Improving life in North Tulsa, providing mediation between tenants and landlords to decrease evictions, helping those released from prison to pursue an education, get a job and make sound financial decisions, and improving the financial literacy of low-income families without access to banks are among community projects to receive Social Innovation Grants from the Tulsa Area United Way.
“The purpose of our social innovation grants is to locate fresh perspectives and innovative strategies to confront challenges in our community,” said Alison Anthony, President and CEO of the Tulsa Area United Way.
A total of $295,500 was awarded to local non-profit organizations that presented new and exciting angles to tackle social challenges, Anthony said.
Several non-profit organizations recently presented their ideas before a panel of volunteer judges during a “pitch night” at United Way.
Each “pitch” was limited to 10 minutes. Recipients may or may not receive regular funding from United Way but are required to be 501c3 organizations.
“Our judges were not only looking for innovation, but also for collaboration and non-duplication among non-profit, educational or governmental organizations,” said Brent Sadler, Vice President for Community Investments at the Tulsa Area United Way.
Four new “start-up” social service programs will receive funding, allowing them to launch in 2019.
Receiving grants will be the Center for Employment Opportunities, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Due North, a collaboration of seven organizations serving North Tulsa, and Tulsa Community Work Advance.
The Center for Employment Opportunities will develop an Economic Opportunity Initiative for individuals recently released from prison, providing education through GED and vocational programs, career development and financial empowerment workshops.
“Each year, between 1,400 and 1,800 women and men are released from prison and return home to Tulsa,” Sadler said. “These individuals face tremendous challenges, including unemployment that can reach 60 percent, low educational levels, low wages and a high probability of returning to prison.”
Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma will develop a mediation program to help families facing eviction stay in their homes.
“Tulsa County averages about 14,000 evictions each year,” Sadler said. “These families are often thrust into homelessness, interrupting jobs for parents and school for children. As a result, their credit scores will suffer, resulting in difficulty finding housing.”
The voluntary mediation process will begin with intake by a paralegal to triage the situation and determine next steps, leading to settling disputes between tenants and property owners.
“Both tenants and property owners face significant costs during and after an eviction,” Sadler said. “The average cost of an eviction to a property owner in Tulsa County is $5,350.”
The Due North Initiative is a collaboration of seven non-profit organizations, educational institutions and governments to provide North Tulsa residents with education, life skills training and employment assistance, improving the quality of life in low-income neighborhoods. Partners in the initiative, led by Tulsa Community Work Advance, include the City of Tulsa, Tulsa Housing Authority, CAP Tulsa, Tulsa Dream Center, Tulsa Technology Center and Tulsa Community College.
The collaborative effort will provide educational opportunities and services to enhance economic security and meet business needs by preparing trained, skilled workers, Sadler said.
“We believe this community-wide effort with multiple, diverse partners will result in a much greater impact,” Sadler said.
Tulsa Community Work Advance also will receive a Social Innovation Grant to develop a financial literacy program for low-income residents in the Tulsa area who do not have access to traditional banking services, Sadler said.
“According to the FDIC, nearly 40 percent of Tulsans must rely on money cards, check cashing facilities and payday lenders, many of whom employ high fees and predatory practices,” he said.
The financial training program will complement other services offered by Tulsa Community Work Advance, including technical training, career readiness training and job placement.