Spotlight Exclusives

PACES: Nonprofits Come Together to Assist Families in Need

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The nonprofit AVANCE has served families in the Texas Rio Grande Valley for half of its 40 year existence. Now, as part of a commitment to action made with the Clinton Global Initiative, the organization is leading an effort to coordinate with other nonprofits to offer a wider array of services in one location. The Pathways to Alliances for Community Engagement Services (PACES) program is working to repurpose closed schools into sites where families can receive holistic assistance. The program opened the first full-service family support hub in the region this spring. AVANCE estimates the effort will assist 4,000 Texans in the first three years and create 24 jobs in a region with 10.8 percent unemployment.  

Recently, Spotlight spoke with Rick Noriega, president and chief executive officer of AVANCE, and Elida Gonzales, senior director of business development, about the PACES initiative. What follows is a lightly edited and condensed transcript of that conversation.

Q. What are the goals of the PACES initiative?

Rick Noriega: The work we۪re hoping to achieve is to reach as many families as possible through a collaborative effort that aims to repurpose schools, revitalize neighborhoods, and effectively integrate more holistic programs into existing school campuses. Our two-generation model of intervention with the parent-child education program acts as a pebble in the pond, with the ripple effect that occurs throughout the community.

Q. What are the specific challenges that communities face in South Texas?

RN: The real challenge is bringing together traditionally competing organizations under one roof to provide holistic services to families.

Q. What kind of services can people expect to find at a PACES site?

Elida Gonzales: When we go into a community, there may be some variations in services provided, because we do want the residents of the neighborhood to have a voice. First, we do a needs assessment of the community. Then we do a resources assessment of local service providers. We find out what۪s already out there, and then we try to fill the gap. In one particular case, we were expecting a couple of hundred families to participate, and we had over 800 fill out a survey. Parenting classes and GED and ESL services will be at all of the centers, but for example, because we had so many grandparents in this area who are caregivers and raising their grandchildren, we are also offering additional health and wellness education [that they requested]. We want to make sure there are services that they will attend.

Q. What was the process of bringing so many different partners together to work on this initiative like?

EG: When we talked to these entities, they were a little bit reluctant at the beginning because we۪ve always been seen as competitors, and now it was us coming to them and saying all these great things: “You are going to have free space, a free center director, you۪re going to have free custodial services, access to meals at the cafeteria, a security guard” And they kept thinking, “What۪s the catch?” So it۪s very much a culture change working with service providers.

Q. When you are developing this integrated model of service delivery, were there other projects that inspired you or that you thought offered key lessons that informed the design of PACES?

EG: Yes. Here in San Antonio there is a site called “The Neighborhood Place” that very much encompasses the idea of holistic family engagement. It is very similar in a sense that we are providing one location to break down barriers for the families to receive these services. Many times there are great programs on the other side of town but families don۪t have transportation, and we۪re finding that it۪s not that they don۪t want to take advantage of these services; they just don۪t have the means to get there. That۪s probably been the biggest impact we۪ve seen talking to families this past year. They were saying, “I always wanted to do this and now I don۪t have any excuses; it۪s in my backyard. I can walk to the services.”

Q. What are your expectations for this initiative?

RN: We feel confident we۪ll have success. At the same time, we have an open invitation: the water۪s fine. Anyone who wants to join in, we invite them. This is the first time, to our knowledge, in South Texas that we are pulling together a collaborative of NGOs in a noncompetitive way. So there are efficiencies to be realized. No one organization is the panacea to poverty. It really does take a community to pull together and to work with one another to achieve success.

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Rick Noriega is president and chief executive officer and Elida Gonzales is senior director of business development of AVANCE, a national two-generation education nonprofit organization dedicated to parental involvement and child development.

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