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Cascade: No. 80, Spring/Summer 2012

Nonprofit Focuses on Employment Training and Business and Community Development*

Impact Services Corporation, located in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, is one of the largest nonprofit providers of employment and training services in Pennsylvania. However, Impact is unusual among nonprofits in this field because it works closely with area businesses and creates jobs through community development projects and Impact-owned businesses.

Impact provides citywide employment and training services, primarily serving ex-offenders, veterans, and women receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Data on these populations are provided later (see Figure). Impact has helped over 23,000 individuals enter the workforce since it was established 38 years ago. From July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011, Impact placed 1,197 individuals in jobs.

John MacDonald, Impact’s founder, president, and CEO, said, “Work is a way for folks to move forward with their lives and is the best way to lift families out of poverty, especially if they have a chance to improve their educational and employment skills.”

Impact Services Corporation helped to develop Aramingo Crossings, a 25-acre $45 million shopping center that created over 600 jobs. The center, which was built on the vacant site of a former pipe factory, is anchored by Walmart and Lowe's.Impact Services Corporation helped to develop Aramingo Crossings, a 25-acre $45 million shopping center that created over 600 jobs. The center, which was built on the vacant site of a former pipe factory, is anchored by Walmart and Lowe’s.

Meanwhile, in the Kensington area Impact organizes business owners and is a catalyst in community development projects.1 For example, Impact:

  • was instrumental in the development of Aramingo Crossings, a 25-acre $45 million shopping center built on a vacant industrial site that created over 600 jobs;
  • launched the Aramingo Business Association in 2005 and currently manages this association and the Kensington and Allegheny Business Association, which together have 148 retail business members; and
  • started a business improvement district on Aramingo Avenue in 2008 in response to owners’ concerns for better security and cleaner streets.

In 1900, Kensington was a thriving community with many factories and textile plants, but the area declined precipitously in the 1960s due to the closing of manufacturing and textile factories and out-migration of families to new suburban communities.

According to the latest data, the area has a population of 38,324 and an unemployment rate of 22.3 percent. Fifty-seven percent of households have incomes below $25,000, and 40 percent of households are female-headed families with no husband present.2

Employment and Training

Established as one of the first programs in the Ford Foundation’s national supported work demonstration,3 Impact provides assessment, case management, work readiness skills, and post-employment support. Employers with which Impact works generally prefer to train employees for specific positions.

Of Impact’s 146 staff members, 73 percent work in employment and training as case managers, teachers, administrators, peer counselors, and job developers.

Charles Jameson, Impact’s manager of employment and training and director of one of the city’s six Employment Advancement Retention Network (EARN) Centers,4 said, “We connect well with the trainees and we connect well with the business sector. We also create a long-term career development path that these populations would not have through the general workforce development system.”

Many of Impact’s workforce development instructors have been unemployed or homeless, enabling them to relate well to their clients and serve as role models. MacDonald said, “They know first-hand what the people they’re working with are going through.”


Each year, about 650,000 prisoners return from federal, state, and local prisons to their communities, including approximately 35,000 prisoners who return to Philadelphia.5 Since 1974, Impact has worked closely with ex-offenders coming out of the Philadelphia prison system. Getting and keeping a job gives them a sense of accomplishment and hope, MacDonald said.

From 2001 to 2004, Impact was one of six nonprofits that participated in Fathers at Work, a national demonstration funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation that worked with noncustodial fathers who were ex-offenders to increase their employment and earnings, become more involved in their children’s lives, and increase financial support for their children. Impact received an award from the Annie E. Casey Foundation for outstanding performance in the Fathers at Work initiative.6

MacDonald said, “Our success with Fathers at Work prompted us to include the whole family in our efforts to change clients’ lives. Since then, we have worked more consciously to use powerful family forces to motivate disadvantaged adults to take risks and make the effort to get into the workforce and achieve.”


From 2002 to 2004, Impact operated a Young Fathers Rising program for juvenile offenders who were noncustodial fathers. It won a national award for its innovative design from the Post-Secondary Education Program Network.

From 2003 to 2007, Impact provided 817 male and female inmates in the Philadelphia Prison System with pre-release job readiness skills and job placement and support services upon release. According to a report on the effort, known as the JOBS Project, Impact staff established positive relationships with inmates and found jobs for most ex-offenders who were interested in working. The 18 percent recidivism rate was extraordinarily low, the report noted.7

Impact also developed a First Step ID Program that enabled over 2,000 Philadelphia ex-offenders to obtain identification documents, usually a requirement for employment.

Women Receiving TANF

From 2005 to 2009, Impact managed the first EARN Center in Philadelphia. In 2008, at the request of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Impact converted the EARN Center into a Social Employment Center and provided pregnant and new mothers with life skills and parenting classes, work readiness training, and community service projects.

In 2010, Impact took over a struggling EARN Center from another provider. The center has placed 522 individuals in jobs, the highest number of any of the six EARN Centers since the start of the contract year on July 1, 2011, according to Impact.


In 1993, Impact received U.S. Department of Labor funding to launch one of the first programs serving homeless veterans. In 1995, Impact started a HUD-funded supportive housing program for homeless veterans.

In 2004, Impact developed a community-based program with the Philadelphia VA Medical Center to treat veterans who had dual diagnoses of mental health and substance abuse, one of the first such programs in the country.

From 2009 to 2011, Impact achieved a 75 percent retention rate when it tracked employment of veterans.

Business Assistance

A key part of Impact’s employment and training strategy is to create a strong business environment that will attract and retain businesses and create opportunities for job seekers. Impact has organized business associations in different commercial corridors, starting with the American Street Business Association in 1992. Impact revitalized the defunct Kensington and Allegheny Business Association and has helped many owners address zoning, licensing, inspection, and parking issues.

MacDonald said the business owners “are almost like family.” Impact’s job developers and community development financial institutions (CDFI) staff regularly attend business association meetings to keep lines of communication open with the business community.

Impact has also provided employment by operating its own businesses in contracting, demolition, landscaping, home renovation, and archive records. Currently, it operates a document management business that employs eight individuals, and it manages the city-owned Walnut Lane Golf Course that employs up to a dozen individuals.

Impact has a CDFI, launched in 1999, that provides business loans of $3,000 to $100,000 in Kensington and surrounding neighborhoods for the purchase of equipment, inventory, leasehold improvements or repairs, or working capital. The CDFI has made 23 loans totaling $459,000 to 18 firms, creating or retaining 554 jobs, according to Impact.

Community Development

This document management business, which employs eight individuals, is one of the businesses that Impact Services has operated during the past three decades.This document management business, which employs eight individuals, is one of the businesses that Impact Services has operated during the past three decades.

Aramingo Crossings, Impact’s latest major community development project, opened in 2010 and includes a Walmart, Lowe’s, and other retail stores. Impact used a federal grant to make a five-year $600,000 loan to the project developer. As a result, Impact joined the development team and ensured that low-income individuals could compete for jobs created by the project, according to Impact staff.8

In 2005, Impact developed a comprehensive revitalization plan for the Kensington area following a year-long process that included focus groups and 135 community events. The Wells Fargo Regional Foundation provided funding for the plan and partial funding for its implementation and has been a key partner of Impact.9

Impact has acquired and renovated three vacant industrial sites:

  • In 1981, it renovated a vacant carpet factory and started a records archive business that has since been sold. Today, the building provides housing for 76 veterans and contains offices of veterans’ agencies.
  • In 1997, it acquired the building of a vacant defense electronics manufacturer and renovated the building to serve as Impact’s headquarters and the location of its employment and training programs.
  • In 1998, Impact acquired a former billboard factory to expand the archives business, create a child-care facility, and operate a building materials exchange.10

Also active in housing, Impact helped to develop The Twins at PowderMill, a 50-unit homeownership brownfields development aimed at revitalizing parts of Frankford and Juniata Park. Completed in 2010, the project was the largest homeownership development in this section of Philadelphia in 30 years. In other activities, Impact acquired a vacant YWCA and helped to develop 46 apartments, weatherized over 4,000 homes, and repaired basic systems in over 200 homes.

In addition, Impact operates a building materials exchange that helps over 1,200 low-income homeowners annually to maintain and improve their houses by providing them with new and donated building materials at a modest cost.

In other community development work, Impact has led the turnaround of drug-infested McPherson Park by providing better lighting, police cameras, and bicycle patrols. In addition, Impact supports several community events, including the annual K&A Market Fest, now in its 11th year, which brings residents together for music, food, and attractions; a weekly entertainment event that includes movies and karaoke in Kensington community parks; and an extended summer program for almost 900 youngsters.

In 2002, Impact sponsored the First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School, with a focus on character education and academic excellence for over 700 students from kindergarten through 9th grade. A state-of-the-art facility opened in 2004 and a 700-seat theater was added in 2008.

Impact also started the First Tee of Greater Philadelphia, a national youth development program that teaches golf and life skills to young people who are six to 18 years of age. The program works with 5,800 youths during the school day, after school, and during the summer and has been expanded to the Philadelphia metropolitan statistical area. MacDonald is the program’s executive director.

Impact is challenged by declining public funding for social services and employment programs and a growing need for services. The agency sees potential for continued economic development in the Kensington area that will expand Impact’s business relationships and create employment opportunities for area residents. MacDonald said, “Building on its long history, Impact will explore new ways to harness its entrepreneurial capacity to create jobs for the hardest to serve and to generate revenue in support of the agency’s mission.”

For information, contact John MacDonald at 215-739-1600 or jmacdonald@impactservices.org E-Mail; http://www.impactservices.org/about/index.php. External Link

  • * The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia or the Federal Reserve System.
  • 1 Impact serves the following 2010 census tracts: 176.02, 177.01, 177.02, 178, 188, 192, and 382.
  • 2 These statistics were obtained from census and American Community Survey data (analysis provided by Keith Wardrip of the Community Development Studies and Education Department).
  • 3 For an evaluation of the program, see http://www.mdrc.org/publications/316/abstract.html. External Link
  • 4 One-stop centers were established nationwide under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 to enable job seekers to obtain employment-related services at one location. The centers are known in Pennsylvania as CareerLink centers. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare established one-stop EARN Centers starting in 2005 to provide employment-related services for women receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Impact operates one of the six EARN Centers in Philadelphia.
  • 5 See the Bureau of Justice Statistics, available at http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/reentry/releases.cfm External Link, and the Urban Institute, available at http://www.urban.org/publications/901171.html. External Link
  • 6 According to Impact, it assisted 417 fathers, of whom 96 percent completed the program and 67 percent found full-time employment at an average wage of $9.17 an hour. Of the number who found employment, 74 percent were still working two years later. All the fathers met their child support obligations and only 7 percent were reincarcerated. For an evaluation of the program, see http://www.ppv.org/ppv/initiative.asp?section_id=0&initiative_id=8. External Link
  • 7 Final Report — Jackson v. Hendricks Oversight Committee, 2007.
  • 8 About 20 percent of Impact’s $10 million budget for 2011–12 is generated from its development projects and fees from business associations and the business improvement district, MacDonald noted.
  • 9 For further discussion of Impact’s work, see Lois W. Greco, Margaret Grieve, and Maggie McCullough, “Paradigm Shift: A Foundation/Grantee Partnership Using Data to Drive Neighborhood Revitalization and Assess Impact,” 2010, available at http://tinyurl.com/793zg45. External Link
  • 10 Impact is currently performing pre-development work to expand the child-care center and develop a commercial kitchen that would provide meals for 22 child-care centers.