CASA, which assists immigrants and individuals with low incomes, received a $1-million grant to start a training institute to help similar organizations throughout the country.
CASA is one of 10 organizations which received the grant in the national Communities Thrive Challenge. The Rockefeller Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative put up the money. It is best known in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties for organizing and advocating for immigrants and the needy by helping them find jobs, learn English, obtain citizenship, understand their financial options and get involved in their communities.
“We’re incredibly excited,” proclaimed Franca Brilliant, CASA’s senior development director.
With the new money, CASA intends to locate seven already established community-based organizations and show them how to work with their clients in a variety of ways to make them more successful. The grant is for two years.
“We are going to take our best practices” to assist similar organizations, Brilliant said.
One area CASA intends to stress is the need for data and evaluation. An organization is better able to tell its story and achieve success when it has the numbers and success rates of its program to show, she said.
The seven groups CASA chose to work with will be “deeply embedded in the community” and “have potential to rise,” she said.
While they do not have to be just like CASA, she expects the groups will be involved in helping immigrants and low-income people.
CASA operates on the principle that it’s not enough to help someone get started by finding a job or a place to live.
Instead, Brilliant said, the nonprofit works with clients to empower them to improve both their own lives and their community as well.
The organization offers workforce development; citizenship and legal services; and financial, language and literacy training.
Obtaining citizenship is important, because that “really increases your opportunities,” Brilliant said.
CASA’s worker development center, which assists people in finding day or temporary jobs, works only with those employers willing to pay a decent wage in a safe environment.
“We make sure they get paid and get extra support,” Brilliant said, including ESOL classes.
In its winning application, CASA wrote, “Our work starts with immigrant and working-class families and expands to community transformation, because social determinants of well-being depend on communities. We directly address racial disparities in the area of economic well-being, health and safety and educational achievement through a comprehensive array of programs that include services, education and organizing.”
CASA’s model is to create leaders who will help others, Brilliant said, adding, “We organize through neighborhood communities.”
CASA was able to step in immediately following the 2016 gas explosion and fire at Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring, in which seven people were killed and many were left homeless. Aside from providing shelter, the organization is currently providing legal assistance for families suing Washington Gas and the owner of the apartment complex, Kay Apartments, for the incident.
“We were able to support the families and help them address the issues,” because the nonprofit already was involved in that complex, she said.
Executive Director Gustavo Torres said in a statement, “CASA fights to create a more-just society for working-class immigrant communities by building power and improving the quality of life for our members.
“A grant from the Communities Thrive Challenge gives us the unique opportunity to share our model in more places – helping organizations working with underserved and vulnerable populations across the country build their capacity.”
Obtaining the grant took much effort and time. The original application was due in April of 2018. CASA was one of 1,826 applicants from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and four United States territories.
The organizations were judged on impact, potential for scale, whether it was community based, and leadership.
The process included site visits, interviews and peer reviews. CASA’s application was reviewed by experts from academia, policy, business, philanthropy and community development.
After CASA was named one of 20 finalists, teams from The Rockefeller Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative visited the Langley Park location.
Dr. Rajiv Shah, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, praised the enthusiasm of all the applicants, which he said showed “a real hunger to share what’s working for the benefit of all Americans.”
The goal of the program is to invest in local solutions to “build an America where all people can earn enough to support their families, achieve financial security and provide their children with more opportunities,” he said.