Covenanter Honored With Innovative Ministry Award

ROCKFORD, IL (November 30, 2010) – Covenanter Allan Barsema recently was awarded $100,000 for his innovative ministry, but the biggest beneficiaries are the homeless people he has encouraged to restart their lives.

Barsema, a member of First Covenant Church, was one of 10 winners honored with the 2010 Purpose Prize, presented by Civic Ventures. Civic Ventures is a six-year, $17 million program “that provides large-scale investment in social entrepreneurs older than 60 who, in their encore careers, are using their experience and passion to make an extraordinary impact on society’s biggest challenges.”

The former construction company owner and his wife, Cathy, built Carpenter’s Place, a holistic ministry to the homeless, and established Community Collaboration, Inc. (CCI), a not-for-profit software provider that has developed an online system to coordinate social services. The software was introduced in Rockford and is now being used in five states.

Barsema now serves as senior research associate for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in Northern Illinois University’s Outreach’s Center for Governmental Studies, where he is developing a national program to demonstrate the benefits of greater collaboration among governments and faith-based social service providers.

“Purpose Prize winners are courageous, creative, passionate and strategic – all the qualities needed to make headway on some of our greatest challenges,” said Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Civic Ventures. “It is the combination of these qualities, their decades of experience, and the sheer size of the baby boomer population that make social innovators in their encore careers a promising and invaluable asset to society.” Click here to view a video on Barsema produced by Civic Ventures.

Barsema’s passion was inspired in part by his own experience. Alcoholism cost him his home, family and real estate business before he turned his life around with help from others.

The Barsemas are reinvesting all the prize proceeds into their various projects, including a new undertaking, One Body Collaboratives, started in September. The project “builds upon the existing efforts by mobilizing church and faith-based resources to collaborate more effectively to address individual, family and community needs,” Barsema said.

“The successes of Carpenter’s Place and Community Collaboration demonstrate how people can indeed rebuild their lives when we look at the whole person and work collaboratively to help them,” Barsema said. The Central Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church provided some of the initial startup funds for Carpenter’s Place.

Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government also has noticed the success of CCI. The project was recognized as a “Bright Idea” by the school’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation in October.

The specially designed software allows human service providers – including local governmental agencies, social service agencies and faith-based organizations – to share information about individuals across a single, web-based, secure platform. Clients can work with case managers anywhere in the system to develop a holistic service plan that helps them achieve their goals. Each client can then authorize the software to share that plan with whatever providers they trust, which allows the different providers to collaborate easily to understand the client’s progress and ensure better outcomes.

Barsema said he doesn’t like the terms “case management,” explaining, “We’re working with people, not cases.”

Using the CCI software, Carpenter’s Place is seeing more than 300 long-term homeless persons attain stabilized housing annually. It has reduced jail recidivism among homeless incarcerates from the county’s previous 88 percent down to 18 percent or lower, saving the county more than $349,000 in terms of jail stay days alone, he adds.

The program was one of 173 from around the country the Ash Center said could be useful to leaders seeking to improve their communities. More than 600 projects were considered for the award.

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