Alternatives For Girls
Alternatives For Girls (AFG) does things their own way. Their mission is broad: Provide services for Detroit-area girls and young women facing conditions that put them at risk of homelessness, teen pregnancy, and exploitation. They offer a live-in shelter, after-school programs, college prep, summer camp, and outreach on the street, all designed to keep participants safe, and help them grow strong.
“We’re unusual in that we house minors but aren’t part of the foster care system and the funding that comes with,” said Amy Good, CEO of AFG. “But we still have a long list of requirements and regulations we need to meet that kick up our costs.”
AFG’s unique model is based on community need and therefore doesn’t always fit with grant funding, which is not flexible and comes with specific parameters on how it can be spent.
“We didn’t have enough unrestricted dollars to be reactive to the community the way we needed to be. We didn’t have reserves. We were living on the edge,” Good said. “We decided we were too important to fail.”
AFG embarked on a campaign to raise $1.7 million in 2013. At first, it was a typical general operating support campaign, but AFG shifted their strategy to focus on reserve funds in four categories: cash flow, building equipment, endowment, and program support. The change was due, in large part, to AFG’s work with Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) at the time through the Building for the Future program (BFF).
In 2002, NFF partnered with United Way for Southeastern Michigan on BFF, a program to equip nonprofits with the tools for keeping their building healthy. AFG was enrolled in the program from 2007-2016, overlapping with their capital campaign, which completed in 2015. AFG’s partnership included an assessment of the state of their facilities, and a maintenance plan, budget, and some funding.
Good said that beyond this, the work with NFF solidified the value of incorporating reserves in AFG’s budget to keep the building, which houses the shelter, in good condition. She explained that a donor paid off the organization’s $250,000 mortgage, but in what Good calls a “mortgage redirect,” AFG continued making the $2,000 a month mortgage payment – to itself.
“This discipline of investing money every month in our long-term facility and many other needs – NFF directed us to think this way,” Good said.
In 2017, AFG got a big break for doing things their own way. The Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U. S. Department of Health & Human Services, awarded AFG a federal grant of nearly $1 million a year for five years to study the effectiveness of LeadHer, their unique teen pregnancy prevention curriculum. Celia Thomas, COO, explained that the curriculum includes helping girls develop a strong sense of self, and to recognize and learn from leaders.
“Because we designed our program based off what we saw was working for our girls, we wound up with something unique and special,” Thomas said. “Our approach is way above ‘here’s contraception and don’t have sex.’” If their research hypothesis is proven true, their curriculum could be widely implemented.
AFG serves nearly 700 girls and young women on an ongoing basis and close to 6,000 more through short-touch outreach on the street. There’s much more work to be done, but Good and Thomas know two things for sure – they’ll keep doing things the way they see fit, and they have the foundation for resources for the long haul, something that was hard to imagine back in 2006.
“We have a space in the community no one can take from us,” Good said. “We are here to stay.”
This story was written as part of NFF's 40th anniversary celebration.