A Beacon of Hope: Urban Alliance0
Urban Alliance is a local non-profit that provides a glimmer of hope to individuals who are committed to making changes in their lives. At the helm is Luke Kujacznski, Executive Director, who found purpose through an organization where he uses personal experiences to lift others up and help nurture opportunities within the business community of Kalamazoo, all while changing lives one at a time.
Born in Lansing, Kujacznski moved to Kalamazoo to attend college, only to realize at 20 years old it wasn't for him. He married and started a family, and was off to run a construction business.
Kujacznski explained his unorthodox career path, "I dropped out of college in 2004 to run a growing business in the construction industry, which started out really fun and then turned into a ton of work. The recession hit us hard and we barely scraped through. We were in a particularly tight spot in the summer of 2009, and my business partner decided it was time to exit the business."
Not willing to admit defeat, Kujacznski put in some hard work to create a profitable company to sell. He then transitioned to being a stay-at-home dad and to face some problems that had been put aside to deal with life.
He went on to share, "That was a significant shift which forced me to deal with some underlying issues, like my need to consume alcohol in order to do anything. I chose sobriety, and through that, I believe I chose life."
Enrolling in evening classes while attending to his family he finished his degree in 2013 and with a fresh outlook, "I started looking for my next adventure." Landing interviews but not work, Kujacznski called an old friend who ran a small non-profit and asked if they needed volunteer help.
"That call was made almost 4 years ago, and I guess you can say the rest is history," said Kujacznski. It was this volunteering position that led him to fall in love with Urban Alliance's mission of communicating through actions that they value every individual.
The volunteering soon went from 8 hours a week to 30 hours a week, and in September of 2014 the position for Director of Momentum an employment initiative opened. Kujacznski interviewed and earned the position. Three months later the Executive Director of Urban Alliance had a stroke and he was asked to step in as the Interim ED. By June of 2015 they made the position permanent.
Kujacznski is leading the charge of Urban Alliance whose goal is not to duplicate services in the community but instead to work with people, and organizations to fill service gaps. The two main programs are the Urban Outreach and the Momentum Employment initiatives.
Urban Outreach builds relationships with individuals in urban communities. This "boots to the ground" initiative focuses on street outreach through community events, meals, and personal engagement. The Momentum program, their flagship program, places eligible unemployed and underemployed individuals into jobs by having them complete a workforce development program. Each graduate completes 100 hours of in class instruction and 100 hours of volunteer work as part of their graduation requirement. The program is small, only taking 12 students per class; and with no advertising every class offering is filled and has a waitlist. The demand for these graduates from local Kalamazoo businesses can attest to the program’s success.
Statistics show that 94% of Momentum graduates were placed into employment upon graduation. 86% of them successfully completed 90 days of employment and 87% of those still working at 90 days are working at 180 days - impressive!
Urban Alliance works with a variety of marginalized individuals with unfortunate circumstances. Things happen to people that are unfortunate, but this program strives to help them live up to their potential and find purpose in living, as one person can be heard explaining in a video.
When Kujacznski began his work for Urban Alliance, he would frequently speak to hesitant employers who were unsure about hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds, but through time the success of this program has shone through. Now the questions focus on when the next class is graduating, and hiring. "It has been a huge swing, our friends are finally getting the fairness they deserve."
When asked what Kujacznski loves most about his job he responded: "I love people, and this job allows me to be with people all the time. I love that through the power of relationships we can see individuals embrace who they are, past and all, to become who they were intended to be."
Urban Alliance continues to work to get the funding it needs to keep efforts going for a program that is expanding because of the positive response from serving 140 people to 210 per year. Roughly 50% of their funds come from private donors, with the balance from foundations and corporations.
Interested in learning more about Urban Alliance or donating? Take a look at the website to help build a better future for members of our community right here in Kalamazoo!