by Chris Lemon, Senior Community Investment Officer
Sometimes it’s what you know.
Sometimes it’s who you know.
Sometimes it’s both.
While we can all agree that our community needs impactful programs and efficient & informed networks/systems, investing in those outcomes can be complicated. Sometimes a funder has the desire, but insufficient funding to achieve certain outcomes, whether programmatic or systemic. Sometimes there is desire for a more coordinated and informed network, but organizational capacity and the developing network needs to be addressed before it can move beyond a conceptual stage. And the list goes on and on.
One example is respite care for older adults and their caregivers. Local and national data has shown that caregivers need and want respite care options that are accessible, affordable, and meet their needs. Caregivers seek features like flexible hours throughout the week, uplifting & enjoyable programming, and access to individuals who will listen and provide emotional support. The current pandemic has highlighted this need, but the reality is respite care options were already well short of what is necessary.
Historically, the Community Foundation has worked to support efforts around respite care, but had limited capacity to support efforts beyond sustaining existing programs. Our experience from other systems-level work shows that to ensure a higher chance of impact & success, we need elements such as 1) sustained, multi-year funding, 2) consultants to support program development and capacity building and 3) solutions that are grounded in community voice.
This understanding is what made conversations with the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation (RCWJRF) so intriguing back in 2021. To address respite care needs in Western and Central New York, RCWJRF launched the EXHALE program to reimagine and increase respite care opportunities. What caught our attention was that RCWJRF had hired The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) and Internal Deliverables to support solution-building with a facilitated approach to encourage outside-of-the-box thinking. Any nonprofit was invited to participate in these workshops, which took place over several months. The goal of the workshops was to not limit potential solutions by past experiences, but instead to focus on the outcomes desired by caregivers, no matter what that looked like. Once identified, solutions, partnerships, and other details were then backward-designed. After months of capacity support and building out the blueprint for their new respite care opportunity, nonprofits were then given the opportunity to submit their application to be considered for multi-year funding.
Not only did this program emulate the engagement style we have found to be impactful, but the energy and excitement that was beginning to swell in New York around respite care was something we needed in Washtenaw County. AAACF began the process of exploring what it would take to bring EXHALE to our community and entered into a partnership with RCWJRF to launch an expansion into Washtenaw County at the end of 2021.
Since the launch, we have witnessed an upswell in interest to reimagine what respite care can look like in our County. With over 20 local organizations participating in facilitated workshops, and a growing list of groups that want to serve as partners in the work, EXHALE Washtenaw County is quickly growing to what we had hoped so many months ago. While we do not yet know what the potential programs will look like, we trust the process to support innovative and community-grounded solutions. Combine this with a trusted partner foundation who shares a passion for supporting caregivers, we know that Washtenaw County caregivers are on the verge of getting the kind of respite care they deserve and need.