Referrals Aren't Just By Social Workers Anymore

Apr 24, 2014

By Jodie Levin-Epstein

This piece originally appeared on Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity: The Source for News, Ideas, and Action.

“Community resources, just for you.” That’s the tag line for One Degree, an on-line referral resource launched in San Francisco. The mission of One Degree is to “connect low-income families with high-quality service providers and community resources” while “empowering them to give both positive and critical feedback on programs they use.”


Consider One Degree a hybrid of Wikipedia and Yelp with a focus on job training programs, food banks, literacy programs, health and housing, among other services.  In addition, the site enables families to manage and track the resources they find.

One Degree is a non-profit created by Rey Faustino, a social entrepreneur with a master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Faustino also grew up in an immigrant working class family where teachers tried to help him and his family navigate essential social services. 

Faustino’s early career at BUILD, a college access nonprofit that boosts low-income minority youth college attainment, underscores his commitment to helping families move into the middle class. It also led to his newest initiative.

At BUILD “we were helping the kids in our program with the achievement gap, but they had other service needs that we could not address,” Faustino recounted recently to Out of the Spotlight. “One of our brightest students, at 15, had become homeless. When we tried to Google search for East Palo Alto homelessness services we got a thousand links but little useful, essential information – like eligibility rules. At the same time, we could use Yelp to find the best burrito in San Francisco. That led me down this path to figure out how to use the power of the internet to help low-income families.” 

Funding for One Degree comes primarily from foundations and individuals.  Successfully piloted in 2012, the site now has more than 1,000 registered users. Most site users are low-income single mothers between the ages of 18 and 40. One Degree has found that these users have some means of access to computers and/or smart phones. 

While no analysis has yet been done on user satisfaction, anecdotes abound.  Faustino tells the story of a single mom, an immigrant from El Salvador, who held a part-time job in a factory. To increase her hours she needed after-school care for her son.   She tried Google but it was not useful. She then learned about One Degree and within minutes of initiating her search she found an after-school program in her neighborhood that fit her needs. She subsequently used One Degree to find a skills training program. 

One Degree is building out the program, including expanding its base by reaching out to non-profit professionals in addition to families. It also plans to promote the use of texting for referrals and appointment reminders. And, Faustino recently met with potential partners in Oakland, across the Bay.

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