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women in the shelter to give her information about services, and
how that information was often incorrect or outdated. She told us
how she used her last few dollars to travel to organizations to get
help to get her life back on track and was often told that she didn't
qualify for services, or the program could not help her because
it was out of funds. After one and a half years of homelessness,
eventually Penny Johnson got the housing, mental health care,
medical care and grief counseling services she needed. She now
works as a certified peer counselor at HopeWorx, but she considers
herself lucky because getting the help she needed was a long,
confusing, unfamiliar and treacherous road. Her presentation was
a testament to how difficult it is to navigate "the system," recover
from crises and rebuild a life after trauma.
Unbeknownst to attendees, Donafy CEO, Nikki JohnsonHuston has a similar story. She was on the panel to discuss the
free Donafy smart phone app she created, sort of a social services
Uber that allows users to locate social service providers that help
with things like food, housing, job training, mental health services
and drug and alcohol recovery in their area. The app allows users
to get useful information about those services and even make
donations. As if the innovative free app wasn't enough, JohnsonHuston also briefly shared the inspirational story that motivated
her to create Donafy. Johnson-Huston's experienced her own
struggles with "the system." She boldly told the audience about
how her veteran single mother's drug and alcohol addiction caused
her family to end up homeless when she was just 10 years old. She
told the group about how she read a lot during that time because
she, her mother, and her brother went to the library during the
day for shelter. Like Penny Johnson, her family was often denied
services for a variety of reasons -- sometimes they did not fit the
organization's target population; other times they did not have the
right referrals. Eventually her family was separated, she was sent
to live with her grandmother in another state, and her brother
was sent to foster care. Her grandmother raised her on public
assistance, but she did well enough in school to get a scholarship

to Saint Joseph's University. After struggling to stay in college
with little help from her family, she started working as a live-in
nanny for a lawyer couple in Haverford who supported her
academically and professionally as she matriculated through
college, business school and law school. Now a successful tax
attorney, the free Donafy app is Nikki Johnson-Huston's way
of giving back and helping people in need.
After being moved by these compelling personal stories,
the group was even more motivated to solve the problems
of the world...or at least of Montgomery County. We
broke into small groups and were tasked with the job of
analyzing communication and collaboration amongst social
service providers and discussing ways to make services more
accessible. The groups discussed how clients are connected to
services, types of clients who might need a centralized resource
directory, challenges that may arise in accessing, promoting or
maintaining a centralized resource directory and other ideas for
improving access to justice.
We wrapped up the morning by coming back together to
share the ideas explored in the small group discussions. We
compiled a list of currently available resources like 2-1-1,
Community Connections and, and discussed
client needs that could be met with a thorough, centralized
directory. Then we considered the challenges in creating this
type of resource, like keeping it current and accurate, obtaining
the funding to maintain and promote it and preventing
overlap while still providing clients with all available resource
options. We also discussed other ideas for improving access
to justice through communication and collaboration like
creating a centralized website for social services, working more
closely with law enforcement and faith-based communities
and providing more outreach to families of incarcerated
The summit was a huge success. Inspired by client
stories and the possibility of what could be if we all work
together, leaders from across the county were able to combine
their expertise to lay the foundation for a groundbreaking
collaborative resource guide to connect clients with the services
they need.

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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sidebar Summer 2018

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