Here for Us: The New Advocacy Coalition Supporting the Montco Social Safety Net
Social safety net organizations often focus on addressing individual issues- providing a family with food to alleviate their hunger, providing emergency shelter after an eviction. But work must be done to address systemic issues at a policy level that allow these individual situations to occur. That’s why HealthSpark Foundation has been supporting Here for Us, Montgomery County’s cross-sector advocacy coalition focused on building a stronger social safety net.
“Here for Us is building the first-of-its-kind Advocacy Coalition in Montgomery County that will bring together a range of community organizations, residents, businesses, and other groups to work together to strengthen the social safety net so that we can build stronger, healthier, and safer communities, for all of us,” shares Bill England, the Coordinator for Here for Us.
Here for Us launched in October 2020, when the need for robust and responsive public policy could not have been more urgent. Here for Us is managed by PA Health Access Network, a statewide health advocacy organization based in Philadelphia.
“Over the past 12 plus months, the challenges created by the spread of Covid-19 has taught us much about responding to a large-scale public health emergency,” Mr. England noted. “The safety net has been stretched nearly to the breaking point.”
The importance of advocacy has been underscored by HealthSpark’s partners since the Foundation first started hosting community conversations in 2017 through the Safety Net Resiliency Initiative. In those conversations, partners identified advocacy for social services and public education about the value of the safety net system as critical levers for achieving a more just and equitable social safety net.
It was those conversations that led to the creation of Here for Us. Since then, HealthSpark has been engaging with PA Health Access Network and social impact firm Message Agency to develop a comprehensive messaging strategy, branding, and strategy framework for the advocacy coalition. PA Health Access Network now runs Here for Us and is managing the day-to-day coalition-building efforts through Mr. England, others on the PA Health Access Network team, and a growing leadership council.
Here for Us hosts town hall sessions and policy forums with interested partners. Through the spring, they plan on sponsoring legislative forums, consumer panels, and other events to continue to build interest and knowledge about the coalition as well as refine the group’s policy priorities.
“There is enthusiasm among partners and other organizations for better understanding policies and the advocacy that can improve the services and programs serving Montgomery County. As advocacy efforts continue to come together, the goal is to make participation straightforward and meaningful for all,” Mr. England shares.
Nonprofit organizations, businesses, civic groups, and residents interested in joining the coalition can expect to receive training on how community groups can participate in advocacy, provide input into the advocacy agenda, gain experience in advocacy, build relationships with other member organizations, and ultimately impact the policy environment that shapes their work and affects the communities they serve.
“There is strength in numbers and creating a shared experience among a range of varying organizations prepares us for success,” notes Mr. England. “The message is clear: the programs and services of the safety net are for all of us.”
To learn more and join as a partner, visit HereForUs.org.