Love your neighbor.

An Opportunity to be a Good Neighbor

05-16-2018

BEFORE

I love where I live. It is so much more than the place I call home.  It's the place where my children's childhood home will always be.  Where I married my husband and where I sow seeds in my garden. It's where I wave to my neighbors, my family as they drive by and of course to my mail lady Tamika. It is the place I race back to after a long day.  So, when a photo of a huge mess that was dumped in a vacant lot was circulating in our neighborhood newsletter immediately I felt excited.  I wasn't unhappy to see this mess, I was inspired.  Inspired to be the very thing that I am to trying to encourage people to be thru my work at NeighborLink, A GOOD NEIGHBOR. Here is my opportunity to step outside of my yard and make a change in my own neighborhood.  My 1 year old Oliver and I loaded up the car with toys to entertain him and gloves and an Addison Agen CD to entertain me.  Four people stopped to ask questions like, "What are you doing this for?, Who made this mess?, You know you can't drop these toys off here, there is already a big enough mess."  One person even joined in and helped a bit while he was on his lunch break.  He was so inspired and wanted to start doing things like this with his 11 year old daughter.  He was so excited to hear about NeighborLink, where I work and decided this was going to be the platform he used to connect his daughter and himself to help his neighbors.  I continued to clean drenched in joy.  Here in North Highlands we were just gifted a new playground at Hamilton Park that my son absolutly loves, as well as a new splash pad!  This is our way of saying thank you to those who put the time, love, and effort into making that happen.  I don't know how 7 huge tv's, a couch, a bag of dog food, old clothes, broken glass, and a bunch of old rugs got scattered all over a vacant businesses property.  I don't know who is to blame.  I just knew that I could do it.  I knew this was more important than going to the zoo that day.  I know that strangers have stepped up to help me when I was on the verge of giving up.  I know that life can be unbearably hard sometimes. Maybe the people who were about to get fined for this mess were having a hard time?  Maybe this 45 minutes that I took out of my day is capable of inspiring 45 minutes out of other peoples days.  After living in this Neighborhood for 6 years nothing has made me feel closer and more proud to be apart of my neighborhood than this.  Not swinging at the park, not pulling the kids in the wagon to the flower store, not becoming a member of the Neighborhood Association.  Nope.  Cleaning up a mess that wasn't my own is what gave me that feeling of belonging.  It was a gift to me. It made me feel like I was doing something bigger than me.  I was able to be the neighbor I would want to live alongside.  As a mother I would love to know that my children are living in a neighborhood where people show grace and kindness when life gets though.  I want them to feel at home in the place where my husband and I chose for them to grow.  I see so much kindness here in North Highlands. I am just trying to keep up with The Jones' as they say.  


AFTER

NeighborLink Welcomes Three New Staff

04-16-2018

We are excited to introduce you to three new staff members at NeighborLink. Our operations have nearly quadrupled in the past 4 years as we continue to keep up with the organic growth that's taken place. NeighborLink started in 2003 as a leaderless organization by a group of volunteers and ran for almost a year before staff was added. The first employee, Susan, went from volunteer to part-time director and not only helped solidify the organization, but helped it grow for those critical first few years. In 2008, I became the second executive director and operated as a sole employee for 6 years before expanding our staff to two when we hired Jeff Shatto. Since 2012, we've been trying to find the right people to join our staff to help us work with so many great volunteers as well as help position us for growth. In 2017, we added Derrick Smith as a part-time grant coordinator and assistant project manager.

The projects are hitting the website in record numbers (2230 in 2017), the volunteers are increasing (80 to 120 different groups in 2017), and local foundations and donors are supporting our mission is sustainable ways ($125k in grant funding in 2017), which has led us to the position of being able to hire three additional staff people and see Derrick go from part-time to almost full time.

We've struggled to keep up with the amount of projects coming in and the amount of volunteers looking to get involved. It's all we've been able to do to keep up with those volunteers, which means we've left a lot of you that have gotten involved over the years unattended too. If you've not been able to mobilize yourself or stay on our radar, we've not given you the opportunities to learn nor had us follow up with you. For that, we're sorry and we want to serve you as volunteers better. We care more about relationships than projects, but projects have a way of consuming our attention and distracting us from not only getting more volunteers, but helping form better volunteers.

So, expect more interaction, more opportunities to receive training, or to learn what it looks like to be a better neighbor. We're learning every day and want to create more opportunities to learn alongside and from you. Our vulnerable neighbors need you and we want to make sure you have all you need to help in terms of support, opportunity, and resources. These three new employees are here to help.

Thank you for your continued support the past 10 years that I've been ED. We're excited for 2018 and beyond. I'm grateful to work with this team to fulfill our mission of "Practical, neighbor-to-neighbor expressions of God's love."

Andrew Hoffman


Megan Chandler, Operations Coordinator

Megan joined the NeighborLink staff in early 2018 to help manage the day-to-day office operations and take on small-scale projects that are vital to growth and stabilization of the organization. Megan studied business and international studies at IU, and she has 10 years of residential development experience in Chicago, and with other large-barrier markets. Megan brings an energetic heart and comprehensive, big-city understanding of training and neighborhood development that will help strengthen the way NeighborLink runs and operates as we continue to grow. Her zeal to make an impact by bringing more awareness to others who want to learn and do something is vital to our team as we continue to learn how to train and equip volunteers and move toward more comprehensive neighborhood development.Megan@nlfw.org

Lyndsy Rae Porter, Community Relations Coordinator

Lyndsy join the staff in March 2018 with a passion to bridge the gap between groups of people who otherwise wouldn’t cross paths. She brings an inquisitive mind and an ability to see the bigger picture. Lyndsy knows how to make people feel comfortable and bring them together. Lyndsy will be running a few neighborhood development programs we currently operate as well leading some research initiatives to help shape our future. With a heart full of life ready to make people feel seen, Lyndsy is able to connect to people of all walks of life, which will strengthen the roots and connections NeighborLink has throughout the city.

Lyndsy@nlfw.org

Dylan Curtis, Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator

Dylan joined staff in 2018 after spending several years involved in Team NeighborLink, growing an established connection to NeighborLink. With a background in sales, and a relational magnetism, he possesses the heart and skills crucial to building relationships with NeighborLink volunteers. Dylan works to engage new volunteers, re-engage prior volunteers and deepen those connections. He plays a relational role both in NeighborLink and Team NeighborLink as his primary goal is to connect and foster relationships with volunteers and homeowners alike.

Dylan@nlfw.org


Huge thank you to the Foellinger Foundation, AWS Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne, Mary Cross Tippmann Foundation, ME Raker Foundation, Brotherhood Mutual, and dozens of individual donors and smaller grants that make up our operational budget. Your belief in our work makes all this possible.

NeighborLink Growing Again

04-16-2018

NeighborLink shifts growth model for longer-term impact at grassroots neighborhood level 

At NeighborLink, we believe the primary marker of our success is depth of relationship and impact with neighbors.

But as NeighborLink continues to grow, there is an increasing need to adjust to that growth and redefine, tackle, and reshape what different areas of success look like.

“There’s just really this season of, we’ve got to try a handful of things to understand how this works, because it’s new territory for us,” said Andrew Hoffman, Director of NeighborLink.

Until now, NeighborLink has primarily assessed growth and success based on relationships; if there have been significant connections between volunteers and homeowners in a given year, it was successful.

Though the primary goal never sways from “relationships built over projects completed,”NeighborLink’s operational growth and increased responsibilities to funders, requires more detailed reporting, which challenges us to think in new and more critical ways." We are delving into new ways to track growth and expand impact without losing the goal of authentic relationships. It is challenging us to look at measurements of success that may be vital in bringing a more comprehensive approach to neighborhood development. 

“At times [metrics aren’t] void of relationships, but they don’t always include relationships,” said Andrew. “Relationships and the depth of relationships are really actually pretty hard to measure.”

After 15 years of collecting the tangible needs of vulnerable neighbors that are falling through the cracks of traditional social services, the data starts to tell us a lot about the types of housing issues truly fixed income (aging and/or disability) homeowners have and the collective housing stock health in any given neighborhood. Because we care about relationships with homeowners, we get concerned that their home may become beyond repair and won’t have a suitable place to go.

 

Taking a dive into the data to answer these questions breaks past the surface of looking only at depth of relationship or the crisis moments we're addressing. We’re diving into the details of our organization and looking to build a stronger infrastructure to foster our goal of relationships and long-term impact.

“We don’t turn anyone away, so we get all kinds of really unique information, because anybody could ask for anything. That data is coming from vulnerable homeowners that we can track; whether someone has a disability, what type of disability, and/or if somebody is aging – we’re interested in that,” said Andrew. “When you collect 2200 projects a year, that begins to say something year after year about our community as a whole.”

Instead of a primarily decentralized volunteer structure, we are working to implement a system that starts centralized – training volunteers, helping them through the first phases until they are comfortable enough to initiate and take on projects by themselves. Provide enough structure to get them going and then try to get out of their way.

We want to look at the types of projects being done, and the impact those projects are having throughout neighborhoods. For example, we could do 500 projects a year, and if all 500 are clustered in 1 or 2 neighborhoods, it tells a different story than if 2500 projects were happening scattered across the city.

“The long-term kind of growth we’re trying to figure out, is how to be more strategic with the amount of projects and volunteers we’re working with,” said Andrew.

Last year, in 2017, was the first year NeighborLink set exact project-related goals, using data from 2014 - 2016 to establish a baseline. Some goals were project-based, like complete 1000 projects, but the more specific goals were relationship-focused. For example, to work with 100 different groups of volunteers and reach 60 percent volunteer retention rate.

In an effort to increase volunteer engagement and neighborhood development, NeighborLink is trying to work with volunteers to become less dependent on the organization and work independently to invest in their neighbors.

“We’re trying to work with volunteers to get to a place of transformation in order to really execute on some things we want to see happen,” said Andrew. “Like longer-term relationships with folks and helping understand what neighborhood development looks like in their specific neighborhood.”

Unfortunately, there are always more projects than volunteers.

On average, volunteers only complete about 35-40 percent of project requests a year.

“It often feels like for every project we do, we get 3 more phone calls,” said Andrew. “We’re just never keeping up, there’s never enough volunteers.”

Although last year we saw an increase, with close to 46 percent of projects requested completed and a 47 percent increase in total projects completed, there is still a deficit between requests from homeowners and volunteers to help.

“That’s what we’re trying to do is [fill] in those gaps in order to get more people engaged, to follow through, to educate, equip Fort Wayne to be better neighbors,” he said.

It takes a lot of energy and resources for a small, grassroots organization to not only attract volunteers to the mission, but to retain them to keep investing on their own. Until now, NeighborLink has not had the manpower to facilitate and build those deeper relationships and has been scrambling to meet the demand coming in, whether for those wanting to volunteer or those needing help.

“Relationships matter, and if you don’t have people in place to facilitate and build relationships – even with your volunteers – it’s hard to accomplish your mission,” said Andrew.

This year, NeighborLink brought on 3 new staff to work at solving volunteer engagement issues, closing the gap, all while building deeper and more sustainable relationships.

NeighborLink has recently brought on a Volunteer Coordinator, Community Relations Coordinator, and an Operations Coordinator.

The new staff will be implementing volunteer education and creating effective training to build a more sustainable and comprehensive foundation for reaching our community.

Wading through unexplored territory as a small nonprofit, navigating the terrain of neighborhood development and decentralized volunteerism poses complications and challenges.

“The fact is, when you serve at the bottom of the social service funnel, you start to do things nobody else is doing,” said Andrew. “There’s no rulebook, and you kind of have to be able to figure it out as you go.”

Pulling together the innovative and entrepreneurial minds, NeighborLink is hoping to build even deeper relationships and leverage their resources to spur neighborhood development in the community through deeper, more comprehensive tactics.

“At the end of the day, we want neighbors to be able to live independently, not dependent on other people,” said Andrew. “We think by rebuilding more inter-dependent neighborhood structures, that’s actually possible.”