A community barbershop is often a hub of interaction. Patrons and staff are often well-known to each other and discuss topics that range from world events to local politics, sports, television shows and who is back in town. Barbershops can be places of trust and friendship.
So, a few years ago, when social workers and health experts looked for effective ways to reach out to those who often avoid formal health facilities, the barbershop was a natural. Medical professionals say that many men, especially older men, are often reluctant to seek preventive care or treatment for conditions and diseases that they may already have.
“We knew there was a national barbershop model that was being used to reach young men,” says Ella Thomas, executive director of Thea Bowman Center in Cleveland’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood. “But, we wanted to create a Barbershop Program for African American men, 60 years and older. We knew barbershops would be one place they would be hanging out.”
Thea Bowman Center, with roots going back to 1966, is a nonprofit organization helping the community in which 65% of families live near or below the poverty level. Its goal is to promote health and well-being through education and resources.
Thomas says her organization has hired “the perfect person” to help implement the program. The mental health counselor also has experience helping others with substance abuse and is also a former salon owner. The barbershop liaison will be talking with men about a variety of topics, including diabetes, high blood pressure, changes in eating habits and “all of those other things men don’t want to talk about,” says Thomas.
History buffs know the idea of health care at a barbershop is not a new idea. America’s red, white and blue poles are throwbacks to centuries past when, first in Europe and then in America, barbers were known for not just snipping hair, but performing medical procedures, including surgeries.
The Barbershop Program has been made possible by United Way of Greater Cleveland. As a new Grantee Partner, Thea Bowman Center will receive funds not only for the barbershop model, but also for another program to bridge the digital divide in the community.
“We will reach out to seniors for computer literacy and to help them get connected to health providers and resources about things that include health conditions and exercise programs,” says Thomas.
In 2020, United Way began preparing for its new, current grant-making process, and it became the perfect time to also expand its service to the community, including official partners and the local nonprofit sector as a whole, according to Danielle Crawford, director, evaluation and learning.
United Way encourages all nonprofits to participate in its Center for Excellence in Social Services. By providing specialized tracks and activities, this United Way effort allows nonprofit organizations to connect and learn more about nonprofit management topics. One of the 2022-2023 United Way Center for Excellence in Social Services’ goals is to dedicate 58% of its grants to directly support Black- and Brown-led organizations serving Black and Brown communities.
“While organizations, especially the ones we work with, do need dollars, they also need capacity building,” says Crawford. “We decided to pivot our Center for Excellence in Social Services.”
The result has been Center for Excellence — LIVE, “quarterly sessions for any nonprofit in the community open to having a discussion that is relevant,” explains Crawford. Sessions are virtual at this point, but they are also recorded for those not able to attend in real time.
Upcoming sessions include: Interpreting and Building Your Financial Statements, June 7, presented by Business Volunteers Unlimited in partnership with a nonprofit consultant; Uncovering the Nonprofit Landscape, Sept. 13, presented in collaboration with the Funders Collaborative on COVID Recovery and Leading Equity; and Continuing Our Conversation on Race, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Dec. 6, presented by Equius Group.
Thomas attended the Center for Excellence ’s first session of the year, Build and Engage a High-Impact Board, held in March.
“I have a good board, but I found the group be fascinating and so refreshing in so many ways,” says Thomas “To be able to look at the characteristics of the board and what we are doing is helpful. It was good to validate what we are doing right, but of course, there are things we need to work on,” says Thomas, whose current board has nine members, with a capacity to hold 15.
In addition to those sessions, United Way of Greater Cleveland also offers Peer Group Learning for its members who are selected to receive grants from its Community Hub for Basic Needs. The 2022-2023 Peer Groups include: Building Evaluation Capacity; Building a Culture of Race, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Lifting Up Your Leaders of Color; and Board and Leadership Development.
Crawford says United Way’s focus has increasingly become more centered on what nonprofit organizations request and need to help them flourish and meet their goals and missions. The open sessions and peer group sessions both answer those requirements.
“It’s all about being able to differentiate the learning so everyone is able to take something away from the sessions, whether you are just getting your 501(c)(3) off of the ground or are a seasoned nonprofit professional,” says Crawford.
Crawford emphasizes that it is imperative for strong nonprofits to work alongside government, the corporate world and other community interests.
“At United Way, we can assist in making our nonprofits stronger, whether they are safety-net nonprofits like those that help with basic needs, or they are niche nonprofits that assist with more specific needs. It is our responsibility to do so,” says Crawford.
To expand that aid and make it more convenient for its partners as well as the community, United Way is making some physical changes to its offices.
“As part of United Way of Greater Cleveland’s commitment to strengthening our community’s nonprofit sector, a dedicated space for virtual and in-person learning is being designed in our offices at 1331 Euclid Avenue,” says Crawford. “The studio will open this spring. Nonprofits will be welcome to use this studio on a space-available basis.”
For more information about any of the sessions or the studio, visit cfe.unitedwaycleveland.org.