One of our funders asked which screening tool we use to determine eligibility into one of our programs. We do not use screening tools. I explained that we accept anyone who comes to us for help. Sometimes, that help is to assist them in finding the perfect program to guide the client to becoming successful. Other times, this involves stretching our program to help someone in ways the program was not exactly designed.
As all of our staff know, I do not like the term "screen". A screen is what you put on a window to keep bugs out. We do not want anything that keeps people from getting the help they need. We are not able to be all things to all people, but we are able to provide some assistance to anyone who asks us for help. We have all encountered someone using a screening tool. When you contact the DMV, the first person you speak with has a tool to guide you to the correct person or turn you away. Many nonprofit agencies have screening tools designed to keep out difficult people. Our belief is we should not keep out the people who need the most help just because they are the most difficult to help.
We do not want to put anyone in the position where they have to be less than truthful in order to get our help. Imagine that child at Disneyland who is stretching to be a little taller in the hopes they will get to ride the ride with the big kids. Even if the child understands the risk, they would say or do anything to be able to get on the ride. If someone wants our help, we find a way to help them. It would be easier to have a screening tool that tells people they are too small, or too poor, or too difficult, or too whatever. Instead, we accept that every human is worthy of dignity and respect. We help every person in whatever way we can.
The funder found our conversation to be interesting and refreshing. We spent the next 30 minutes discussing the nuisances of our approach to providing tools to families and the impact this is having on our community. Ultimately, we did receive funding from the foundation, in spite of the fact that our agency did not perfectly fit into what they normally fund. It turns out, they also believe in focusing on the making an impact and sometimes stretching outside of normal.