The Innovation Mission: Penny Smith

The Cleveland Leadership Center was proud to partner with the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland on The Innovation Mission, a fellowship that supports local experts with groundbreaking ideas to break the cycle of poverty. Since Fall 2017, five fellows have developed their ideas and created programs to implement in Cleveland and potentially scale nationwide. Each day this week we are sharing their stories.

Penny Smith, PhD
CEO, Alegria Technologies

Penny’s project started with the question, “Can we reduce childhood poverty by supporting low-income fathers’ ability to pay child support?”

Low-income families have historically been viewed and supported through social services – organizations that help families get the care they need but often these organizations have thinly spread resources.

With more than 40 percent of children born to parents who are not married, child support is the financial safety net for the non-nuclear family, Penny says. Twenty-five percent of mothers never receive a child support payment and only 43 percent of mothers who have custody receive all of their payments. This means more than half of single or custodial mothers receive only partial or no financial support.

Low-income fathers who drop out of fatherhood programs tend to experience continued financial insecurity and the threat of incarceration unless they find an attachment to the workforce through employment or job training.

“My project takes the innovative tack of bypassing social services and helping low-income families eventually support themselves by setting up workforce development programs for fathers facing barriers to getting a job,” Penny says. “Barriers may be a criminal record, transportation difficulties, or they have simply never been exposed to the best possible jobs for their skill set.”

Penny’s project, called Keys to Degrees, is a web-based software application that connects people to training, subsidized jobs, and social services. The technology also enables social services, policy makers, and funders to track the effectiveness of services.

Penny has completed several rounds of research including focus groups with men enrolled in fatherhood programs around Ohio. Using what she has learned, she plans to move forward to establish a Keys to Degrees beta platform, test it with area nonprofits, and work toward integration with Ohio Means Jobs.

Celebrate their success

The Sisters of Charity Foundation will celebrate the conclusion of The Innovation Mission with A Celebration of Innovation. All are welcome to attend this free event but registration is required.

June 12, 2019  |  4:30 – 7:00 p.m.  |  Global Center for Health Innovation.

Learn more + register >