Building community and a sense of purpose
When Larkin Street Youth Services wanted to build a greater sense of community, we built a place for its staff to rally behind a common goal.
Ending youth homelessness involves more than just providing shelter.
Getting people off the streets and into temporary or transitional housing is important, but it’s just one piece of a much greater effort.
That’s where organizations like Larkin Street Youth Services come in. Larkin Street’s wrap-around services—which pair emergency and transitional housing with education, employment, and health programs—work toward the goal of getting homeless and at-risk kids ages 12 to 24 off the streets for good.
Larkin Street talks about its work in terms of outcomes. It doesn’t just want its clients to survive—it wants them to progress toward long-term success and stability. That means stable housing, post-secondary education, dependable employment, and a healthy body and mind.
Helping youth achieve those long-term outcomes requires a staff that’s empowered with the right combination of tools, information, and inspiration.
To help its staff better rally behind that common sense of purpose, Larkin Street turned to technology.
In San Francisco, for San Francisco
Slalom’s Philanthropy Fellow program pairs consultants and non-profits in a three-month pro-bono project.
When the program first kicked off in San Francisco, business development executive Tony Verutti wanted to find a place where Slalom could make the most impact.
To Verutti, Larkin Street represented a truly San Francisco institution—a local organization focused on improving the local community. He contacted the organization through its website, informing them of Slalom’s pro bono program and asking them to get in touch if they wanted to learn more.
“The chief development officer got back to me within an hour,” Verutti recalls.
Larkin Street’s leadership presence at that first meeting—its executive director, chief development officer, and director of technology—set the tone for a strong, collaborative working partnership.
“They are very engaged,” says Verutti. “They’re the perfect non-profit partner.”
Slalom has now completed two pro bono engagements with Larkin Street. What began with a strategic assessment of Larkin Street’s technology challenges and goals led to the design and deployment of a
SharePoint portal and Office 365 across the organization.
“Slalom Consulting has been a wonderful partner. Their skilled consulting expertise helped us better understand two complex issues which has ultimately enabled our organization to make the crucial decisions going forward. It was exactly what we needed.”
Many sites, one goal
There are an estimated two million homeless youth in America. In San Francisco alone, roughly 1,900 youth are homeless and don’t have a safe place to sleep on any given night.
Larkin Street Youth Services provides programs that operate from different sites located across San Francisco.
As it continues to grow its reach in the community, Larkin Street is also working to grow the sense of community between its operations and programming sites.
Ron Piccinini, Larkin Street’s director of information technology, cites the example of a staffer working the night shift in one of Larkin Street’s housing programs who, due to working off hours, may not “have the strong connection to Larkin Street that we want them to have.” That connection is important to Larkin Street. “We want them to feel like part of the family,” Piccinini says.
Feeling connected is especially critical in social services. It helps people feel valued, but it also helps renew motivation in a field with a notoriously high burn-out rate.
“It needs to feel purposeful,” Piccinini says. “You need to feel like you’re working at the right place.”
When Piccinini joined Larkin Street ten years ago, the organization employed around 70 people. That number has climbed to nearly 200.
“While the agency’s services for youth have definitely become larger and more robust over the years, the technology didn’t always follow along,” says Piccinini.
For example, the organization’s hierarchical folder structure “doesn’t really impart a sense of community.”
“It’s going to get us all on the same page with the outcomes. But also the why of the outcomes and the how of the outcomes.”
Building community and sharing knowledge
Slalom initially partnered with Larkin Street to see how new technologies could improve fundraising capabilities and facilitate internal communication and collaboration. That pro bono project led in part to a business case for using SharePoint and an implementation roadmap.
As a follow-up project, Slalom then helped Larkin Street build an employee portal using SharePoint 2013.
The goal was to help “make them feel like they were all working for the same cause,” says Charlene Venter, consultant for Slalom San Francisco who donated her time to Larkin Street as part of Slalom’s Philanthropy Fellows program.
The deployment started with Larkin Street’s “heaviest hitting” departments: HR, development, and finance.
Venter and Larkin Street wanted the portal to serve as a “one-stop shop” for communication, knowledge sharing, and document collaboration. The organization’s collaboration needs ranged from administrative (such as onboarding information) to programming (such as sharing program successes and challenges).
Piccinini says that collaboration is happening now, but on a smaller scale, such as meetings of ten or fewer people. The SharePoint site will amplify those conversations and fold in Larkin Street’s entire staff.
For example, Larkin Street offers a support outlet to staff called case counseling.
If they’re struggling with a youth, staff can reach out to a case counselor and the three of them can sit down, discuss the issues, and map out a holistic performance plan.
“It’s a great benefit,” says Piccinini, “But not everybody knows about it.”
A portal can help bridge that awareness gap. So even if someone working at a housing site hasn’t heard about the program, they can learn about it—and even sign up for a case-counseling session, if needed—at the click of a mouse.
“That’s pretty powerful,” says Piccinini.
Beyond community building and knowledge sharing, the portal also enables vital workflows, such as onboarding and shift scheduling.
Larkin Street’s HR department is responsible for staffing shifts across the organization’s various housing sites. Not only do different sites and shifts require different levels of certifications, staff are limited in the number of consecutive hours that they can work. Before, juggling those variables was a time-consuming manual process. Now, using the portal, staff can easily sign up for shifts themselves and those variables are baked into the scheduling system.
Focus on the why
The portal is helping enable collaboration and community across Larkin Street’s distributed sites.
“It’s a repository for them to come together as they solve for issues,” says Venter. “They may be halfway across the city, but this makes them feel like they’re all working for the same cause, and that there is support out there.”
The portal will help Larkin Street’s tireless quest for sustainable, long-term outcomes.
“It’s going to get us all in sync and on the same page with the outcomes,” says Piccinini, “But also the why of the outcomes and the how of the outcomes.”
About Larkin Street
Larkin Street Youth Services provides housing, education, employment, and health services to more than 3,500 youth each year. The San Francisco non-profit was created by a group of concerned citizens who wanted to keep youth off the streets in a safe, supportive environment. On any given night, Larkin Street houses around 320 youth. It offers youth service programs from sites across the city.
About Slalom’s Philanthropy Fellows Program
As part of our Philanthropy Fellow Program, seasoned consultants volunteer their expertise to benefit a local non-profit in a three-month pro bono engagement.
The program allows consultants to “take their expertise in their profession and support organizations that need it desperately but don’t have the wherewithal,” says Verutti.
To learn more about our pro bono program, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.