The Family Center
New Needs, New Plan
When Ivy Gamble Cobb and three former colleagues started The Family Center in 1994, their work was focused on providing comprehensive services for families affected by HIV/AIDS, including planning how children would be cared for in the event of the death of a parent. At least 95 percent of clients were single women of color with multiple children, often with different fathers. Social workers, attorneys, and public health practitioners worked together as a team to serve the families.
Over time, HIV/AIDS treatment advanced and the scope of the agency’s services expanded to include families facing a range of destabilizing issues, including parental illness, substance abuse, and incarceration. Consequently, the organization’s mission to “create a secure present and future for children whose parents have a life-threatening illness” did not keep pace. “It was hard to talk about our work in context of the mission, because so much work fell outside the mission,” Gamble Cobb said.
When she took over as executive director in 2006, Gamble Cobb knew The Family Center needed a new strategic plan. Relocation and a capital campaign stalled the project, but in early 2008, the Center was ready to proceed.
Choosing a Strategic Planning Partner
Gamble Cobb knew she needed the right partner to help develop the plan. The organization wanted to take a hard look at its programs, assess the mission statement, determine whether the internal infrastructure was adequate for a growing organization, and improve external communications so the Center was no longer “the best kept secret in New York.”
“Sometimes when you undertake a project like this, there are false starts,” Gamble Cobb observed. “We knew this strategic plan was critical, and we couldn’t afford any false starts.” She decided to engage TCC Group after hearing about work we had done for the New York Mission Society.
Beginning in September 2008, TCC gathered information from The Family Center’s board members, staff, and clients. TCC conducted a document review, interviews, discussion groups, and surveys. We also facilitated a retreat to foster discussion, consider recent findings, and create a vision for the future.
Over the next six months, workgroups developed plans in five key areas: mission and values; strategy; staffing, management and operations; governance; and finance and fundraising.
Today, The Family Center provides a comprehensive range of programs, all at no cost to residents of New York City, including legal and social services, health care coordination, early childhood intervention services, as well as education, outreach, and research. With offices in midtown Manhattan and the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, most of the Center’s clients are people of color with incomes below the federal poverty line. Last year its staff of about 50 people provided services to nearly 700 families.
The Family Center’s mission is now “to strengthen families affected by illness, crisis, or loss.” And according to Gamble Cobb, “We have a strategic plan that sets us up to add services that are needed in the community. It doesn’t just sit on the shelf.” She added, “The TCC team ‘got us’ and we got the product we wanted.”