By Evan Davies
Training & Job Development Specialist
Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless AACH.
The Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless, Inc., does more than offer shelter to homeless people, it provides them with a foundation to rebuild their lives.
Created in 1985 by concerned citizens of Arlington and Alexandria, AACH works in coordination with public agencies, and business and community groups to give homeless people the support, shelter, counseling, and employment training they need to regain self-sufficiency.
The Northern Virginia counties of Arlington and Alexandria can be such expensive places to live, and each year it becomes more and more challenging for many to earn a living wage.
To help meet the challenges of living in this area, we’ve created the MicroBusiness Academy (MBA). The Academy is the evolution of a microbusiness training program developed a few years ago by the Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless, AACH.
Since the program first began, it has had the ongoing support of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, which was instrumental in its inception. The Academy has also received new support from Capital One.
The new MBA session will commence in January 2013.
Classes are held at AACH’s offices in Clarendon on Saturday mornings, from 10 a.m. to noon. We are pleased to be able to provide childcare onsite, which can be a significant issue for some. During the course of the eight-week program, participants will learn the fundamentals of a business plan, and the practical aspects of starting a business in Arlington or Alexandria.
They will learn about sales, marketing, recordkeeping, and financial statements. Based on the needs of the individual group, additional targeted workshops will be scheduled. Those who follow through with the program will receive a Certificate of Completion.
Classes are interactive and consist of a combination of lecture, discussion, and group exercises. Talented professionals—many of them small-business owners themselves—participate as guest speakers. We are also fortunate to have had the assistance of dedicated volunteers from the community since the inception of the program.
Volunteers are typically young, high-energy professionals from the business and financial sectors who have a strong interest in giving back.
Many of our volunteers have established close working relationships with the participants, serving as mentors and role models.
Following the eight-week program, we will work with participants to polish their business plans and assist them with getting their businesses established. If they need financing, we have relationships with micro-lenders in the area that can assist. AACH is exploring providing its own micro-loans later next year.
Who attends? And what do they learn?
The MicroBusiness Academy is targeted to a unique group. The program provides people who are at economic risk with the training, tools, and backing needed to conceive, launch, and build a successful micro-business. Many have experienced homelessness, or other trauma such as domestic violence. They often lack an established network of family or friends in the area.
Traditional sources of education, such as community college, are generally not an option for them, for financial and other reasons. The overarching aim is to help participants supplement household income, thereby achieving access to the economic mainstream. Hence our tagline: “An enterprising approach to making ends meet.”
In fact, the most important thing that some participants learn over the course of the program is that entrepreneurship is not for them. We don’t see that as a failure. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Of equal value is achieving increased self-esteem and confidence resulting from successful participation in a rigorous training program, and we hope that the training will make them better employees.
What is the goal of the MBA?
The goal of the MBA is to provide participants with the knowledge and tools to start a small business. Whether it’s doing clothing alterations from home, or running a full-time business, the same principles of financial management, recordkeeping, marketing, etc., apply. The program addresses these skills.
We intend to continue to engage participants over the long-term in order to create a network of entrepreneurs with shared experiences who can look to one another for assistance and support. We plan to continue to provide ongoing educational opportunities and access to resources. Ultimately, we hope to be able to follow our participants on a long-term basis to measure the economic impact of their businesses.
Tell us more about AACH. When was it founded? What is its mission?
Concerned citizens created AACH, responding to a growing need to serve homeless families. Our mission is to provide a foundation for women and families to rebuild their lives. Begun in 1986 with seed money from churches and local governments, AACH opened a small shelter with four employees, initially serving 20 individuals/families. It became increasingly apparent that longer-term support, including more case-management services, would be essential for clients to secure permanent housing.
Thus, in 1988, we launched our Adopt-A-Family program, which provides longer-term transitional housing and other services.
Clients are immersed in a comprehensive and individualized program designed to enable them to overcome the conditions that led to their homelessness. Each person receives intensive counseling from AACH case managers. The program focuses on family finance planning, budgeting, employment training, life-skills training in parenting, self-esteem, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Clients are required to make regular deposits into an individual savings account. We work closely with government agencies, private organizations, and community groups to ensure that our clients have access to all of the services they need.
Support of AACH activities exemplifies public-private cooperation. Funding from Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, the federal government, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the United Way/Combined Federal Campaign (#8353) is added to grants and contributions from businesses, foundations, religious groups, and caring individuals to meet our clients’ needs. We also receive significant donations from local residents of food, clothing, household items, and even cars in good condition.
Finally, we’re grateful for the more than 200 volunteers who provide a variety of invaluable services to AACH, everything from tutoring children to working at the front desk. A volunteer board of directors, made up of citizens from Arlington and Alexandria, directs the activities of AACH.
About Evan Davies
Evan Davies, training & job development specialist with AACH, oversees its MicroBusiness program. She has more than 25 years’ experience in financial services and philanthropy. A Master Financial Volunteer Counselor with the Virginia Extension, she holds Series 7 and 66 licenses. Davies is an enthusiastic proponent of entrepreneurship as a vital tool for economic development.
To apply to the program, and get more information about the MBA program, contact Evan Davies, Training & Job Development Specialist, 703.525.7177, email@example.com.