Social Connectedness / 2013
The Beacon Network presented by Jovenes Inc.
Jovenes is a place of personal transformation for homeless youth ages 18-25. A home and family for those without, Jovenes provides an innovative program of stable housing options, compassionate care, life skills training and employment support to young adults seeking a path to life change. Our experience working with homeless and at-risk youth shows us that when young people are disconnected from empowering opportunities and supportive networks (families, schools, communities), they end up languishing on the fringes of society.
In 2010, Jovenes began asking the question “how can we do a better job of connecting youth with the help they need, and leverage the resources and opportunities provided by our partners?” Easy-to-use technology was our answer, so we developed and launched The Beacon Network (TBN). TBN uses the Internet to offer youth a means to connect and evaluate their options linking both themselves, and their loved ones, to local free or low-cost solutions.
Youth in low-income communities throughout Los Angeles have many needs and challenges, and finding out where to go for help can be overwhelming because there is no one organization that can address all these issues. They also often shoulder responsibility for their families, performing tasks of childcare for younger relatives, getting jobs to support their parents, and translating for non-English speaking family members. This expanded role can be overwhelming. Los Angeles, and Boyle Heights in particular, has a rich fabric of non-profit organizations and social service providers who do outstanding work that leads clients to self-sufficiency and societal integration. However, community members, particularly youth, have trouble finding out how to access the help they need.
The Beacon Network Connect (www.tbnconnect.org) is a bilingual online referral directory tailored to youth in Boyle Heights and East LA. It offers over 250 free to low-cost services that are locally available, allowing youth to find and access the help they need. There are seven core service categories: 1) Youth Community Resources (after school programs, mentoring, arts & culture, volunteer opportunities and more), 2) Education, 3) Health, 4) Basic Needs (including childcare, food, clothing, employment, housing/shelter), 5) Counseling and Support Groups, 6) Legal Assistance, 7) Financial Services. It’s a site that helps youth search, connect, and thrive.
The Beacon Network features a second online platform that is changing the way non-profits collaborate (www.thebeaconnetwork.org). By including other non-profit agencies on our site, and allowing these organizations to collect, pool and share data over time, we are better able to understand the community’s gaps in service and changing needs. It also connects agency staff with resources and events throughout our community via a constantly updated calendar and bi-weekly e-newsletter. Identifying needed services and new community partners is a vital part of this effort.
Our 2050 idea is continue and expand the reach & depth of TBN while training homeless youth that we serve to provide outreach to the teens and young adults of Boyle Heights. This outreach is vital to reaching youth who might otherwise feel disengaged and unconnected. In addition it will provide work experience, confidence building, leadership training, and a stipend to youth who are experiencing homelessness. We have pilot tested this peer–to-peer outreach model and know that inspires our youth and connects with young people in the community.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Jovenes, Inc. is a growing organization that is changing the way homeless youth access opportunities for a brighter future. In the last year, we’ve doubled our housing capacity through the creation of permanent supportive and affordable housing. We used to only be able to house 20 youth in our short-term shelter programs (for lengths of stay less than 18 months). Now, we are able to provide youth with their own apartments and continually support them as they grow into self-sufficient adults. At this point, Jovenes is housing 41 youth across our continuum of care- more than at any other point in our history. Our permanent housing programs have a 96% retention rate since opening in 2012.
Launching The Beacon Network in 2011 was a major accomplishment for our organization. As a traditional social-service organization that focuses primarily on the 1:1 work with our clients, taking on TBN required a different skill-set, vision, and capacity. TBN was developed through a process that included gaining input from many different non-profit partners on what information would be most useful to their clients & staff, as well as holding focus groups of youth to test the functionality and clarity of the system, as well as marketing strategies. As a result, TBN Connect has over 4,800 searches per year!
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
The Beacon Network lists over 250 programs and resources readily available in Boyle Heights and East LA. The California Endowment and the Building Healthy Communities-Boyle Heights initiative are major sources of collaboration for this project.
In late 2013, TBN will be officially housed at the brand new Wellness Center at USC + LAC General Hospital. The Wellness Center will house likeminded nonprofit organizations that have the vision of making Boyle Heights a healthier community.
TBN would not be possible without Idealistics, Inc., a social sector consultancy that helps organizations learn from their outcomes data, increase impact, and demonstrate results to funders and stakeholders.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
TBN was launched in 2011, and since then, TBNConnect averages over 1,200 searches every quarter. More than 40 organizations are connected through The Beacon Network, and our e-newsletters and shared calendars reach dozens of case managers who are then able to refer their clients to needed resources and activities. With LA 2050 behind TBN, these numbers will grow.
One of the strengths of TBN is its focus on data and analysis. We are able to collect the demographic profile of people who voluntarily submit information during the TBNConnect intake page, as well as the services they are searching for and what they need. This capability allows us to know who we are reaching. We can measure how many youth are using the system. We can track through a privacy protected system the general locations where youth are accessing the platform and focus outreach on areas where usage is low. Other measures would be how many trainings our youth are able to facilitate and how many non-profit partners regularly use The Beacon Network.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
As beacons are guides that steer wayward ships into shore, non-profits and social service agencies help our clients overcome the obstacles they face on a daily basis. The Beacon Network online resource directory provides an easy, efficient way for youth and others in need to find resources - housing, job training, educational opportunities, legal assistance, after school activities - without the need for a case manager. We believe that this fosters independence and a sense of control. In addition, the system can be used by caseworkers to quickly find a complete list of opportunities for their clients.
We see that many organizations, despite being geographic neighbors, are not connected with each other and need ways to share information about available programs, resources, and events to each other’s clients. By adding web-based tools that target both the youth of our community and the agencies that serve them, we have an opportunity to increase the level of communication across agency lines and improve our shared neighborhoods.
The project would increase usage of TBN and engage homeless youth. Homeless youth are one of the most socially disconnected sub-populations in the city, yet everyday we hear our youth say they want ways to give back to the community. We believe by creating leadership and developmental opportunities that are combined with the promotion of TBN, we are able create an empowering experience for youth that also provides them with marketable skills.
Expanding TBN would benefit Los Angeles in the following ways: 1) Increase access to vital resources in high-need communities. 2) Provide training and leadership opportunities for homeless youth. 3) Provide a replicable, tech-based model for other areas of LA to create neighborhood based solutions and connections. 4) Continue building and strengthening the lines of communication between non-profit organizations and provide the best combination of service and care for a community in need.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Los Angeles is a decentralized city of neighborhoods. Each local community has its own unique history, characteristics, challenges, and flavor.
We hope that by 2050, these communities will have developed place-based strategies that successfully integrate their residents into the social fabric of Los Angeles. It means that youth live in communities where they can take full advantage of the resources available to them, and that organizations, funders, politicians, and stakeholders break out of their silos to expand opportunity for all.
We see technology and the Internet as a tool to accomplish this, not a solution in of itself. Logging onto TBN and conducting a search will not “solve” the problems faced by an individual youth or their family, but it is the first step towards arriving at a better life. For the homeless youth at Jovenes, social connectedness means that our youth know they are valued members of a community, that their personal futures matter, and that they are not alone anymore. We can only build that connectedness through personal relationships and trust, but first we have to get them to our doors. The same goes for youth facing other challenges, and while there may not be enough case managers or guidance counselors to connect with every young person, TBN is the tool that can create that linkage.
It is from that place that we can then work on the crucial tasks of social connection through voting, volunteering, raising the voices and aspirations of our youth.