Durham nonprofits collaborate to strengthen services for youth

On a recent job site visit to the DBAP, Matt Sutor (left), Durham Bulls director of marketing and communications, acted as tour guide for new PYO and EDCI youth as they learned about the business aspect surrounding local sports and sports-related careers. (Staff photo by Carlton Koonce)


A pair of Durham nonprofits have formed a strategic alliance to extend services to local youth and their families beyond each organization’s individual capacity.

The new partners are the East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI) and Partners for Youth Opportunity (PYO).  Under the plan PYO, which focuses on services to high schools students, will offer job readiness and other training to EDCI students who are moving from middle school to high school. These students will also continue to be served by EDCI “family advocates

The collaboration, which began this fall, is being funded by the AJ Fletcher Foundation to a tune of $25,000 a year for the next three years.

“The goal of both EDCI and PYO has always been to serve more economically vulnerable youth,” said PYO Executive Director Julie Wells.  “The result of this partnership will allow the two organizations to make the most efficient use of their combined resources.”

The two nonprofits have embraced an approach to the delivery of basic social services known as “collective impact.” Under this notion, social service agencies and nonprofits magnify their impact by working together. This approach is gaining popularity across the country in cities as diverse as Spartanburg, S.C. and Cincinnati.

“Our model is built on bringing together the best organizations and creating outcomes positive for children and adolescents,” said David Reese, President and CEO of EDCI.

Partners for Youth Opportunity serves youth ages 14-22, of whom 92 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch and almost 40 percent have incarcerated family members. PYO helps these youth and their families through mentoring, employment and educational support.

The eight-year old East Durham Children’s Initiative provides a pipeline of health, educational and other social services “from cradle to college/career” for all children in a 120-block area of East Durham, whose population is among the city’s least advantaged. Among other things, it provides “family advocates” who provide individualized support to students and families.

As members of its original cohort have begun to enter high school, EDCI faces the problem of how to continue to serve them.  One option would be to build its own, inevitably expensive, system of supports. Another way to increase capacity would be to work with a partner.

Enter Partners for Youth Opportunity.

Because of its success with high school students and its high program retention rate, PYO, like EDCI, was being asked to serve more students. However, doing so would require expensive new staffing. It, too, concluded that growth should happen in partnership with an organization with a similar mission.

Under the new partnership EDCI advocates will continue to serve their older students, but some will also be referred to PYO for additional services. “Much of our focus will be on kids who say that college is not one of their options,” said Reese. “PYO will work with them to explore career options and to offer them social and emotional support.”

Both organizations have experience in working with other agencies ranging from government agencies, civic groups, nonprofits and businesses to improve the lives of disadvantaged youth.

“Our work has been based in a collective impact “eco-system” model for almost a decade,” said Reese. “The partnership with PYO allows our older youth to benefit from their great work,” said Reese.

Wells emphasized that the new partnership “was created by first assessing a need in the community and then aligning that need with resources already available in Durham.”

Both EDCI and PYO’s leaders and staff invested time to ensure their values aligned and identified ways that would measure outcomes and evaluate success.

Both also made sure their staffs and boards understood the collaborative goals through the collaboration and only then did they begin the search for a funder who could help increase capacity. The AJ Fletcher Foundation stepped up to the plate.

“So often non-profits create collaborative efforts in response to a funder’s call for proposals but PYO and EDCI turned the process around,” said Wells.

By focusing on needs and outcomes and then finding solutions through partnership, both organizations are able to meet their missions in a way to best utilize the resources of funders like the AJ Fletcher Foundation.

“Collaboration is key,” said Damon Circosta, executive director and vice president at the AJ Fletcher Foundation. “Providing the resources and opportunities for young people to learn and grow will definitely impact us all in the future.”

“Partnerships like this make Durham a great place to live,” he said.

Reese believes this collaborative impact initiative is just a beginning in creating real change. According to ReCity, a social impact hub in downtown Durham, there are about 4500 nonprofits in the city.

“We need to be able to come together and collectively create the change,” he said.