July 18, 2013

With support from Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton, community agencies increase efficiency and services

Basic aid and emergency assistance providers like Goodwill Industries can attest to the steady need for food, clothing, and shelter for individuals in Stark County. When the economy worsens and unemployment rises, naturally, this need skyrockets.

In many recent cases, individuals who sought assistance had never before been in the system, and likely waited until they were so far behind to find help that their immediate needs exceeded the resources of a single agency. The staff from various agencies – including Catholic Charities, Community Services, Salvation Army of Canton and Massillon, and United Way’s 2-1-1 – were forced to call each other to solicit a portion of the needed funds or services, and then respond to each crisis with a complete package for each client.

After many years of discussion and debate in the community, a formal group of nonprofits (including the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton) began meeting in October 2009 to improve the efficiency of providing emergency assistance to individuals in Stark County. The group’s ultimate goal was to develop and implement a common intake form (software database) that allowed the sharing of client information and could facilitate individual referrals between agencies in a more efficient manner.

The foundation asked the group – led by Goodwill Industries – to continue meeting, agree upon a software package that would meet their needs, and put together a proposal for software infrastructure funding and the necessary support to get the system up and running.

In May 2010, the foundation approved funding of $217,500 over three years to develop the common intake and referral system. After extensive research and live demonstrations, ReferNET, a web-based model, was selected for its ease of use, referral tracking components, low annual cost, ability to construct custom modules and reports, and interface between assistance providers’ existing databases.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton President Joni Close said, “These agencies are invested in the people they serve, but they were consumed with paperwork. We helped them streamline the administrative components so they can focus more energy and funding back on serving and assisting people with immediate needs.”

After the software was in place, the foundation approved another $85,000 (over three years, starting in November 2012) to implement the intake and referral system at the Goodwill Community Campus in Canton. The campus houses 17 nonprofits on site, many of which meet a very specific need (food, medication, etc.), but don’t have the staff, time or expertise to do a full needs assessment on a client and make an appropriate referral.

This “phase two” funding will allow Goodwill to hire a full-time coordinator/licensed social worker with the necessary skills to assess clients’ needs and refer them to appropriate service providers. This individual will serve as the campus’ first point of contact for clients and will also travel to Goodwill’s locations in Alliance and Massillon. It is estimated that this coordinator will assist between 12 and 24 individuals each day. If successful, Goodwill will build this expense into its budget going forward.

This two-phase collaboration will continue to help the organizations operate efficiently and will ultimately increase the number of clients served.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Health System. Read more about the work of the foundation and its partners in the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton’s 2012 Annual Report to the Community.

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From its Cleveland headquarters, the Sisters of Charity Health System provides oversight, leadership and strategic direction to more than 20 organizations responding to community needs in Canton and Cleveland, Ohio, and South Carolina.

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