Technology Solutions in Foster Care Systems with Jordan Bartlett - Ep 39

This episode of the Social Enterprise Alliance Podcast aired on Tuesday, March 11th. This episode can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

0:00:00.0 Jordan: When you're in foster care, you're in a different group home, a different foster home. You've got different lawyers coming in and out, different social workers. There's all of these very temporary relationships who are all telling you what to do. And I think that's the biggest missing part that's out there right now is a community that they can go to year after year, versus a program that they go into and then it ends and then that's kind of the cutoff.

0:00:22.8 Lauren: Hello everyone and welcome to the Social Enterprise Alliance Podcast. Today's guest is Jordan Bartlett. In 2014, Jordan stepped away from a corporate job to find a way to change outcomes for people aging out of foster care. That journey led to co-founding, Doing Good Works in 2014. As Doing Good Works has grown over the last nine years, they have built an amazing community of people impacted by foster care that they've served through job opportunities, training, resources, and mentoring support. This experience has been distilled into Foster Greatness, an app that launched in January, 2024. It's more than technology, it's a community and a support network for those taking their first steps into adulthood without a safety net. Please welcome Jordan to the podcast.

0:01:41.9 Lauren: Well, welcome Jordan. We're so happy to have you on the podcast today.

0:01:45.7 Jordan: Yeah. Thank you guys for having me. Happy to be here.

0:01:48.6 Lauren: Yeah. Looking forward to our conversation. To kick things off, we'd love to hear a little bit more about your story and how you first got involved in the social enterprise field.

0:02:00.5 Jordan: Yeah. So my story really started in college. Well I guess it started even before that. I was born and raised in Orlando, Florida. And I was adopted when I was young, I was three or four years old and had two amazing parents and love and support in the household, and never thought about anything different. And I went to college in Orlando. And my freshman year I was walking through campus one day and a young lady walked up to me who was about my age and said, "I'm your sister, we've got the same dad". Which I knew I was adopted but never thought about it. And I was 19 at the time. I had no intelligent response to this. I was kinda like, "Oh," and just kept going on my way. I graduated college, I got a degree in Economics and started in the insurance industry. And I kept thinking about Stephanie who was that sister. And we got to know each other over Facebook.

0:02:50.2 Jordan: And she had a very different life. She was in and out of the foster care system. She had become addicted at a pretty young age to drugs and part of her steps to get clean were to make connections. And that's what she was doing when she found me. And she's been clean since then, but it got me thinking, is my situation more common or is it her situation? And that's what got me looking into foster care, what happens when they age out and all of these things that have a pretty negative connotation for good reason. So one day I walked into my boss's office and said, "I'm gonna quit. I'm gonna go do something more meaningful and work with young people aging out of foster care". Had no idea what that meant. So I thought about what I was good at, and found somebody else that was coming out of the for-profit world who's my co-founder. And we said, we both know the for-profit world, let's just start a business and help some kids.

0:03:39.0 Jordan: And neither of us had any idea about social enterprise or this movement or benefit corpse or anything like that. We just said let's start something, and we tried coffee, we tried phone cases and then I went to an event for domestic violence and I saw someone with a law firm on their shirt and I said, "If I can print that for you, would you give us an opportunity to do some good with the money?" And she said, "No, but our law firm needs these little tin race cars that have our logo on them, and they have to be filled with jelly bellies". So I went home and googled vendors that did that. We found a vendor overseas and they shipped over these 200 little tin race cars and we put Jelly Bellies in them and showed up at their door and that turned into, "Can you do T-shirts, water bottles, business cards and all these things". So that was 2014, and we incorporated in 2015 as a marketing social enterprise. So that's really how it got started.

0:04:32.1 David: Wow, that's awesome. It's just wild hearing your story and how many personal elements there are to it from your own personal experiences showing you kind of an underserved population to even your corporate work and preparing for how to be able to meet those needs. It's pretty remarkable.

0:04:54.5 Jordan: Yeah. It really did feel like there were all these steps that had happened. I just kind of looked at what was in front of me, and what my options were. And that the first time I had the conversation with Scott of, "Let's do this". I went straight home that night and googled how to build a website and started building on WordPress and that's how our first website went up. And then, "How to build an e-commerce shop, how to write articles of incorporation for a business". All of these things were available for free and they could help an underserved population and for me personally, find purpose in what I was doing every day, 'cause that was a big part of it as well.

0:05:29.4 David: Well, you hinted on this and I'd love to unpack it a little bit more. It sounds like, based on how you were describing the story or, that the majority of people that were adopted maybe had that path versus your path, like more similar to your sisters, less similar to yours. Is that true? And what are the unique needs of that population and how are you trying to serve and empower within the business model?

0:05:53.1 Jordan: Yeah. Foster care is a very complex problem and I think that takes a complex solution. But I think a big part of it is the relationship. When you're in foster care, you're in a different group home, a different foster home, you've got different lawyers coming in and out, different social workers. There's all of these very temporary relationships who are all telling you what to do, and it's called the dependency system, and you are very dependent on what everyone's telling you. So you've got these short relationships without a whole lot of autonomy within those relationships. So your trust is just gone. And I think we've seen that. We've been doing it for 10 years now. We've had people that we worked with in 2014 that didn't necessarily get it figured out when we talked to them in 2014, and they still come to us. And it's just that safety net of a 10 year relationship that they know, I need help on what to do with my paycheck, I need a job, I need help filing my taxes, whatever it might be.

0:06:45.7 Jordan: There's a lot of skills that you can… You can create programs around skills, but all of that healing happens in relationship and community. And I think that's the biggest missing part that's out there right now is a community that they can go to year after year versus a program that they go into and then it ends and then that's kind of the cutoff.

0:07:06.1 Lauren: Yeah, yeah. So what does kind of like the journey of a foster kid within your program typically look like?

0:07:16.2 Jordan: In the beginning it was not structured at all. We would meet them and say, "If you need a job, we'll figure something out for you". And then, "What else do you need? Where are you living? Where do you get food from? How do you shop? What's the financial situation?" And now we've structured that a little bit. We've created an app which is basically our way of kind of recreating everything we've done over the last 10 years into a digital community. And the app really gives the user the autonomy over the experience. So within the app they can get resources by zip code, so they can type in whatever zip code they're in in America and a list of resources come up. They can watch videos of other people that have lived experience who are finding success. They can watch videos that are more instructional, but they get to dictate what the experience is. So they can come in and kind of just click around. They can come in and watch some videos.

0:08:05.2 Jordan: They can also set up one-on-ones. So if they need help with taxes or FAFSA for financial aid, they can schedule a one-on-one with somebody with us, or they can go through our digital courses which focus on things like goals, identity, mindset, financial independence, all of those things. And those are pretty comprehensive courses that they can go through. And then our goal is to then place them into job opportunities with us or with our other community partners.

0:08:31.7 David: Wow. That's just fantastic. I mean, you're providing this digital version of community and that seems to be the number one need of this community is to be able to find people you can trust. How did you come up with that idea? Like that seems like just such an overwhelming undertaking.

0:08:46.8 Jordan: Yeah, absolutely. There really are a lot of resources out there, and there was a study done, I think it was 2019 that said, of all the national resources that are available to young people in the system, they only reach about 23% of the people that are eligible. So there's this gap of 77% that are eligible for resources but either don't know about them, don't trust them enough to sign up and go through it, or are just kind of languishing wherever they are. So that was one idea of, "Well, we need a central location for all those resources". The other one, we were building out that learning objective, the digital courses and we needed a home for it. So we found this technology that basically white labeled communities for you and we realized there's this whole world of white labeling resources and that we could just put into one place. So it's not as big a task as it sounds. It's really just connecting all these dots and putting them in one place. So that we realized we could house all the learning activity, we could create community, and then we could bring community partners into this app and start to connect those that need the support with those that have the support. So really it was just connecting all these communities that are already out there in one place.

0:09:58.9 Lauren: Yeah, that's amazing. That's so powerful. I think it's so interesting. It's like you mentioned earlier, we live in the information age and there are so many benefits that come with that. But then there's also just the task of organizing the information, accessing it, making it accessible. So it's really powerful that you have found a way to do that, and be just like that switchboard for kids in foster care to be able to access these resources, that's amazing. I'm curious, we're talking a lot about community and building trust, and how important that is. In your work so far what are the kind of unique or maybe surprising barriers to building that trust with the foster care community and how do you go about addressing that?

0:10:41.0 Jordan: Yeah. It's interesting building trust, 'cause usually… And I think a lot of people that get into a mentorship opportunity find this. My experiences are very different than someone that's been in the system. I see things a certain way of what I may think are right or wrong, but if you're coming at it from a different experience that's a very different approach. So a big part of it is understanding that their experiences are gonna be very different, and giving them the space to be different. To tell you different things, and approach you with different things, and not have you be judgemental or overreactive, 'cause that's what they've gotten their entire lives. Their lawyers have said, "You can't do that". Their social workers have gotten on them about everything they've done. But I come at it with very different vocabulary.

0:11:25.7 Jordan: I'm a court appointed special advocate. And my first case, he was a 16-year-old boy. And when I got on the case, he was going through the process of getting in trouble at school for selling some things that he shouldn't have been selling. And everybody got onto him, "You can't do that, you're wrong, you're gonna be suspended". Everybody. And I said, "You can't do that for sure, 'cause it's outside the law, but it's very innovative. You saw a problem and you found a solution to that problem. And that's what people like Jeff Bezos do, and Steve Jobs, and all these like entrepreneurs. So there's something in what you did, let's just restructure a little bit and think about, within the framework of the law. But there's a lot of positive that came out of what you just did. So I think it's really building them up and having their back, 'cause a lot of people have never had their back, which is one of the toughest things when you hear, no one's ever been supportive of them. They've always kind of told them, this is what you need to do, this is what you should do. First, I support you. Now let's just kind of change how we approach that action, or that step, or whatever it was.

0:12:27.8 David: Well I love that so much. I mean you just saw them as the person first, not the action. And so just to see the strengths in that story, even though of course there's negatives of it and consequences, you didn't look at any of that as much as looking at just who they were. I think that was a brilliant way to hold that tension. It seems like the foster care community has both short-term needs and long-term needs. And do you try to tackle both? How do you hold that balance, that tension within your organization?

0:13:00.0 Jordan: Yeah. There definitely are short-term needs. We know a lot more about how the brain works now than we did 15 years ago. So even if you give somebody a job, if they're underwater on debt, they're not eating healthy food, and their housing isn't secure, they're not gonna be successful in that job. So it is a long-term approach of all of these different things that are needed. And then within the bigger picture of foster care, there's so much that's needed. There's more housing that's needed, there's better mental health services that are needed. And I think the people that know that the best are the people that have been through it. A lot of programs are developed by somebody sitting in a boardroom who's never experienced foster care and they write a grant and they say, this program has to be run like this and the users have to have this experience and if they don't, they'll fail out of it and they don't get any of the benefit.

0:13:48.0 Jordan: So as we build this community, some of those bigger issues, we wanna put that in the hands of young people that have experienced foster care, 'cause I think they're gonna know the issues the best. They're gonna know the solutions the best. And if they're guiding what those resources are, I think it builds more trust with new people coming into those programs, and it's also gonna be more effective 'cause they actually know what the problems are. So I think short term, we're doing as much as we can from what we see, but the longer term plan is for that community to really guide whether it's policy, creating the next wave of social enterprises. There's an amazing resiliency that comes from people that have overcome the trauma that they've overcome, and resiliency is so important to entrepreneurship. And again, that's a vocabulary that a lot of them don't have. They don't know that they're good at it. But I think that community can create some amazing solutions for that population because they've been through it.

0:14:40.8 Lauren: Yeah. That's incredible. Awesome. I'm curious, in the years that you've been doing this work, do you have a success story that's a favorite or one that stands out to you as kind of the, "This is what we hope for our community and for the kids that come through our program?"

0:14:58.1 Jordan: Yeah. When we first started in 2014, we thought, people are gonna love it. Everyone's gonna buy from us. We're gonna start hiring straight away. So within six months we had hired two young people out of Orange County foster care program, who were just both of them amazing. But there were just certain parts that they were missing when it came to being successful in a job. So we thought, we'll bring them in, we'll do some coaching, some mentoring, and they're gonna help blow this company up. The mentoring side of it took so much more time than we thought. We put one of them on cold calls. I've never seen anybody cold call like this young lady. I mean just had zero fear of picking up the phone and asking for business. And then the other young man Morris, we put on social media, he's just super creative and taught himself all the social media and really put us on the map.

0:15:45.5 Jordan: But it took so much time to do the mentoring that we didn't have enough focus on the business, and the business was failing. We just didn't have the revenue or the growth to sustain a job for the two of them. So we had to help both of them go get another job, which we were able to do. And then over the last 10 years, they would come back to us, the two of them, and say, "I lost the job. I need help to do this". Or, "I got a new job and I love it and it's awesome. I wanna celebrate it with you guys". And the two of them coming in and out of our lives and us in and out of their lives and being in that community was really the whole emphasis behind creating this app. How do we recreate what we did for those two for a larger population? And one of them, her name is Ashley. And Ashley's got one of the most difficult stories I've heard in her childhood. And she just overcame, she's such a hard-nosed resilient person.

0:16:38.4 Jordan: She had her daughter when she was in college over Thanksgiving break and didn't miss a day of school, got herself a marketing degree from Long Beach. And two years ago she came back to us and said, "I think I'm ready. I want to come back". And we are in a much better place. And she got back to sales and Ashley just crushes it with sales. And she's been with us for three years now. She had a crazy 2023. She's gone through our learning objectives. We've invited her to Christmas for the last 10 years, and it really does show that in 2014 she wasn't ready and we weren't ready, but because we had that long-term relationship, when she was ready, she was able to come in and really change the trajectory of her life, and the trajectory of our business in a really big way. And Morris is the same. Morris came back to us and did some amazing video work for us. He became a self-taught videographer and the both of them have just come so far over the last 10 years and really the impetus to, let's do this in a bigger way. 'Cause it's not about the skills that we're training, it's just about somewhere to go and feel safe, and a place to belong. And I think those two embody that more than anybody we've worked with.

0:17:48.4 David: Man. Just so, so amazing. So here we are recording in January of 2024. So entering your 10 years, congratulations to that. Where do you see Doing Good Works heading in the next 10 years?

0:18:01.8 Jordan: I think continuing to build out the digital community. And obviously COVID made us very aware of our need for community. We were all isolated for so long. It was really a traumatic event we all went through. So that really showed us the need for community regardless of where you are. If you're in West Texas in middle of nowhere, you need somewhere to belong, and I think the app can do that. So the continuing to build out the app with content, more learning opportunities, more job opportunities, but also starting to have physical locations as well. So we've got a house here in central Texas, it's about 15 minutes from me and that is really designed to be a community gathering spot. So if we bring different foster care organizations from around the county into one place and we can talk about goals and talk about identity, all of the things we teach within the app, we can bring community partners in to do resume workshops and things like that.

0:18:57.6 Jordan: I think that face-to-face approach is important as well. And there's also housing at that location. So offering housing opportunities. So grow our physical presence as well as the digital presence and really make it about building community and relationships and opportunities. 'Cause I think that's the big part that's missing in foster care right now, is somewhere you can go to, somewhere you belong that you can go to when you're ready. It's not necessarily a program that you have to start on this date at this time. And if you're not ready, you're not ready. This is one where you control the experience, and you can do that either digitally or in person.

0:19:34.1 Lauren: Yeah. That's fantastic. Just been so wonderful to hear about the work that you're doing and the impact that you're having. Really inspiring. So just thank you for the work that you're doing.

0:19:43.7 Jordan: Yeah, I appreciate it. And thank you guys for the work that you do as well. I think you were one of our first connection points when we started in this world and learned that social enterprise was a thing.

0:19:52.9 Lauren: Oh, that's awesome. We love hearing that. We never get tired of hearing that. That's amazing. So for our listeners, how can they get connected with the work that you're doing?

0:20:02.1 Jordan: Yeah. So our website Is doinggoodworks.com. So that's kind of the parent company now. And then Foster Greatness also has its website, which is fostergreatness.co. So.co. You can check out the app as well at community.fostergreatness.co. And then we're also on Instagram. Starting at TikTok now, which is an interesting process, but mostly on Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn as well.

0:20:27.5 David: Well, yeah. Jordan, thank you so much for being here and congratulations on 10 years and here's to 10 years more.