Case Studies & Testimonials

Homestretch: A Platform to Help Northern Virginia’s Homeless

The mission of Homestretch is to empower homeless families to secure permanent housing and to attain the skills, knowledge, and hope they need to achieve self-sufficiency. Homestretch accomplishes this mission by providing subsidized housing for homeless families along with a wide range of comprehensive services delivered under one roof. These services are carefully designed to address all the needs of the families in the program and maximize their ability to achieve their goals as swiftly as possible. In a program with such a depth of services, homeless families usually make dramatic progress toward economic security and can graduate from Homestretch into a home they can afford within about two years.

The Challenge

Homestretch, a nonprofit organization focused on addressing the root causes of homelessness in northern Virginia, knew that its technology infrastructure needed a refresh. The organization was running an aging on-premise server to provide email and shared files to its staff. The server had previously experienced some challenges, leading to outages in email and other critical services.

“We were using an outdated system that would go down almost weekly and made it very difficult to get work done,” says Chris Fay, Executive Director of Homestretch. “Even when the system was functioning, it operated very slowly! With so many issues of unreliability and slowness, there were many days where our staff didn’t feel too productive at work.”

Brenda Wilks, Homestretch’s Deputy Director, became interested in moving the organization to the cloud as a solution to the current challenges. She knew she needed an expert in cloud migrations to ensure a smooth transition. Brenda found the team she was looking for when she was introduced to AscentPath through some of the organization’s pro-bono technology partners, Excella Consulting.

When Brenda first spoke with AscentPath, HomeStretch was strongly considering Google Apps as its cloud solution. AscentPath learned that HomeStretch had not compared Google Apps to Office 365 and suggested a short analysis to determine which solution would work best for HomeStretch’s needs.

Our Solution

The hidden costs of Google Apps prompt a change

At first glance, the price of Google Apps and Microsoft’s Office 365 appeared similar on paper. However, Google Apps required significant additional hidden costs worth consideration. First, most of HomeStretch’s current files were all created in Microsoft Office. The potential effort required to recreate or repair a large portion of assets would be too much for a nonprofit to bear. Secondly, most of HomeStretch’s donors and partners used Microsoft Office and the organization didn’t want compatibility challenges to deter the kind individuals and organizations already offering their time and money to support HomeStretch’s mission. The organization could not risk losing that support. Finally, HomeStretch could not bear the significant costs of having all of its employees and volunteers learn a new system when Office 365 provided the Microsoft Office programs they were already happy and familiar with. An organization focused on minimizing expenses in order to devote as many resources to its mission as possible, Homestretch could not afford the sum of those costs.

HomeStretch ultimately determined that Office 365 would provide them with a much greater value than Google Apps, especially over the long term. Thanks to Microsoft’s generous non-profit pricing and the broad set of capabilities offered by Office 365, HomeStretch felt confident in its decision. While many versions of Office 365 are free for nonprofits, HomeStretch wanted to provide their staff with an always up-to-date copy of Microsoft Office and therefore selected a deeply discounted premium plan.

“Working with homeless families requires us to create individualized case plans and document the families’ progress. We need to also be able to reliably communicate with supporters, report to funders, and keep our board up to date. All of these routine but critical activities were a challenge with our old system,” says Chris. “As a nonprofit, we try to invest as many of our resources as possible into helping our homeless clients. So we held off investing in new technology for as long as we could.”

 

The Results

From disaster to cloud success in 24 hours

Before HomeStretch could finalize its migration schedule, some misfortune befell the organization. When its exchange server suddenly crashed, the current IT services provider could not recover it. Brenda called AscentPath and asked if they could accelerate the migration. AscentPath sprang into action performing an emergency migration to the cloud with Office 365. While HomeStretch’s server could not be recovered, AscentPath managed to successfully extract all of their important files and archive email, migrating them to the new Office 365 platform. After only approximately 24 hours later, HomeStretch was up and running with functioning email, file sharing, and communications.

“The server crash was a disaster. We thought we had lost everything! Case files, progress reports, donation records, grant reports, and financial records were on that server,” Chris says. “On top of that, we lost the ability to send and receive email. It was almost like having the plug pulled on our operations. You don’t know how much you rely on email and the internet until you lose it. Thankfully, AscentPath was able to get us back up and running. And we were absolutely amazed at how quickly they were able to do that.”

After the success of the Office 365 migration, AscentPath helped HomeStretch migrate the last few remainders of on-premise technology to the cloud. After migrating an accounting package and deploying cloud-based antivirus, Homestretch was able to shut down the last of its on premise hardware, removing significant risk and reducing operational costs.

Today, HomeStretch is a completely cloud-based nonprofit, one of the first in northern Virgina. Thanks to Office 365 and AscentPath’s quick response, HomeStretch has managed to reduce IT costs, empower its employees and volunteers with a sophisticated suite of tools, allowing HomeStretch to focus on its mission, not its technology.