The poorest people in any community in America face systemic obstacles to breaking out of poverty, including a lack of job-attainment necessities like dress clothes, interviewing skills and resume-building.
To help overcome that, a Missoula-based nonprofit called MoFi has won a highly competitive $1 million grant called the Communities Thrive Challenge from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, along with the Rockefeller Foundation. MoFi was one of 10 winners out of more than 2,000 entrants from across the United States.
MoFi will use the money mainly to hire specialists who will help businesses hire low-income workers across the Northern Rockies.
“The grant we’ve received will allow us to scale up our work with entrepreneurs and business owners across the Northern Rockies to work with them to have a more inclusive and robust workforce,” explained Dave Glaser, president of MoFi, a community development financial institution.
“We’re going to help companies we’re already working with and companies we haven’t worked with yet to engage and employ people across the communities, including low-income people.”
MoFi tested its model when a Missoula company, KettleHouse Brewing, began building a large new facility in Bonner. Glaser and his team reached out to KettleHouse owners Tim O’Leary and Suzy Rizza, then engaged with Job Services in Missoula to vet and and hire and prepare a workforce for KettleHouse’s expansion.
“We work with both entities, the business and the job service, to create a much more robust, dynamic and durable workforce,” Glaser explained. “In the case of Bonner, engaging a diverse array of people, including low-income people, really does an amazing job of improving the community itself.”
Glaser said in the past, he’s heard from business owners who didn’t hire someone because of a lack of experience.
“They interviewed a couple individuals who didn’t present themselves in a manner that the business owner felt comfortable for hiring for a front desk position,” Glaser said. “But with just a little bit of help in how to interview for a job, it really makes a difference in engaging a new workforce.”
MoFi has also helped a company in Idaho get training for its employees in a GED program and English as a second language.
“Investment in the workforce can pay dividends,” he said. “We are going to rebuild the middle class of the Rocky Mountain West.”
The owners of KettleHouse spoke for a documentary about MoFi’s help that Glaser used in his application for the grant.
“The MoFi funding that we received not only helped us build this beautiful brewery on the banks of the Blackfoot River in Bonner, Montana, it helped us with our mission and vision of creating community,” O’Leary said. “We hired staff through partners that MoFi helped us find, and each of those people represents a steady paycheck that in a small town can go a long way.”
“Working with MoFi really opened our eyes to the impact we can have building a business in a low-income small town and hiring local folks,” Rizza explained. “Poverty rates are going down because businesses are realizing the value of lifting up the whole community by providing living wages and benefits.”
Glaser said when he heard about the grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Rockefeller Foundation, he knew it was a perfect fit.
"When we saw the post back in June and read through the description, we realized there has never been a more perfect grant for our organization to scale the things we're already doing," Glaser said.