LOOSE ENDS: Arm in Arm makes a name for itself

Carolyn Biondi Headhsot

As Shakespeare noted, a good name — meaning a good reputation — is priceless. However in some instances a better name can better communicate that good reputation.

   This was the logic behind the Crisis Ministry’s decision to attach a new name to its indisputably good reputation of providing life-sustaining services to the needy of Mercer County. On Sept. 22, the Crisis Ministry of Mercer County became “Arm in Arm.”

   According to its executive director, the name change in no way will alter the mission of the 36-year-old social service organization. “We will continue to do what we have been doing for nearly four decades: helping those in Mercer County in need of food, housing and work to regain financial stability,” said Carolyn Biondi, the organization’s executive director, who lives in Skillman with her husband and three children.

    I have been through, and written about, a lot of personal and professional name changes, some more angst-provoking and traumatic than others. A friend of mine refuses to take Princeton Borough off of her return address labels, in protest of the consolidation of the borough and township and the subsequent changing of Princeton Borough’s name to just plain Princeton. I recently found a 20-year-old T-shirt proclaiming Princeton University as the real College of New Jersey. This was a reference to the name change brouhaha that occurred when Trenton State College changed its name to The College of New Jersey in 1996. This act, according to some PU loyalists, amounted to legacy thievery, because Princeton University’s name for its first 100 years was The College of New Jersey.

   So my question to Ms. Biondi was simply why? Why was the Crisis Ministry motivated to embark upon a name change, which, in many cases, can involve contentious negotiations, hurt feelings, using scarce fiscal resources and rabid opponents. She said that the process of changing the organization’s name was actually inspiring, fiscally responsible, and consensus building.

   The name change, she said, had been something under consideration for the past decade. “The board had indicated a desire for a name that would reflect the positive nature of what the organization was accomplishing on a day to day basis. We provide aid to those in crisis, but we wanted a name that conveyed the collaborative spirit with our community, the positive and sustainable nature of what we do to help people regain the stability in their lives,” said Ms. Biondi who became the organization’s executive director in the fall of 2011.

   The name-change initiative was thrust into high gear after a fire ravished the downtown Trenton Crisis Ministry offices right before Christmas, 2011. Worse than the physical destruction of the office was the destruction of the food supplies — all this occurring just one week before Christmas. Although Ms. Biondi came to the job with a master’s degree in social work from the University of Chicago, along with years of experience in non-profit management, this situation occurring just a short time after she started as executive director represented a new professional challenge.

   Staff, volunteers, county and local government officials and an unprecedented number of donors were determined to overcome adversity and make sure the Crisis Ministry clients would have no interruption in services — no Grinch would spoil Christmas for those who depended upon the organization.

   ”After the holidays, the staff and board members then looked at wonderful support and funds raised during this time and thought about how to grow our services while also insuring the sustainability of those services. That was when the name-change initiative became energized. We have a lot of people depending upon us — 10,000 people using the food pantry (4,500 distinct households) and 600 households participating in homeless prevention initiative and another 60 people at any one time enrolled in our career service/workforce development program.

   ”We knew we had to increase our fundraising capacity beyond a crisis-related surge in donations. Conversations and surveys indicated that those who knew us, loved us. But too few people knew us, and our name did not convey our positive mission or the concept of collaboration which is so crucial to our existence,” Ms. Biondi said.

   As far as the expense of hiring consultants to help with the process, the organization had “amazing” support from corporations represented by individuals on their board. Johnson & Johnson and NRG were particularly generous in making sure that the expenses associated with finding a new name never came out of the operating budget of the organization or “took away from our mission,” Ms. Biondi said. Strategic design and branding consultants Todd True and Christina Geist became the creative partners that guided the name-change process, which was fairytale-like in its happy ending.

   ”They listened to our story and our values, and as crazy as it sounds, Christina on her drive home from the listening session, came up with the name ‘Arm in Arm.’ It seemed just right from the beginning,” Ms. Biondi said. “We had a lot of discussions and focus groups afterwards and ultimately kept going back to ‘Arm in Arm.’”

   So, “what’s in a name?” Perhaps a better weapon. Arm in Arm, whose tagline is “Better Together,” has its work cut out for itself, but armed with its new name, the organization may be able to help a greater number of the 41,000 plus people living in Mercer County at the poverty level.

Arm in Arm will celebrate its name change at its fall benefit at The Frick Chemistry Laboratory Atrium on the campus of Princeton University, Nov. 3. Special guest Billy Shore, co-founder and executive director of the national hunger awareness organization Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry, will keynote the event. Reservations can be made online at www.arminarm.org or by calling 609-396-9355, ext. 27.

Article By Pam Hersh
From Central Jersey.com October 17th, 2016
See the original article here