“The key was the team,” said Mark Newhouse, a founder of the Left Behind Workers Fund (LBWF) and an SVP Denver Partner. “To see the skills of various folks put to use, especially the SVP Partners, was really miraculous. The commitment level was amazing. I think it was only through SVP that we could have had access to the high level of expertise which allowed this effort to be deployed so quickly. And, since we already knew each other through SVP, we were a ready-made team.” Mark has repeatedly credited teamwork as the key element that made this incredible fund possible. The SVP Denver Partners came to the table to volunteer their fluency in the languages critical to the fund’s creation: finance, screening, evaluation, networking and operations.
In early March 2020, before the pandemic was top of mind, Mark had initiated a discussion on direct cash grants as a form of philanthropy with Ed Briscoe, Founder of Impact Charitable, and Katrina Van Gasse, previous VP of Silicon Valley Bank. On March 16, Ed sent an email to the group referencing their earlier discussion: “So, should we set this up sooner rather than later?…My wife and I were just talking about undocumented workers in hospitality. They are getting laid off and will have no access to government aid.” And, thus, the LBWF was born.
On March 26, the Social Venture Partners Impact Investment Group (SIIG) met and Mark presented seeking $100,000-$200,000 to fund a pilot. Within 48 hours, the contributions had passed the minimum target, and within a week exceeded the top end of the range. By April 24th, the pilot was complete with 200 $1000 direct cash grants made. The LBWF was off and running.
As of January 2021, the LBWF, hosted by Impact Charitable, has dispersed $12 million in direct cash grants and rental assistance to undocumented members of our community – friends and neighbors who had nowhere else to turn. As one of the cash grant recipients shared, “I lost my job and I had no idea what I was going to do. After living in this country for 14 years, I have never received this type of help. This was the first time that for me, as an immigrant, that there was any type of aid/assistance that was meant for the undocumented. I am so grateful.”
“Many people don’t realize that undocumented individuals are paying into unemployment insurance, but they will never reap the benefit,” said Reggie Vegliante, the SVP Denver Partner who served as the volunteer architect of the payment process for the project. “They are greatly contributing to our society, and in desperate times, they need our help.” The Colorado Fiscal Institute has estimated that more than $188 million dollars has been contributed over the last 10 years to the Colorado unemployment insurance fund on behalf of undocumented workers. The LBWF allowed for a parallel system to be developed that could at least provide some level of support to workers who have paid into a system that doesn’t provide an avenue for them to access any benefit.
What has also stunned the SVP Denver Partners who built the fund was the breadth of support they found throughout our community. Sara Bayless, the SVP Denver Partner with screening, measurement and evaluation expertise on the founding team, said, “I continue to be blown away by the level of support that has come from the community. I didn’t expect it to become a multi- million dollar fund. It’s been great to see that the private sector and foundations got behind this model. Then, the way that the public sector took a risk on a new model was amazing. The public sector is usually so risk averse. And it was wonderful to see bipartisan support for this effort.” From the City of Denver to surrounding communities to eventually the State, the public support for the LBWF grew step by step. In late November, the Colorado legislature, by a vote of 33 to 0 in the Senate and 48 to 15 in the House, passed a bill that set aside $5 million for the LBWF to utilize as it continues its assistance for undocumented families.
Beyond the SVP Denver Partner’s brain trust that was integral to the creation of the LBWF, it would have never gotten off the ground without key community partners. Knowing that building trust would be a critical piece in working with the undocumented community, the SVP Partners needed to find cultural and relational brokers in the community. The LBWF founders began by working side by side with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, and then the Village Exchange Center and El Centro Humanitario, among others. With the established trust and built-in relationships that existed with community partners, it became clear that ceding control and having them serve as the screeners for the fund would be a critical piece. In the end, it became deeply meaningful work for the screening partners. As Amanda Blaurock, Executive Director of the Village Exchange Center wrote, “As the payment partner and a screening partner for the LBWF, the Village Exchange Center has seen firsthand the massive impact of these small contributions to the most underrepresented workers in this state and their families. We are not just providing a $1,000 stipend, we are honoring these individual’s human dignity and relevance to the fabric and foundation of our country.”
As far as the future of the LBWF, the fund now has acquired an additional $11 million, through private and public sources, that community members will be able to access in 2021. Impact Charitable and LBWF are now initiating a study of the effort and other direct cash programs as a means of encouraging this method of assistance in the future. The LBWF leaders also hope to see efforts at the state level to address the unemployment insurance inequity that is presently built into our system.
The SVP Partners and their community partners can take great pride in the difference they made for the undocumented community, as illustrated by the words of one of the recipients, “If I hadn’t received your support, I wouldn’t have a roof over my or my children’s head. I would have had to move out of our family from our apartment in Colorado Springs to who knows where. There is a lot of discrimination that people without papers (documentation/legal status) face in this country. But thankfully LBWF advocates for us. I cannot express my gratitude for the support that was given to my children and I.”