At Horizons for Homeless Children (HHC), job one is helping homeless children become ready for school and learn how to play, share, read, and enjoy exploring their worlds. But the nonprofit’s employees were increasingly drowning in paperwork. Now, just a few weeks after implementing the QuickBase application developed by The Data Collaborative, Inc., HHC has automated many of the tasks formerly done manually, freeing time for the more important hands-on work of educating and advocating for homeless children and their families, said Nathan Hutto, Director of Evaluation and Innovation, who spearheaded the project.
“Our center-based staff maintain case files on each family we serve; everything was on paper,” Hutto said. Intake assessments, for example, were done by hand and employees had their own categories for basic demographic information. Such a system was fine when HHC was founded in Boston in 1988, but today, it touches the lives of more than 2,200 young homeless children each week through its Playspaces in shelters across the state, and 175 children through its three Community Children's Centers in the Greater Boston area.
After a comparative analysis of the database applications available, HHC made the strategic decision to invest in QuickBase and to engage Data Collaborative to custom-fit its application development through the Intuit QuickBase Solution Provider (QSP) program. Headquartered in Arlington, Mass., Data Collaborative has been providing QuickBase application development since the product’s inception in 1999.
“The investment metaphor is the right one,” Hutto said. For example, assistant directors at each Center used to spend eight hours per month auditing files. The personnel costs of these routine tasks on an annual basis was more than the start-up investment in QuickBase and consulting services provided by Data Collaborative combined.
“Previously in our paper-based system, we couldn’t have many reports,” Hutto said. Now with QuickBase, generating quantitative data for grant proposals or donor reports is no longer a chore, but a strategic asset for the nonprofit as it seeks to continue its primary mission of preparing homeless children for school success and exploring their worlds.
“Using QuickBase has been a game-changer for the organization,” Hutto said.
How the HHC Solution was Created
Data Collaborative Developer Josh Shortlidge started working closely with Hutto in September 2011 to understand the organization’s current -- and future – needs. They could simultaneously log into the application from their respective computers (i.e. ‘shared screen’) and talk through specific design issues by phone. Shortlidge described the collaboration as follows:
“Some of the key technical requirements were tracking students and classroom attendance, as well as the ability to generate statistical models from the data. We made an interface that the non-technical center-base staff would feel comfortable using on a daily basis.
Even though the application is up and running, we’re still working together to enhance its capabilities for different user groups at HHC. Nathan is now building a lot of the new functionality himself. The challenge of the project was, and still is, invigorating, thanks to Nathan's voracious leadership!”
Twenty HHC staff members are now trained on it, Hutto said, including more than 15 who use it daily. “There was a bit of a learning curve to get all users up to speed,” he said, “but many workers had been waiting from day one for a system like this."