A long term collaboration success story from Poland: “Vehicle for Independence” for youth from foster care

This is the story of a successful collaboration between the Regional Youth Center in Lebork, Poland, and the company Farm Frites Poland . A cooperation which started through the involvement of both partners in an European Grant Application to apply for a grant to start a “Vehicle for Independence” for youth from foster care, and evolved to be a long-term partnership which led to the development of many more common projects.

The Regional Youth Center (Regionalne Centrum Młodziezy- RCM) was prior involved in some small cooperations with local representatives, but these were rather occasional events consisting of one-off financial donations.

RCM was directly approached by Farm Frits Poland (FF) who were searching for a project partner which could help them to relies a project which could support local youth from foster care. Prior the Human Resource Director of FF learned from the Robinson Crusoe Foundation about the “Vehicle for Independence” program, which the Robinson Crusoe Foundation developed and is “franchising” to other NGO partners in Poland. The Vehicle is a two-year program to support young people in achieving independence after leaving foster care and enriching their social capital. This goal is achieved through regular meetings and the creation of a community that participates in training, discusses and supports members in the challenges of adulthood. RCM agreed to start such a program on the local level and the partners jointly started to write an application for funding for a project facilitating independence.

Two vehicle groups of 15 people each were created. In addition to running the Vehicle, the project involved many accompanying events, including running the Volunteer Club. In total, the grant awarded by the FIO (Civic Initiatives Fund) amounted to 200,000 zloty for a two-year program, consultants, trips, transport, etc.. Farm Frites provided additional funds, 20,000 zloty in 2016/17 and 10,000 zloty in 2018. Szymon Medalion from the Regional Youth Centre and Barbara Kozłowska from FF became consultants for the Vehicles.

“Eventually, we managed to gather a group of 30 people on the list, of which 25 participated in more than one meeting and about 16 took full advantage of the program. “

FF’s involvement went far beyond financial support or assistance in raising funds. Vehicle consultants could count on expert advice and program support. FF also invited young people to the company headquarters, organized trips to the production facility and laboratory, financed Christmas Eve meetings, catering and gifts for young Robinsons. Slowly, young people became a part of FF, whether through their presence in the company bulletin that followed their progress, or through temporary or permanent employment of Robinsons who reached adulthood, or by inviting them to participate in the annual volunteer action “Planting a forest”. This action takes the form of a picnic centered around the idea of planting trees together as a family. The inclusion of the Robinsons in this action and the openness with which they were received says a lot about the approach of FF employees to their beneficiaries.

Particular attention should be paid to the activities of FF in the field of housing policy changes in Lębork. FF is a large and important taxpayer in the powiat, and therefore has a great potential for lobbying, which they decided to use in order to include young people leaving foster custody on the list of people with preferential conditions for the allocation of communal housing. The planning of the powiat is such that many people leaving foster care are registered outside the city, which also makes it difficult for them to obtain such housing. The FF initiative is an inspiring example of how in the course of CSR work a company becomes aware of the specific challenges of its beneficiaries and decides to influence the state structures to address these challenges and include them in the creation of political and legislative solutions. It is also significant that the idea came from the FF and in conversations with the mayor they act as a party and RCM is there as an expert. This means that a large representative of the private sector really takes on social responsibility, which is ultimately the purpose and sense of CSR activities. Currently, the city, RCM and FF are looking for a place that could be a “training” home for young Robinsons, not used to self-reliance. The combined forces of the representatives of the three sectors make it possible to hope for the success of this project.

How does the cooperation work in practice?

Farm Frites is in constant contact with RCM due to the fact that one of the company’s employees, Barbara Kozłowska, is also a consultant of the Vehicle, which means that she conducts regular meetings with beneficiaries, writes lesson plans and is responsible for the implementation of the program. Periodically, meetings are held to determine the content of the program and strategy for the coming months of meetings, in which Katarzyna Majchrzak, the director of the CSR department, also takes part. The RCM is also invited to budget meetings where it can present new ideas for Farm Frites’ involvement in helping young people in foster care. At the key moments of the Vehicle’s activity there are also meetings with Dorota Markiewicz-Kubik, Director of the PR department, which allow for signaling the needs and making changes in response to initiatives arising in the course of the Vehicle.

In the course of cooperation, there were situations that required rethinking and changing the course of action. One example was the need to reduce the number of target beneficiaries and to cut the number of Vehicles from two to one. Another example was a conversation between the Management Board and RCM, in which the willingness to be recognized as a company that actively and effectively works for the common good was communicated. It was a signal to RCM that the image of the partner should be taken care of and efforts should be made to ensure that this benefit was also constantly present in the cooperation.

That is why apart from gratitude, diplomas and announcements in social media, RCM was motivated to perform at various meetings, where it is possible to praise the partnership established with FF in a wider group of people. Examples of such gatherings included the Lokalne Forum Międzysektorowe (Local Inter-sector Forum) or the conference Kierunki Wspierania Aktywności Społecznej Młodzieży (Directions for Supporting Social Activity of Youth), where RCM shared its experience of good practices in cooperation with FF.

The cooperation is a complete success, it is a full partnership, not just sponsoring. FF comes up with initiatives and takes responsibility, RCM brings expertise and ideas, which they develop together.

Today the cooperation between the Regional Youth Center and Farm Frites manifestes itself in the following activities :

  • Initiating the creation of an institution for achieving independence for young adults in foster care
  • Co-financing of the Lębork Vehicle for Independence
  • Support in gaining grant funds for financing the statutory activity of the RCM
  • Substantive advice for Vehicle consultants
  • Facilitation of finding a seasonal job for beneficiaries of the Vehicle
  • Occasional or permanent employment of beneficiaries of the Vehicle in Farm Frites
  • Inviting the Vehicle’s beneficiaries to participate in the annual corporate volunteer action “Planting a forest”.
  • Lobbying for a change in housing policy to make it easier for young people in foster care to receive communal housing

For more information on the case please watch the following Video: