Grantee Connect: Listen, Learn, Share and Evolve

Friday, July 14, 2017
Mothyna James Brightree of TurnAround Inc.
Mothyna James Brightree of TurnAround Inc.

In the spring of 2016 the Grantee Connect Committee introduced a year-long discussion program  with grantees entitled “Listen, Learn, Share and Evolve.” The first session presented the idea of a Listening Campaign, why to conduct one, the methods to do so and its value to an organization (e-news June 2016).  The next in the session concentrated on making use of what is learned from a listening campaign (e-news Dec 2016).

At the last session of the series, in May of 2017, three BWGC grantees alums presented their experiences with a Listening Campaign to representatives from over thirty BWGC grantee alums.

Mothyna James-Brightful of TurnAround Inc. related how listening to one client lead to significant changes to the entire agency.    TurnAround's mission “is to build a community free of violence by working with adults and children affected by intimate partner and sexual violence to address their needs and prevent further violence through advocacy and education.” But 5 years ago, one victim’s story lead them to understand that there was a group of people, those experiencing  Sex Trafficking, that they were not serving with the organization’s existing structure.  In order to meet their needs, TurnAround found an office with a kitchen to feed clients and added a drop-in center because even a short time in a safe place increases the chance that change will happen for someone affected by sexual violence.  As Mrs. Brightful stated, these new services are not just for survivors of sex trafficking but in hearing what a client needed, the organization was able to adapt to fill a gap that they hadn’t understood was even there.  

Joy Twesigye, Executive Director of Baltimore Healthy Start, Inc, spent her first three months with the agency listening. She discovered that what most people (clients and the public ) knew them for were home visits to pregnant and new mothers. However, the organization offers over 20 other activities and programs …”in order to address the needs of high-risk women and their families before, during, and after pregnancy.” These programs were successful, but not readily grouped into categories, making it hard to succinctly explain the focus of the organization. With this information she and her team crafted a three point description of services (home visiting, wellness services and family/community engagement) so that the mission, vision and work of the agency was clear to all.

For Sister Pat McLaughlin and Caroline Center, the focus of the Listening Campaign was on language.  Caroline Center "educates women who are experiencing unemployment or who want to leave low-wage jobs for meaningful careers with opportunities to advance."   The staff read a book called Creating Just Language.   ‘Just Language’ intentionally adds meaning to words to create more powerful terms that promote a discussion that gives both dignity and content.  The women in the employment programs were invited to focus groups to talk about ‘Just Language’ and to ask how they, as clients, view the organization’s messaging and who it serves.  This process led to changes in the language used at the agency.  For example the website states that “Caroline Center offers a holistic education and career skills training program to capable women who are ready for change” versus “Caroline Center trains low-income women in Baltimore City for jobs”. The career readiness programs now include sessions on Just Language and a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (winner of a MacArthur Genius grant and author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun) called The Danger of a Single Story, which helps the participants see others through a wider lens.

After the panel members spoke, attendees worked in a groups at their tables on a scripted scenario in which an agency’s staff and volunteers voice their concerns about an issue.  Each group was tasked with determining how they would respond to ‘their’ staffs’ concerns and then shared these.

The Grantee Connect Committee is grateful for the opportunity to learn about the climate under which our agencies work and to hear about their incredible success, helping so many with dedication and compassion.