March 24, 2023
Building lasting family relationships for youth

ECCF Fund Advisors Visit Plummer Youth Promise to Learn about Innovative Programming

By Michelle Xiarhos Curran

The mid-19th century Victorian that nonprofit Plummer Youth Promise calls home sits on a sprawling plot of land on Winter Island, overlooking Salem Channel. The North Atlantic beyond stretches as far as the eye can see.

On a recent warm, late winter morning, more than a dozen ECCF fund advisors took in that view as part of the first in a series of new nonprofit site visits coordinated by the foundation to introduce donors to the critical work nonprofits are doing every single day across Essex County.

“This is a very peaceful space,” Sarah Morrill, Plummer Youth Promise director of strategy and evaluation, told the group once inside. “Finding places for quiet contemplation is important.”

Throughout the course of an average year, up to 40 young men between the ages of 13 and 18, displaced from their families, reside at the group home. Some of these young men have already spent years in foster care; most have faced family experiences devastated by poverty, violence or drugs. They are alone, and they are lonely. But at Plummer, they are supported in developing skills and community connections that will help them live happy, healthy lives. In this sprawling house by the ocean, they also receive something else: the promise of a life-long bond with family – either their biological family or a new one – that is committed to nurture, protect and guide them into successful adulthood.

“What sets us apart is we put so much emphasis on relationships,” said Johanna Rodriguez, the organization’s residential clinician. “We build a team around each young person.”

Permanency is the anchor – and the ultimate goal – of the work being done at Plummer Youth Promise.

In 2021, 77% of youth in the organization’s residential care program were discharged with a safe, stable emotionally secure parenting relationship. Hundreds more young people have been put on a path to permanency through additional Plummer programs, including its own Foster Care program, Community Apartments, Permanency Mediation Services and Intensive Permanency Services.

“Kids don’t really belong in group care, and so we’re trying to put a stake in the ground,” said Nicole McLaughlin, the organization’s executive director. “We’re trying to shift the system.”

Plans for the new residential building. Plummer Youth Promise breaks ground on the project this summer.

Shifting the system, in part, means embarking on a $17 million capital campaign to completely overhaul the organization’s aging Winter Island residential facilities to include spaces that complement its innovative permanency work and make youth feel welcome, secure and prepared.

“So much of this building gets in the way of practice,” said McLaughlin, who highlighted the shortage of space and crumbling infrastructure. At no time were these shortfalls more evident than during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With what we have to manage, we did really well, but we could have done better,” said Rodriguez. “We made it work, but it was a really tough time.”

The project, once complete, will include a new residential building with single occupancy bedrooms and bathrooms that will protect residents’ privacy and affirm their dignity, and welcoming family visiting space. Immediately following the new build, the current building will be renovated to accommodate the organization’s administrative and operational needs and enable young people to host family overnight in a new, separate apartment designed to create a home-like environment.

“Both types of spaces are essential to our work to build relationships,” said McLaughlin.

Chris, a current Plummer Youth Promise resident, has served as an invaluable member of the facilities planning committee and his input weighed heavily on the new building’s design.

Plans for the renovation, which will eventually include a multipurpose building, were crafted using feedback from youth who live or have lived in the house. Plummer Youth Promise is set to break ground on the project this summer and has already raised $12 million towards the total cost.

For Plummer Youth Promise staff, ‘shifting the system’ also means sharing best practices with others who work tirelessly to help young people secure permanent family relationships. Just last year alone, the organization trained 2,000 child welfare professionals across the country through the Plummer Youth Promise Training and Consulting program.

“We’re trying to make a change in the world,” said Morrill.

Those attending the site visit had the opportunity to ask questions of Plummer Youth Promise staff and engage in deeper conversations about the organization’s work and mission.

“The visit seemed like a great way for Plummer to share, deeply and authentically, the details of their program, vision and needs with our group from ECCF all at once,” said one ECCF fund advisor. “We left quite impressed and inspired by Nicole and the work that’s been done there.”

“Plummer was not on our radar, but definitely fits our giving profile now that we have seen it,” he added.

Connecting donors with the work of local nonprofits lies at the intersection of the core components of ECCF’s mission: to inspire and elevate giving, to strengthen nonprofits and to engage in leadership work driven by collaboration.

“We see these site visits really as a connection point for everything we do here at the foundation,” said Stacey Landry, ECCF’s vice president for advancement and philanthropic services. “Building these authentic relationships, providing a forum for nonprofits to tell their stories to more people and convening donors so they can hear first-hand what the real needs and opportunities are – all of these things are critical to fostering sustainable change in our communities.”

For more information about different ways you can support Plummer Youth Promise, visit www.plummeryouthpromise.org. To learn more about how they help rebuild families, please watch Rebuilding Families. If you are interested in making a grant to the organization through your donor advised fund at ECCF, please contact Stacey Landry at s.landry@eccf.org.

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