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Featured Grantee Partner: Compass Affordable Housing

Interview Series:  Transformational Grantmaking

What are three interesting things people don’t know about your organization?

 For one, we’re mostly run by women and we do a lot of work in the community with a very small staff.

Secondly, we do a lot more than build housing. Our Community Housing Program provides housing assistance and support services as well. We work with single moms with large families, we work with women transitioning from homelessness, and we provide housing assistance in non-owned sites around town.

And third, there’s a sustainability piece to it. We don’t think of it in the short term, instead we help people sustain the vision that they’re establishing a home, and that’s long term. With the women we serve we’re focusing on finding housing, reunifying with their children, gaining or increasing employment, getting their GEDs, contributing to the stability of the household, paying down debt, and setting up savings accounts. We also work to place their children in education-based childcare as well as confirm they’re attending elementary or high school.

What are you most excited about that’s happening at your organization?

We just had a very in-depth review of our Community Housing Program and the whole team has been involved in that reorganization and re-purposing of the program. We have some new people on board, which will bring new perspectives and experience that we think will keep the program productive as well as creative. The goal is to be much more confident in the services we provide and that they’re going to have a lasting impact on the household.

I think the one thing that sets us apart is that participants have the same person working with them throughout their process. We call the people we work with “participants” or “households,” not “clients.” We don’t work in silos where the participant has to meet with different staff all the time. Participants get to meet with the same staff person, from start to finish. We see that this relationship, as it develops, is stabilizing for each participant. It builds trust and provides support.

How has a grant from the Women’s Foundation transformed your organization? Is there something you now do differently? 

I think we’re probably one of the Women’s Foundation’s success stories in terms of building the capacity of an organization. We had a partnership with The Haven and Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SIROW) to provide a holistic program for postpartum women, new moms, who were in recovery from substance abuse and needed housing. This was through a three-year SAMHSA grant, and our job was to work with women to secure jobs and housing. We were able to serve 124 women in the MOM’s program. However, when the grant was finished there were still 23 women that needed case management and help with housing, so we approached the Women’s Foundation and we were awarded one of their grants. Since that time we have implemented the CAH Community Housing program which was started by the SAMHSA grant and the Women’s Foundation investment.

We were able to increase our capacity from 23 women and have continued working with women in the community. We started small, and now we have several programs and serve about 230 women, and about 100 girls. The Women’s Foundation helped us grow. Their grants are to help build the capacity of an organization, and we’re kind of the daughter of that. Because they offer capacity-building funding, we were able to not only work towards our goal of serving more women, but also to fund our database as well as to bring in data management and grant writing. So beginning with five staff when we started, we’re now at 14.

How has your organization grown stronger, increased its impact, or changed, because of your partnership with the Women’s Foundation?

We’ve achieved all of the above. We’ve been able to work on our outcomes with Dr. Parsai, a data consultant, because of the Women’s Foundation capacity-building grant. She took us up a notch, so now we have better and more detailed reporting. She helped us hone our abilities, develop our tenant services and community housing program data, and implement two different sets of data gathering that help us report on our outcomes, transforming how we measure our impact.

How did you first hear about the Women’s Foundation and their grants?

Since I came back to Tucson in 2008 and I found out there was a Women’s Foundation, I just kind of kept my eye on it, as a supporter of the organization. I think it was one of our Board members that told me about the grant opportunities in 2014.

What keeps you up at night when thinking about your organization?

More like, what doesn’t? Everything from what we just did with our Community Housing Program and new staff, to training, to when you hear about households that are struggling and wonder how to take care of them. I think what helps me sleep at night is knowing that every night we probably have 150 people sleeping in safe, affordable housing and staying put so they can work through whatever it is they need to do to be able to maintain that housing and their stability.

What do you see ahead for women and girls in Southern Arizona?

Well unfortunately my concerns are about repeals to advances that have been made. I’m especially concerned about education for girls, and about how we as adult women mentor this younger group of women who aren’t going to rely on retirement and aren’t going to be reliant upon 401b’s and long-term jobs. So what we do to mentor women to be creative, to be grassroots, to understand gender-lens investing, to be able to make an impact on the world that way, I see that there’s going to be a lot more need for leadership among younger women in this economy and in this political atmosphere.

And finally, is there anything else you would like to add about how the Women’s Foundation helps you in fulfilling the mission of your organization?

Well, I think taking a leadership role with the legislature, for one, is very important, and I think working with younger women in terms of our mission, which is also to mentor women in leadership positions. I think Unidas and the other things the Women’s Foundation is doing are important to my organization, and I plan to work with them in terms of reaching out and mentoring younger women in the community. I think requiring us to provide opportunities for people to increase their income and their wealth and their assets keeps us motivated to do that. And we’ve had Board members attend the advocacy and legislative outreach events, so it’s good they’re involved and have those resources. We’ve found some great partners as a result of our growth, our sister organizations, and the Women’s Foundation.

Maryann Beerling is the CEO at Compass Affordable Housing, a non-profit that believes that all people, no matter their income, should have the opportunity to live in quality, decent and affordable housing.  They believe that housing is healthcare and support efforts by low and moderate-income persons, including those who have special needs.

Special thanks to Women’s Foundation volunteers Gabriela Cervantes and Liz Levine for interviewing our grantee partners and for serving as guest editors.