Founded in 1985 in Chicago, Project Match conducts program development and research in a range of fields related to low-income populations, including welfare-to-work, workforce development, and community development. Project Match’s employment model for community-based organizations and its case management model for welfare agencies have both been adopted at sites around the country. The program’s research division uses data from replication sites—as well as from Project Match’s own direct-service initiatives—to explore the process by which poor Americans move toward economic and family stability.
The community-based employment model is derived from Project Match’s experience operating its own workforce development program, first in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood and now in West Haven, on the city’s Near West Side. In the 1980s, through analysis of job-turnover data for the program’s first participants, Project Match provided some of the earliest evidence of the widespread phenomenon of job cycling among current and former welfare recipients. While the intervals between jobs were short for some people, they were much more extended for others, resulting in a pattern of intermittent work. Based on these data, Project Match became one of the first programs in the country to develop a continuum of employment services, including job placement, retention, reemployment, and advancement assistance.
In Chicago, Project Match has provided technical assistance to community-based organizations in five other low-income neighborhoods to implement the multi-year employment model, as part of the New Communities Program (NCP), initiated by LISC/Chicago with primary funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The Pathways Case Management System shares many principles with the community-based employment model, but it is a separate initiative. Developed by Project Match for welfare agencies operating a mandatory welfare-to-work program, the system provides a set of tools and protocols for ensuring monthly contact between caseworkers and welfare recipients; for developing and monitoring customized, month-at-a-time self-sufficiency plans; and for promoting a teamwork approach among agency staff. Pathways takes into account all the roles that welfare recipients must learn to balance: among them, worker, parent, partner, and community member. In Project Match’s experience, the ability to balance these competing roles is often the characteristic that distinguishes successful individuals.
Pathways has been implemented at sites in several states, primarily California and New York. The system has been used with recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and General Assistance (GA). Some agencies have targeted Pathways for use with the most fragile or reluctant populations, including TANF families that are concurrently involved in the child welfare system, medically exempt TANF recipients, and TANF recipients in sanction status.
In 2004, Project Match adapted Pathways for public housing residents. Known as Pathways to Rewards, this new initiative was developed for families making the transition from the Chicago Housing Authority’s Henry Horner Homes to Westhaven Park, the mixed-income development that is being built as a replacement. The goal of Pathways to Rewards is to promote family and community stabilization by providing the structure, support, and incentives for adults, teens, and young children to work toward individual goals around employment, lease compliance, academic and extracurricular achievement, and community involvement.
Central to Pathways to Rewards is the incentive component. As individuals meet their goals, they earn points toward rewards such as bicycles, assistance with utility bills, DVD players, and gift cards to stores like Target. As with a “frequent flyer” program, people can redeem points for a small reward or accrue points over time for a larger reward. The individual and family goal achievements are announced at catered community events, held every three months, to which all the Pathways to Rewards families are invited.
Over the years, Project Match has been recognized for its contributions to the field. Early in its history, in 1988, Project Match was an award winner in the Innovations in State and Local Government program of the Ford Foundation and Harvard University. In 2000, it was an honoree in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Families Count program; this national award program was established to recognize organizations doing outstanding work on behalf of poor families and children in the United States. Most recently, in 2008, Project Match was one of eight nonprofits internationally to receive the MacArthur Foundation’s Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
Project Match, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, is funded through grants from foundations, corporations, and government agencies; income earned from replication and technical assistance contracts; and individual donations.
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