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Shoulder to Shoulder

New Partnerships to fight poverty in the Washington DC area

A special initiative of the Jewish Fund for Justice
Washington, DC has long had a high concentration of poverty—currently higher than all but two of the fifty states. More than one-third of the District’s children live in poverty, as compared with one of out five children nationally. Thirty-seven percent of Washington’s poor residents have jobs. Washington has the lowest home ownership rate of any comparably sized city in the nation, and for years working families, mostly people of color, have left the District for better schools, safer neighborhoods, and homeownership. Recent severe rises in rents have forced more lower income families to leave the District, thereby exporting poverty to the inner-ring suburbs. The impact of September 11 and the ongoing economic downturn have made and continue to make things worse for low-income people.

Despite these problems, in the last year or so exciting new possibilities have emerged that promise to make real gains in the local fight against poverty. Groups and constituencies that have never worked together before are coming together to create new partnerships. Community groups are teaming up with labor unions. Low-income tenants and homeowners from the District are joining forces with their counterparts in the inner-ring suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. National policy groups are lending their expertise to local organizations. All of these new collaborations are bringing dynamic forces to bear in the effort to rebuild low-income communities and help the working poor get on their feet.

Shoulder to Shoulder, a special initiative of the Jewish Fund for Justice, will find and support the most promising of the new partnerships fighting poverty in the Washington area. Shoulder to Shoulder will award $150,000 in the Washington area--$75,000 of new money raised locally and $75,000 matched from JFJ’s core budget--to fund three anti-poverty, economic justice strategies:

  1. Raising the income of the working poor: Full-time work should lift people out of poverty, not trap people in it. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for many of Washington’s poor families. Shoulder to Shoulder will support organizations coming together in new ways to raise low-wage workers out of poverty. Examples of such collaborations include: 1) labor unions joining with community groups to increase public pressure to raise wages for the lowest-paid workers (such as parking lot attendants, janitors, and cafeteria workers); 2) efforts to bring together lawyers and immigrant day laborers to jointly pursue legal action, conduct education about workers’ rights, and carry out direct action to win back wages illegally withheld by abusive employers; and 3) joint initiatives of grassroots community groups and policy/research institutes to enact living wage proposals.

  2. Preserving and increasing affordable housing: New partnerships also are also forming to stem the tide of rising housing costs and the accompanying displacement and homelessness. Shoulder to Shoulder will support coalitions of non-profit housing developers, labor unions, and tenant groups working to increase government funding for affordable housing. In addition, the special initiative will fund efforts to bring together low- and moderate-income homeowners in Washington, DC, suburban Maryland, and Northern Virginia to pressure predatory lenders to end practices that are causing excessive numbers of mortgage foreclosures.

  3. Strengthening the Safety Net: It is important to help people who are unable to work or out of a job. Shoulder to Shoulder will support emerging new coalitions of grassroots community groups, social service agencies, labor unions, and public policy centers that are working to improve the kind of government assistance necessary to help low-income people weather a sustained economic downturn. These coalitions are combining direct service, research, policy development, lobbying and grassroots pressure to improve unemployment compensation, emergency assistance, and multi-language access to social services for those who are not currently protected by the safety net.

Shoulder to Shoulder will operate in the following ways:

  1. Eligible Groups: Shoulder to Shoulder will support grassroots groups that are controlled by low-income people as well as coalitions, social service agencies, public policy groups, community development corporations or other organizations that are working in partnership with grassroots groups controlled by low-income people. All funded groups will engage in grassroots advocacy and community organizing either alone or in combination with complementary strategies; e.g., direct action, social service programs, housing development, and/or litigation. To be eligible for funding, a group or project must represent new or emerging partnerships that either bring together organizations that have not previously worked together (e.g., labor unions and grassroots community groups, national public policy organizations and local groups) or constituencies that have not previously joined forces (e.g., low-income people in the District and suburbs). Funded groups will work to raise the income of the working poor, increase the supply of affordable housing, and/or strengthen the social safety net, as described above.

  2. Funding levels: JFJ will raise $75,000 in new money locally in
    the Washington area and match it with $75,000 from JFJ's core budget for a total of $150,000 to be awarded in two grant cycles. Grants will range from $10,000 to $25,000. All grants will be awarded for one year.

  3. Geographic Focus: Grants will be limited to groups in Washington, DC; Prince Georges and Montgomery counties in Maryland; and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church and the counties of Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun in Virginia.

  4. Building Support in the Jewish community: An explicit goal of Shoulder to Shoulder is to increase the Jewish community's awareness of and involvement in social justice efforts. Applicants will be encouraged to describe how they would communicate with and engage the Greater Washington Jewish community, including Jewish community leaders, synagogues, Jewish communal organizations, and other institutions. JFJ will convene grantees and representatives of the Washington Jewish community to help develop plans for Jewish involvement. These plans will inform and be reinforced by proactive, strategic efforts by JFJ to involve the local Jewish community in the grantees’ work.

  5. Application Process: Groups will apply for funding through Shoulder to Shoulder by invitation only.

  6. Local Grantmaking Advisory Committee: A local Washington DC grantmaking advisory committee will be set up to make recommendations to the JFJ Board of Directors on Shoulder to Shoulder grantees.

The Jewish Fund for Justice is a unique organization dedicated, on a non-denominational basis, to changing the lives of struggling Americans. It is the only national Jewish foundation solely focused on the root causes of poverty. By awarding grants to innovative, community-based organizations fighting for decent housing, schools and jobs, JFJ is committed to, and directly involved in empowering low-income people to make real changes in their lives and rebuild their communities. Believing that the passion for pursuing justice, righting wrongs, and creating a better world must continue to be an essential part of our Jewish identity, the Jewish Fund for Justice also assists synagogues, religious schools and Jewish organizations to develop community-based partnerships to fight poverty and work for social justice.


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