The “Each One — Teach One” Model

There is an incredible place in the United States, where some people are able to leave the depths of their despair, which has become the cyclic norm in their lives. These are murderers, thieves, people who sell their children for a fix, those whose lives consist of bouncing in and out of prison for ten or twenty years — or maybe for life. If they are some of the lucky few of the roughly 2.4 million people incarcerated in America, they’ve heard of a place where people can change, live a life of prosperity, and join the ranks of what might be construed as a “normal society.” This idea is only a fantasy to some of them — an unknown place over the rainbow because their version of normal is only what they’ve known their lives to be thus far.

This special place is called Delancey Street, “Where Hitting the Bottom, Begins the Climb to New Heights.” Mimi Silbert, CEO, president and founder, is a powerhouse of positive energy that she shares with everyone she meets. She has helped over 18,000 people overcome poverty, crime and substance abuse addiction through her working business model. There is no paid staff at this two- to four-year program for the underprivileged, and it is considered the most successful rehabilitation program in America.

Silbert came up with the idea when she worked as a prison therapist. One of the appreciative inmates stopped her on her way out the door one day and said that her advice was so helpful. Silbert’s philosophy is simple: she believes that there aren’t any bad people and there aren’t any good people — people are a mix of both. It is that positive belief that all people can pull themselves up, learn family values, learn cooperation, respect, and the skills needed to work within a society, that makes her model successful. They learn how to be positive team players. As soon as they walk through the door, they are told to leave their past behind because they are now working toward their future and their success.

The Delancey Street Foundation has a 91 percent success rate with six campuses across the U.S. To achieve this rate of success in a place with no help from the government and no paid staff, Silbert starts her program by teaching the basic skills: reading, writing, arithmetic, social interaction, and most important self-respect. She says, “It takes about two years for someone to stop judging and hating themselves, and believe they have actually earned who they have become.” They have to get through high school exams, learn three marketable skills, and it takes about four years to go through the whole program. Many of the graduates ask to stay on.

The question might arise, how does someone train more than 18,000 people without paid employees? Silbert started her project in 1971 with just four people in an apartment, a 1,000 loan and an idea based on cooperative family-type principles. People who held jobs outside the home would contribute money to the business. They carried that idea further; if someone could cook, they would run the kitchen; if someone knew construction, they would be in charge of building and fixing things, and so on. As they brought in more people, those who were established in the program would teach the newcomers. Those people would teach the next group that came in.  Within two years, they were able to buy their first building in the poshest neighborhood, Pacific Heights, and had 80 residents all living together and helping each other. Because of their locale, there was a problem with the neighbors who weren’t so keen on having criminals living next door. Silbert solved the problem by starting a neighborhood watch and volunteering the services of the residents living there — crime levels dropped. The building was remodeled by the construction crew to keep property values current or better. To raise funds for the reconstruction, the group sold raffle tickets in the neighborhood promising they would “not move next door to you.” Almost 20 years later, when they finally moved to their newly self-built housing on the waterfront, their humor and good neighbor attitudes had won everyone over, and the Pacific Heights neighbors were now sorry to see them leave.

Silbert’s model works because she focuses on what people “can do” not what they’ve been through, how they were raised, or where they’ve resided in the past for whatever crimes they may have committed. All that is left at the door when they step through the portal to this new world that they have only heard about or have seen on TV. They learn that they can change, they can trust people, and they can be responsible, which in turn builds self-respect and self-esteem based on whom they have become.

The Delancey Street project has grown through businesses run by these people who once felt they had nothing to contribute. The cornerstone business was a fine dining establishment. The community has grown to include a café – bookstore, catering, private corporate car service, digital printing, specialty advertising, handicrafts, landscaping, a moving and trucking company, a paratransit service, a movie screening room, and selling Christmas trees and a decoration service.

Foundation is the perfect classification for this business. How many lives have been changed by the strong foundation that Mimi Silbert has provided for these individuals?  How many more of the 2.4 million people, struggling in a life that seems devoid of hope, could be changed by her model project?

Solving Poverty? Give them a HandUp!

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Rose and Bobby – Photo Credit: https://handup.org/

On Martin Luther King Day, January 20th, 2014, the federal government organized its volunteers for the National Point in Time Count of People Experiencing Homelessness.  With an estimated 1,750,000 people with no place to live as of June of 2013, this is a momentous and difficult task. How do you count someone who has no place to go for resources, shelter, or food on a regular basis? According to the Web site Statistic Brain, homeless people have an income averaging $345 a month, 44 percent were working, 28 percent did not have enough to eat on a daily basis, 30 percent were homeless for two years, and 38 percent were families with children. How can these folks be helped when there are so many?

People do want to help. There’s just so much fear involved when passing a homeless person on the street. If you give money, is that going to drugs or alcohol? If you do give them cash will they try to follow you home, hurt you, or stalk you? There is such a stigma of safety involved plus effort, time, and bother it will cause that people just give up.

One day in winter, Rose Broome was walking past a homeless woman lying on the street. Her heart went out to the woman. Wanting to do something, she helplessly looked at her phone and wondered why there wasn’t someone she could call to give this woman shelter or some warmth. She went back home and brainstormed with her friend Zac Witte, a tech guru, about what they could do about it.

Together they formed HandUp—a safe online environment where people who do want to help and make a difference can. … On the site, each person is profiled with style and dignity in a short bio and picture with a short list of what they need to make their life better. Sometimes this need is as simple as a coat, food, or money for transportation to get to the doctor’s. Others need assistance with medical, dental or glasses. The donor can scroll through all the pictures on the front page or members’ section to decide whom they want to help. Click on their picture, there’s a section which shows donations plus any updates in their situation from the contributions they’ve received. HandUp works directly with local community action organizations, which provides the items requested from the donations on the HandUp site. Cash is never given directly to the individuals.

This system works because it is safe, you can see who is in need, the giving is transparent, the results are posted through updates, and the person helping gets the gratification of knowing that the money donated really did produce positive results. Donations range from $5 to $1,000 or more. Recently, they have added Bitcoins to the options for donating.

With 100 percent of the donations going to the members, I asked Sammie Rayner, in business development at Handup, how are they staying in business and how are they going to expand? Her answer:

We’re committed to having 100% of donations go directly to HandUp members, so we don’t take a cut. Our nonprofit partners also can use the service free of charge. So there are no subscription fees or charges to the member, nonprofit partner, or donor.

But we offer donors the option to tip to cover HandUp’s operations costs, and about 90% of our donors do so. This results in about 8% of all incoming donations going to the company. For funds coming from our corporate partnerships, 10% is automatically designated for support. And since we are a tech platform with a partnership model, we are in a unique position to have and continue to maintain very low overhead and operational costs as we scale.
Profiled in Forbes, CNN, NPR, and other major media sites, this company is going places. Education is a strong point when running a business. Broome’s solid educational background helped in getting this social entrepreneurship model off the ground. She previously worked at Stanford State University as a grad-student teacher, and in research as assistant to a department head at Stanford. Witte’s tech background was essential in the professional, clean design and functioning of the site. Starting this venture, HandUp joined Tumml—a seed-company accelerator—to get them off the ground. It’s their dream that the company expands to help people in need all across the country.

NOTE: Congratulations, HandUp!  In 2015 they reached $1 million in donations!

Check it out!  http://blog.handup.org/posts/looking-back-reaching-1-million-donations-in-2015