creating resiliency for the children and families it serves.
Mission Throttle identified a host of opportunities for Starfish to accelerate the impact of its programs. Through a collaborative, user-centered process, Mission Throttle and Starfish developed the vision for a trauma-equipped Starfish. By incorporating mental health screening, referral, and treatment into all of Starfish’s Head Start programs, Starfish now creates opportunities for early detection and prevention of toxic stress. This comprehensive service offering demonstrates Starfish’s leadership as a forward-thinking and client-centric provider of early education programming.
Through innovative collaborations like Mission Throttle’s relationship with Starfish, we can begin to forge a strategy to counteract injustice in Southeast Michigan; however, the path to progress is not easy nor is it linear. Thankfully, Bryan Stevenson assured us that uncertainty should not deter us, as we will only discover the answers through proximity to our vulnerable neighbors.
With this encouragement, let us make haste to go out and work to build resilient communities!
Q&A With Marisa Nicely, VP Clinical and Youth Services, Starfish Family Services
As a leading provider of mental health services for children, youth and families, Starfish Family Services (“Starfish”) is at the forefront of a growing movement in healthcare. After decades of divide, it is now commonly accepted that behavioral health is a key component to achieving improved health outcomes. An overwhelming body of evidence supports the importance of early intervention through integrated health services, particularly in children, to develop resiliency and to mitigate the negative effect on later-life health and well-being.These initiatives can ultimately result in improved health outcomes and significant systemic cost savings.
In May 2015, Starfish and Mission Throttle embarked on a journey to create a comprehensive business strategy to scale several of its core service offerings and preventive interventions, in order to further its cohesive mission of “investing early in the lives of families to prevent problems before they escalate.”
We talked to Marisa Nicely, VP Clinical and Youth Services about the project.
Q: Tell us more about your mission and how your organization has evolved. What made you decide to start considering market-based strategies to further your mission?
Our mission at Starfish Family Services is “Strengthening Families to Create Brighter Futures for Children.” The roots of our organization were in adoption/foster care and mental health, but as we evolved, our founder, Dr. Ouida Cash recognized the importance of “working with our families upstream rather than to try to pull them out of a fast-moving river.” Over the past 15 years, our organization has shifted its focus from intervention to prevention services with a focus on young children and their families. Mental Health services are key to the mission of Starfish Family Services. Our leadership team believes that given the current competitive and unpredictable health care environment, Starfish has to be on the cutting edge of both quality and innovation to execute. We look to do this by refining our business operations. Additionally, by establishing our value proposition and examining our current operations for efficacy and relevance, we are positioning ourselves to be valuable players in the future of health care.
Q: How has thinking more like a business/social enterprise expanded solutions to our community’s problems? How has it helped your organization?
Mission Throttle helped us think not just in terms of delivering services but in meeting the needs of our customers. As a result, we are piloting several entrepreneurial ventures in the areas of trauma informed care and integrated health care in order to increase the number of people we serve in the most impactful and efficient way.
Q: Has this mindset opened you up to new forms of revenue? How will these funds help your organization in ways grants can’t?
This mindset has allowed us to recognize factors such as the cost of acquisition of clients and processes as ways to increase revenue by lowering costs and increasing efficiency. We have also developed an entrepreneurial mindset related to our program and service innovations, such as charging for technical assistance and consulting services.
Q: Do you have advice for other mission driven organizations that are looking to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset?
A barrier for nonprofits will always be staff capacity to invest time into the project. Committing to the time investment was difficult but it has proven invaluable to our organization. The professional development benefits to our leadership team have been tremendous. We are operating at a more sophisticated level and looking at things through a lens that allows us to better balance mission and margin.
Mission Throttle Selected by W.K. Kellogg Foundation to Help Grant Partners Create Framework for Growth and Innovation
Mission Throttle has been selected by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) to provide advisory services to a cohort of its Michigan-based community partners. With support from WKKF, Mission Throttle is collaborating with Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC), COLORS Detroit, and Grand Rapids Urban League (GRUL) to develop pathways for their sustainability and growth.
The engagements are designed to enhance each organization’s operational effectiveness, and enable them to meet existing and future funding needs by developing innovative, diversified revenue strategies.
“In 2010, ELNC made a commitment to make quality early learning opportunities available and accessible to vulnerable families living within in our target neighborhoods,” said Dr. Nkechy Ekere Ezeh, Founder & CEO of ELNC. “We promised parents that we wouldn’t start something that we couldn’t sustain. In order to do that we needed to develop a sustainable business plan based on intentional strategies aimed at advancing racial equity in early childhood education. We greatly appreciated the fact that Mission Throttle was there to help guide us through the process while providing expertise and a valuable external perspective.”
Mission Throttle is working with ELNC, COLORS Detroit and GRUL to create customized, long-term solutions for critical social issues by using creative market-based approaches. The organizations that Mission Throttle works with, and their pioneering leaders, simultaneously look to increase their financial stability, along with the social and/or environmental stability of their communities.
“We applaud WKKF’s commitment to prioritizing preventive solutions and capacity building investments, and are thrilled to collaborate with their community partners to identify initiatives that promote operational excellence,” said Susan Gordon, Managing Director of Advisory Services for Mission Throttle.
Mission Throttle has also begun working with five of WKKF’s Battle Creek community partners — Burma Center, Generation E Institute, Urban League of Battle Creek, VOCES and Woman’s Co-op — to identify opportunities to accelerate their impact on the community.
About Mission Throttle
Mission Throttle is a social impact strategy firm dedicated to accelerating philanthropic innovation in communities. We advise, invest in, and support mission-driven organizations that seek to use market-based strategies to address social and environmental challenges. We are deeply passionate about our work and believe that merging business solutions and philanthropic values is critical to sustain and scale social impact for those in need. For more information visit www.missionthrottle.com
About W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life. The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit www.wkkf.org.
Mission Throttle Teams with Michigan Women’s Foundation to Increase Access to Detroit’s Microloan System
The Michigan Women’s Foundation (MWF) has selected Mission Throttle to analyze the market demand for expanding its existing Microloan Fund. The Michigan Women’s Microloan Fund provides start-up and growth capital to women entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Existing and new business owners in Detroit are greatly in need of capital to spur the growth of their businesses, yet conventional monies, even those from CDFIs, often do not meet the needs of these individuals. Many business owners are in need of smaller loans (less than $25,000), which most financial institutions are challenged to provide. MWF has successfully demonstrated its ability to deploy micro-loans ranging from $5,000 – $50,000; this success is closely tied to the invaluable education and mentoring programs that complement its loans.
While this funding gap is commonly acknowledged, most intermediaries are unable to provide the entrepreneurs with the breadth of technical assistance and resources to fully activate their ideas. Mission Throttle and MWF will work in partnership to expand access to the Detroit micro-loan ecosystem, and identify opportunities to further develop this critical piece of the funding continuum in Detroit.
“MWF is keenly aware that this program needs to be scaled to meet the demand for capital. As a result, MWF is eager to develop the financial and operational infrastructure necessary to promote women-owned businesses, and to create positive economic impact for the city of Detroit,” said Carolyn Cassin, President & CEO, Michigan Women’s Foundation. “By providing women who are starting and growing their businesses with the support they need, MWF works to eliminate barriers to economic and social equality and helps build a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
“We believe in creating sustainable, replicable solutions to complex problems,” said Susan Gordon, Managing Director of Advisory Services for Mission Throttle. “It is our hope that the result of this collaboration with Michigan Women’s Foundation will not only benefit women-owned businesses in the city of Detroit, but provide a model that will help open doors to economic opportunities for women throughout Michigan.”
About Mission Throttle
Mission Throttle is an advisory firm dedicated to accelerating philanthropic innovation in our community. We advise, invest in, and support mission-driven organizations that seek to use market-based strategies to address social and environmental problems. We are deeply passionate about our work and believe that merging business solutions and philanthropic values is the best approach to achieve sustainable social impact.
About Michigan Women’s Foundation
With a 31-year history of high-impact work, Michigan Women’s Foundation is devoted to fostering economic empowerment for Michigan’s women and girls through philanthropy and investment. In response to a compelling need for women to further advance their social, economic and professional well-being, MWF and its partners and supporters are committed to creating financial and intellectual improvements for women and girls.