A group of young men and women work at a commercial kitchen in downtown Providence trimming green beans, mixing herbs, garlic, packing them into jars and adding pickling liquid. The product will then be ready for sale. The kitchen workers are under the guidance of the juvenile-justice system; at-risk children who, without job-readiness skills or work experience, run the danger of finding their way into adult correctional facilities further down the road.
The Harvest Kitchen program run by Farm Fresh Rhode Island in conjunction with the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families is a legitimate first step in these young persons putting their lives back on track. It also illustrates how an initiative such as this can materialize through nonprofit collaboration.
The Harvest Kitchen Program came about through a $25,000 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation, a philanthropic community organization, with additional funds provided by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. And while this partnership could be put down to the tough economic times, according to Melanie Coon, senior vice president for communications and marketing at The Rhode Island Foundation, fluctuations in the economy play a very minor role.
“Historically, nonprofits have always been collaborating, working together building better delivery of services and creating new initiatives. If there is a hole, nonprofits are there to fill [it],” she said.
For Sheri Griffin, the program director of Farm Fresh RI, necessity proved to be the mother of invention. “We didn’t have a kitchen facility [or a] population who could help us with labor. We had farmers who had products that needed processing. We came to DCYF with the idea. [DCYF] was enthusiastic about a source of income surrounding the kids’ efforts, as well as helping to instill the habit of having a job and keeping a job.”
But if a poor economy isn’t driving nonprofit cooperation, it certainly has an indirect role. A report issued by Rhode Island Kids Count, a children’s policy and advocacy organization, confirms that their program for children in low-income households requiring dental care is reaching more participants than ever before. Much of this points to job loss, ineffectual health care benefits, as well as the decline in paying out of pocket for regular dental visits. Into the breach, then, stepped the RI Oral Health Commission, along with Kids Count to help families in need maintain their children’s oral health.
An evaluation firm, Learning For Action, conducted a survey in the spring of this year and found 74 percent of state nonprofits saw funding as their most pressing issue. Pooling resources softens this blow. To this end, organizations such as New Roots Providence, which serves faith and community organizations by encouraging intercommunication, act as the eHarmony for nonprofit collaboration. There is even a Craigslist for groups looking to share operational capital.
In the kitchen where the young men and women work, John Scott, the DCYF community liaison, speaks of the pride and affirmation attained by his retinue from this opportunity. The 15-week program will hopefully end with a paid internship to any number of professional kitchens and food-service programs around the state. “The great thing about this collaboration is that it isn’t just about a nonprofit working with a governmental agency. It’s also about collaborating with the community: the business community, the faith community and everyone else.” •