Twin Cities-based Jeremiah Program goes national

While many nonprofits are retrenching, Twin Cities-based Jeremiah Program is going national.

Jeremiah provides safe, affordable housing for low-income single mothers with young children. It targets women with high-school diplomas or a GED, women who have shown some resiliency. The goal is to give them the support they need to pursue higher education, get a living-wage job, get their kids school-ready and break the cycle of poverty.

After four years of preparation, Jeremiah’s Board of Trustees voted Feb. 4 to create a separate National Board of Directors to replicate the model in other communities. Rev. Michael O’Connell, Jeremiah’s visionary founder and member of the new national board, said the most likely communities for initial expansion are Fargo/Moorhead and Austin, Texas. Other communities on list are Phoenix, Seattle and Boston.

The goal is to open at least one new program by 2012, O’Connell said. The effort was going full bore until the economy hit the skids. “I don’t think that as a board we are discouraged that the momentum we had a year or two ago is less because of the economy,” he said. “We feel so strongly that the model is the right model … if it takes us longer to do it, that’s fine.”

First units opened in 1998
Jeremiah opened its first 18 units in Minneapolis in 1998 near the Basilica of St. Mary. It now has 77 units in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

A return-on-investment study suggests the program more than pays for itself by reducing social-service costs in the long run. But the upfront costs aren’t cheap. Jeremiah has a $4.1 million 2009 annual operating budget. That’s about $53,000 per unit per year. Women pay one-third of their income to participate. County child-care subsidies defray some costs, but 70 percent of the money comes from private donations.

O’Connell said the goal all along has been to create a model that could be replicated. Jeremiah considered expanding locally in the north or south metro. But Melissa Streit, Jeremiah’s major gifts director, said they would be going back to many of the same donors who support the current program, and that would be a stretch.

“Every informal inquiry we put forth, for grants or individual funding, led us to believe there is some sort of philanthropic saturation point,” she said.

Going national
O’Connell said Habitat for Humanity and Artspace have made the leap from grassroots to national nonprofit. But for every one that makes it, many more fail.

Jeremiah’s leaders went through the literature and tried to understand why some succeeded and others failed. They assembled a three-page list of “lessons learned.” One key to expanding into a new community is to have local champions. It is better to be invited into a community. Further, the community needs to have its own financial capacity to cover the operating and capital costs. And the funding has to be in place before committing to a project.

Expansion also creates tension between national and local leaders. O’Connell said it’s important to protect Jeremiah’s brand, not simply the name but what it stands for — providing an integrated package of services to help young single mothers become self-sufficient.

Here’s the push-pull. If Jeremiah’s national board doesn’t give local leaders enough control, it could smother the deal. But if those local leaders want to change the fundamental program structure, then O’Connell said they are encroaching on brand.

“How do you maintain that line? We are just starting out on that,” he said.

Preserving the flagship
Another key to long-term success of the national expansion is the continued success of the Minneapolis and St. Paul programs. If they are the flagships that other communities are supposed to follow, they can’t slip, O’Connell said.

Gloria Perez, Jeremiah’s president and chief executive officer, will devote 20 percent of her time to the national program, while continuing to run the Minneapolis and St. Paul operations. (There also is a separate Minneapolis/St. Paul Community Board that will oversee local operations.)

The national board still has a handful of empty seats waiting to be filled, O’Connell said. Those are for people from communities where the program will expand, or simply for people of some significant influence who love the model.

IRS workshops set for tax-exempt organizations
The Internal Revenue Service will hold three one-day workshops for metro-area small and mid-sized tax-exempt organizations on April 28, 29 and 30.  The workshops will help organizations comply with their tax obligations and maintain their tax-exempt status. They will include an in-depth discussion of activities that can jeopardize 501(c)(3) status, unrelated business income, gaming, employment issues and the revised Form 990 and 990-EZ.

The workshops will be held at the Embassy Suites Hotel – Minneapolis Airport, 7901 34th Ave. S. in Bloomington. The cost is $45 per person.  Preregistration is required.  For more information or to register, go here and click the “Calendar of Events” link.  Information and registration is also available by calling 800-521-3980.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Terry Nagle on 03/16/2009 - 08:00 pm.

    Congratulations to Fr. Michael and everyone involved in the creation and expansion of the Jeremiah program. Not only have you helped hundreds of young women and their children, by extension you’ve helped the entire urban community. Now it’s onward and outward — more power to you.

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