What We Could Learn From The Sierra Club’s Self-Reckoning

The Sierra Club did something very difficult: it admitted it had a problem. The long-standing conservation organization released a statement acknowledging the prejudices of its founder and environmental icon, John Muir, along with its problematic beginnings and harmful impacts to Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color.

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests, there has been reenergized conversation around reckoning with the past in order to create a better future. The Sierra Club’s honest acknowledgment of its origins and its commitment to transparent improvement should be a model for how institutions can recognize their past without invalidating the positive work they have done. A problem can only be fixed once it is acknowledged and deemed worthy of action. Our country should take note.

The Sierra Club is one of the nation’s largest and most influential environmental organizations. Since its founding in 1892, the club has worked to preserve and create new public parks, lobbied for the adoption of renewable energy and the protection of clean water, campaigned against the use of coal, and promoted youth environmental education. It’s co-founder and first president, John Muir, inspired many with his writings and assisted in creating the movement that would become the National Park System, earning him the moniker “Father of the National Parks.”

Despite his achievements, the organization recently issued a public apology for Muir’s harmful writings and beliefs. It noted his derogatory comments and characterizations of Black and Indigenous people that played on racist stereotypes, saying, “As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history, Muir’s words and actions carry an especially heavy weight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color.”

The Sierra Club screened out potential members based on race, limiting the historical environmental engagement of people of color. Beyond the club’s membership, Muir’s views and statements were emblematic of many of the early conservation movement’s problems. The very lands that were being protected had been taken by white settlers who drove out its indigenous populations. Muir’s ideal state of conservation seemed to be “the lone white man at one with nature.” This exclusionary view has had lasting effects, including a disproportionately low number of people of color visiting national parks, with 25% of Black and Hispanic people seeing national parks as unsafe.

A founding father who inspired a movement spanning generations but begun on land only considered “free” once its indigenous populations were driven out. An icon whose prejudices ran counter to his overarching positive message, creating a vision he and his generation couldn’t, and frankly didn’t desire to, uphold. A monumental figure who moved the world in a positive direction, while not only excluding but damaging communities of color, creating systemic and generational harm. Sounds familiar.

With its statement, the Sierra Club has already taken a larger step than many in the United States. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that while 59% of Americans believe Black people face discrimination, only 44% believe that it is systemic and perpetuated by policy and institutions – throwing the burden of racism from our largest institution, our country, to a few “bad apples.”

While there is a bit of optimism in this poll that shows 51% supporting the removal of confederate statues, an ABC/Washington Post poll finds that such support was not able to gain the majority. Their polling showed that only 43% of Americans supported removing statues honoring Confederate generals and 42% supported renaming military bases named after Confederate generals. Whichever poll one chooses to believe, the message is still that barely or less than half of Americans believe we should remove statues and names of the military leaders who fought to preserve the ownership and selling of humans.

Admitting a problem is the first step to recovery. It is not saying that we are rotten to the core, have never done good, or are irredeemable, but it is acknowledging that we have done damage to ourselves and to those to whom we have a responsibility. Sometimes it takes an intervention, but it can go no further without self-acceptance. If we are to celebrate the glory of our beginnings, we must also recognize our horrors, and those horrors’ lasting effects. The Sierra Club has begun the work – we should too.

Operation Surf Uses Surfing to Help Veterans

Photo Credit: ESPN

Every day roughly twenty veterans commit suicide. It is estimated that 22% of all suicide deaths in the US are veterans. Former professional surfer Van Curaza wants to change that.

Curaza originally founded the nonprofit Amazing Surf Adventures (ASA) as a way to help at-risk youth by getting them into the ocean and off the streets. He expanded ASA to help veterans overcome the challenges caused by war with surfing – a program dubbed Operation Surf.

Operation Surf is a free program “that offers week-long adaptive surfing trips for wounded-veteran and active-duty military men and women.” They pair veterans “with their own individual surf instructor and develop a goal-based curriculum around their unique abilities. Operation Surf offers an environment of camaraderie and healing to its participants by giving them a shared experience in the water each day.”

Curaza and Operation Surf are featured in the award-winning Netflix documentary “Resurface.” The film is about Marine Corps veteran Bobby Lane. Bobby was planning on committing suicide, but he wanted to check surfing off his bucket list first. He ended up participating in Operation Surf and it changed his life. Not only did Bobby decide he wanted to keep living, but he decided he wanted to work with Operation Surf to help other veterans.

The first time I volunteered for Operation Surf I briefly met a young man named Tommy Counihan. He was learning how to kiteboard. With his long blonde hair and slender build, he looked more like a surf hippie than a veteran.

In 2011, while on deployment in Afghanistan the armored vehicle Tommy was in drove over an IED. It exploded directly under Tommy’s feet. His right foot ended up needing to be amputated. But it was more than a physical injury, “I felt like when I made that decision that day to amputate my foot that I lost more than just a physical part of myself,” he said. “It plays tricks on your head. It brings you to a really dark place that’s almost impossible to get out of on your own. I remember the times when I would sit there by myself and contemplate whether or not I should commit suicide.”

On the advice of his therapist, Tommy participated in Operation Surf. Even though Tommy had surfed when he was a teenager, he was skeptical that it would help him now. Then he caught his first wave, “I was just so ecstatic that I was able to stand up on that board because in that one instant I knew that everything that I thought I had lost was just something I was creating in my head. That I was going to be able to do it all. I just had to push myself to overcome these barriers that I placed in front of myself.” Tommy won the wounded warriors division at the Hawaii Adaptive Surfing Championship last year.

Surfing can have a profound impact on veterans’ mental health. Dr. Russell Crawford, Air Force veteran and licensed therapist, conducted a research study on Operation Surf participants and found that surfing decreased PTSD symptoms by 36%, decreased depression by 47%, and increased self-efficacy by 68%.

Surfing can help veterans overcome the challenges caused by war. It has given Bobby, Tommy, and hundreds of other veterans a new lease on life. You can show your support by volunteering or donating to Amazing Surf Adventures and Operation Surf by visiting their website.

Why Efforts to Hire and Maintain the Best Staff Can Be Critical for Nonprofits

While a well-seasoned and dedicated staff can be a terrific resource for any business, hiring the right professional to fill a position can be an even more important concern for nonprofits. Lacking the funds and additional resources of their commercial counterparts and competitors can place many nonprofits at a distinct disadvantage. By addressing the issues and specific problems that those employed by a nonprofit are most likely to encounter, employers may be able to minimize turnover and transform their existing staff into their greatest asset. Drive, Dedication and Vision Professionals whose ambition only extends to themselves can a major liability for nonprofits. Without the need to build value for their shareholders, nonprofit organizations must rely on their staff to provide them with the vision and drive they need to be effective. Pairing workers who are dedicated to an idea that is greater than themselves with an organization able to provide them with the agency needed to make a difference can be of paramount importance, especially for nonprofits who have suffered from lackluster performance or that may have begun to stagnate. Generating Momentum and Inertia Internally

Employees, workers and professional associates who are able to generate the momentum needed to enact real and lasting change are often the heart of any successful nonprofit. The conventional business models that are so often utilized by commercial businesses place often place the bulk of their focus on the mid and upper-level managers and supervisors who are tasked with creating and implementing new policies. Nonprofits stand to benefit by shifting their focus to the workers who do the actual heavy lifting and who take on the more mundane day to day tasks. Dedicated workers can provide their employers and organizations with the momentum and inertia they need in order to continue operating effectively.

Going the Extra Mile Finding employees who are willing to go the extra mile can be a difficult proposition for any organization that lacks the funds and financial resources needed to provide a more competitive salary. Individuals who are committed to reaching loftier goals or unlocking their full professional for reasons that extend beyond mere financial reward are not a resource that nonprofits can afford to take lightly. A little extra effort is often the missing component when it comes to finding solutions to a stubborn problem or overcoming an obstacle that might otherwise end up limiting other opportunities and future success. Workers who are determined to keep their organization going and employers who need their employees to give it their all both need to understand the value of going the extra mile. Optimizing Existing Resources Having to make due with shortages of finances and other key resources is often a concern that is all too familiar to many nonprofit organizations. While boosting efficiency and finding ways to curb waste can help commercial organizations to enjoy greater profitability, such efforts are often essential for ensuring the very survival of a nonprofit. Whether it’s finding the best accounting software for nonprofits in order to ensure more accurate bookkeeping or identifying the ways in which financial resources may be best utilized, making the most of their existing resources is a concern that organizations would do well to prioritize. Long-term Success Begins During the Hiring Process A nonprofit is only as good as its employees and being able to identify the right fit or a good match often means a great deal. For employers, educating prospective employees and applicants regarding the nature of nonprofit work is often a smart move. Applicants, candidates and even unpaid volunteers who wish to see their organization succeed need to recognize that their passion, aspiration and drive can often be just as important as any skills or expertise they may bring to the table. Cultivating the right staff and making the most out of their existing employees can allow organizations to more easily overcome the obstacles created due to limited funds and resource scarcity.

Your Group Wants to Become a Nonprofit — What Now?

It’s one thing to have hobbies and interests; parlaying them into a nonprofit organization is another leap entirely.

Expansion is an easy concept to imagine but a difficult one for most of us to execute.

In a hobby or interest group’s case, it’s tough to identify the right time to venture into nonprofit status. For molecular biologist Nina Dudnik, her epiphany started when she was studying rice in Ivory Coast. Conducting research in a developing country without enough equipment proved challenging, so after she began her Ph.D. program at Harvard University, she and a few fellow students collected extra supplies and equipment to send to labs in developing countries.

From that effort sprang a nonprofit venture that eventually became Seeding Labs, a firm that trains scientist and provides equipment to developing nations. Dudnik’s idea sprouted from a cause she had personal experience in, and she quickly found a way to translate it to a broader scale.

So how can an interest group widen its scope into a serious nonprofit? It starts with identifying the desired end goal and detailing the steps necessary to arrive there.

What Giving Gets You

When looking to invest more time and effort into a cause, going the nonprofit route makes sense. Nonprofits are highly credible entities that can exert social influences on broader audiences because a nonprofit donation elicits a stronger emotional response in the giver than spending money at a for-profit, even if the end result is the same.

Nonprofits are also eligible for certain federal tax exemptions. Provided they agree to be audited, corporate income tax is waived, and that money can be reinvested into the organization. Additionally, state and federal governing bodies and some private groups also offer nonprofit tax credits for nonprofits, so even if a nonprofit owes some taxes, these credits give organizations other options to stretch their operating budgets.

When homing in on a nonprofit cause, start with pinpointing a mission that’s the company’s sole focus. You’ll be fighting for a share of limited charitable giving, so don’t make your efforts more difficult by taking up a cause that another group has already embraced. Both the group and the cause itself would likely suffer.

Next, make sure interest is sufficient and funding is locked in. Ensure that the resources and support for your initiative are in place and that your plan of action is clearly outlined. This will help convince potential donors you’re a good candidate for their contributions, which most people don’t give out easily. In the long term, nonprofits need business plans that minimize operating costs to ensure sustainable organizations. Getting your group to that next step isn’t easy, but the benefits are tangible.

Make a Nonprofit Pivot

If transitioning your group to a nonprofit seems like a good fit, these to-do items will help make the process as smooth as possible.

1. Network as much as you can. Your nonprofit’s effect is only as strong as the people advocating for it. Make sure as many influential people know about it and talk it up as possible.

Take an active approach to networking. If you attend an event such as an NGO conference, think of questions ahead of time and share your plans with your organization. Whenever possible, get feedback from people who are already well-established in your group’s field of interest to figure out the best course of action.

2. Research regulations. Regulatory requirements may sound like a chore, but you’ll need to know how they work to understand the legal side of the transition to a nonprofit. Regulations are not only complex and different from state to state, but they’re also constantly changing.

Even though you’re passionate about your group’s subject matter, consider taking a class at a local college to get the most up-to-date guidance on your specific situation and how to get any compliance issues squared away. Setting up your nonprofit only to find it doesn’t comply with certain legalities isn’t the best way to get it off the ground.

3. Work with an accountant. Embrace the first lesson of nonprofits, and get ready to get lean. Utilize an accountant or financial advisor, and make sure that person has experience working with nonprofits.

These professionals identify specific steps a nonprofit will need to take in order to best protect itself financially. For instance, not-for-profits should create a statement of financial position instead of a traditional balance statement, or a statement of activities detailing revenue and expenses instead of an income statement.

Fundamentally, nonprofits are created to meet specific societal needs. If your group has the drive and resources to merit pursuing the advantages afforded to a nonprofit, take these steps to heart and take your cause to the next level.

The Y Wants Everyone to Take a #SelfieWithSomeoneNew

Today, the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) is launching a new social media campaign, #SelfieWithSomeoneNew. Inspired by the Y’s new “Us” national campaign creative, #SelfieWithSomeoneNew is an opportunity to highlight how the Y uniquely brings people together. To help raise awareness for the campaign, the Y will partner with long-time member and supporter, actor Ethan Hawke.

Photo Credit: (YMCA of the USA)

The Y is encouraging people to meet someone new, strike up a conversation and discover what they have in common, then, take a selfie and post it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #SelfieWithSomeoneNew and tag @YMCA.

Whether it’s a new neighbor down the street, a parent at your child’s school or a person you see every day on your commute home, the Y hopes people will take a few extra moments to get to know one another in order to build a stronger, more connected community.

To encourage participation, the Y is partnering with Oscar-nominated actor, Ethan Hawke, a long-time Y member and former Y camper. To help drive momentum, Hawke will be taking a selfie with someone new at his local Y while encouraging others to do the same.

“I am excited to support the Y and help shine a light on the work they do,” said Hawke. “They are so much more than a gym. They create community. I started going to the Y as kid when my parents didn’t know what to do with me all summer. Since then, the Y has been a staple in my life; my refuge when I am an out of work actor, or the place that has taught my children to swim. I hope we can raise awareness about everything the Y does in communities all over the country.”

Because of the Y, people who may not have met otherwise, come together, whether they are kids in an afterschool enrichment program, adults in a cancer survivorship group or families volunteering. These are natural and easy ways for people to find commonality and even unity among perceived differences.

“For more than 160 years, the Y has brought people together – no matter their differences – and helped build stronger, more connected communities,” said Kevin Washington, President and CEO, Y-USA. “#SelfieWithSomeoneNew is a great way to illustrate how we can all take small, but meaningful steps towards unity with something as simple as a photo.”

The Y is one of the nation’s leading nonprofits strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Across the U.S., 2,700 Ys engage 22 million men, women and children – regardless of age, income or background – to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve the nation’s health and well-being, and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors. Anchored in more than 10,000 communities, the Y has the long-standing relationships and physical presence not just to promise, but to deliver, lasting personal and social change. ymca.net

For more information on how to participate in the Y’s #SelfieWithSomeoneNew campaign and to learn more about the Y’s “For a better us.” campaign, visit ymca.net/forabetterus.

How Disability Culture Can Inform Mentoring Girls with Disabilities

Photo Credit: Big Sister Association

I am a social work intern at the Big Sister Association of Boston. This is a unique organization, as it is the only gender-specific branch of Big Brother Big Sister in the United States. This is also an important fact as research suggests that girls experience mentoring relationships differently than boys do.

Additionally, research suggests that girls have gender-specific needs that can best be addressed by gender-sensitive support. One of the values of the Big Sister Association of Boston is cultural responsiveness, as the agency finds it important to learn about and embrace cultural differences – and this is where Disability culture comes in.

Disability social workers Romel Mackelprang and Richard Salsgiver discuss the emergence of Disability culture and assert that it is not only an identity but a ‘way of life,’ similar to race or ethnicity. I feel that it is critical that when conceptualizing how to be cultural responsive that Big Sister mentors keep Disability in mind as a type of culture. Recognizing Disability culture is important because we work with Little Sisters ages seven through twenty, as well as volunteer Big Sisters over the age of eighteen, and any of these girls and women may have a disability.

In addition to being aware of the language and history of Disability culture in order to show respect, we must also understand that there is a community aspect of Disability culture that can have great social benefits for the people we work with. The goal of our mentoring program is to strategically match girls with mentors who have similar interests and experiences as them. Therefore, making an effort to match girls and mentors with disabilities can have the added benefit of sharing an understanding of a common experience and culture, therefore making the match relationship even more impactful.

In their book, Romel Mackelprang and Richard Salsgiver share the story of Carolyn and Marnie, two women who met and “developed a sisterhood formed from shared circumstances….their self-concepts and meanings they ascribed to their disabilities were similar.” Further, the authors note that Carloyn and Marnie had “few or no role models with disabilities, their disabilities were defined as negative, shameful…were isolated from others like themselves.”

The concepts of sisterhood and community are two more of the Big Sister Association of Boston’s values, and increased confidence is an outcome goal held by the program. As the relationship between women can be so powerful, it is important that Big Sister staff recognize this potential and thoughtfully seek to make matches between women and girls who share experiences as people with disabilities.

Big Sister Association of Boston values gender-specific programming, and it is important that this specificity carries over when thinking even further about what it means to not only be a girl, but to the intersection of being a girl with a disability in our society.

One way that Big Sister staff can work on developing knowledge about Disability culture as it relates to girls could be perusing the Gimp Girl website. As a refresher, the Georgetown Health Policy Institute defines cultural competence as “the ability of providers and organizations to effectively deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients.”

The Gimp Girl website can be used as a resource for Big Sister staff to assist them in the task of continuously working on their cultural competence by becoming fully informed about the views and needs of girls with disabilities in particular. As a non-disabled person, I have permission to access articles and presentations on the site and join their online public forums. The website also includes links to many blogs written by and for girls with disabilities, which can raise awareness of the most current issues and interests of this particular community.

Tuning into Gimp Girl can help me practice cultural responsiveness by making me aware of the issues and concerns of interest to this population in order to most effectively meet the needs of girls with disabilities in a respectful and accessible way. Realizing that some people might prefer the term ‘gimp’ to the term ‘disabled’ might be important for Big Sister staff to realize vis-à-vis the debate between whether to use person first or disability first language.

The website will also help staff to practice cultural humility by reminding them that girls with disabilities have distinct and individual needs, as they describe what it means to experience the intersection of gender identity and disability. Reading about girls’ varying experiences will encourage Big Sister staff to consistently check their own biases and assumptions as well as maintain their position as learners when interacting with girls.

In addition to increasing any given Big Sister staff members’ knowledge and awareness about Disability culture, staff will also be able to share this website with Little Sisters if they are not familiar with it. Our agency constantly provides Big Sisters with information, resources, and activities they can use when spending time with their ‘Littles,’ and this website could be a great resource.

Big Sisters could explore the website with their Littles to find blogs that their Littles can relate to, or even help Littles join a Support Meeting in the online chat room. I think this resource is something that can benefit all of our staff and the girls and women we serve – and perhaps this will be true for you as well!

NBC Nightly News Headline on the American Red Cross is Deeply Misleading

Photo Credit: @Redcross Twitter

Recently, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt headlined a story entitled “American Red Cross Fails to Pay Funds Promised to Many Harvey Victims”. The report discussed the failure of the American Red Cross to disburse funding to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. As a volunteer with Red Cross, this report raised my concerns for several reasons, and I immediately contacted them in order gain some insight into the causes preventing the Red Cross from distributing emergency funding.

According to the American Red Cross website, the primary function of the charity is “providing relief to victims of disaster, blood to hospital patients, health, and safety training to the public, or emergency social services to U.S. military families.” For more information on how the American Red Cross spends its donations, you can visit their website. After speaking with staff, I am now able to provide some clarity on the issues causing the delay with the disbursements.

Website Crashed

The website crashed from the 1 million displaced people trying to access it (plus repeat tries). Not only is the Red Cross attempting to aid those displaced by Hurricane Harvey, they are also handling an equally major crisis in Florida due to Hurricane Irma. Both Hurricanes have left a destabilized communications infrastructure with limited wifi and cell phone access in which to process aid. Everyone in flood areas is also still fighting the shaky access and embattled communication infrastructure in place. Many residents were showing up at the Red Cross HQ in hopes of gaining connectivity through the Red Cross. Unfortunately, the office has been experiencing the same connectivity issues.

Headlines about “High Overhead” feed into Confusion for Donors

When donors don’t understand that upgrading systems and IT staff, hiring volunteer coordinators and trainers, and other administrative staff duties are necessary to make it possible to handle 1 million plus displaced victims in multiple disasters at the same time, it breeds confusion and misinformation. The American Red Cross is not a governmental agency, but it is responsible for the bulk of relief efforts when a disaster happens. With Congress continuous cuts to FEMA, the American Red Cross will not be able to continue mass scale relief if they are denied donor support due to misinformation. This is a dangerous way to share information about life-saving charities. Without the American Red Cross, who else is equipped to handle natural disasters on this scale?

Emergency Funding

The $400 funds allocation from the Red Cross is an attempt to fill the gap that insurance and governmental delays create for desperate families. However, the reality is that it is dangerous to have volunteers standing on street corners handing out cash. However, this crisis may help the Red Cross identify innovative ways to distribute funds to help expedite funding to families. Currently, funds are being distributed to local centers like Wal-Mart for a more orderly disbursement. However, each disbursement center in affected areas is also still dealing with their own infrastructure issues.

At the end of the day, the American Red Cross is an organization run by 90% plus volunteers working at least 15 hours per day in harsh conditions because they want to help others. More paid employees would help with consistency and efficiency (deployments are only weeks long), but it would also create higher overhead in which donors don’t want.

With all of the disaster pile-ons we are experiencing with even more looming in the distance, we need to take a good look at our charities and how we expect them to function like a governmental agency or corporation while relying on donor support. How does the Red Cross run operations that cover a million people in a single disaster without the funding to hire people at salaries that will attract those with the talent and the willingness to risk such public scrutiny?

How to Grow Your Nonprofit With Little Budget

It should come as no surprise that devoting time to a cause can be fulfilling. When you start one of your own, you will transform your life.

But establishing a nonprofit to take up said crusade comes with lots of barriers, namely financial. Traditional businesses often must figure out where the money will come from to make their vision a reality, and nonprofits are no different.

For nonprofit leaders with know-how and ideas but scarce financial capital, it’s an uphill battle. But it’s those who recognize their new nonprofits’ non-monetary value and how to translate that into viability who can bring those causes to fruition.

A Little Marketing Goes a Long Way

What nonprofits lack in budget, they more than make up for in positioning and branding. Organizations can mask their financial shortcomings by properly marketing each themselves and spotlighting who they are and what they can do.

That starts with communicating your purpose or company “brand.” Identifying your brand lets people know who you are and what you can do for others, which can go a long way in creating long-term relationships. From there, you want to avoid potential conflicts of interest or even the appearance of one: As owner, officer, or director, you should never personally profit from any transaction with your organization.

Once you’ve settled those things, you can market your nonprofit to its fullest potential. The next step is to take those attributes to events and platforms that feature opportunities to rub elbows with financiers with values similar to your own.

For nonprofits with limited funds, I suggest looking to corporations to sponsor a campaign. Dress for Success, for example, held a “clean your closet week” by asking professionals to donate clothing, and the campaign generated $400,000.

And when you find an actual sponsor, it can be a useful way to find other organizations that align with your mission. Let’s say you connect with a corporation known to work with homeless youth. It’ll have relationships with many other corporations that work with this same service sector, which can establish a ripple effect.

Do Good on a Discount

Outside of knowing how to sell your cause, the following tips are useful to help your growing nonprofit continue to scale:

1. Think intangible. When you’re on a tight budget and don’t have money to involve your nonprofit in initiatives requiring a cash investment, start off by marketing non-financial resources, such as your time and industry knowledge.

Not only will it provide your organization some much-needed exposure, but it’ll also give you and your other teammates a better idea of the work involved and a brief overview of your chosen nonprofit sector. Plus, it’s not a bad way to make connections.

2. Give in to the youth movement. Look for volunteers at area high schools. Talk with the local school councils and ask whether it’d be possible to create a partnership that would allow teens to volunteer for a school credit or as an extracurricular activity.

Position the volunteer opportunity as a way for teenagers to prepare for the future. After all, volunteering improves not just communities, but also participants’ social and communication skills. In fact, they often reap better advantages at college and on down the line.

3. See how the pros do it. Follow the activities of larger nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations. Check with international organizations like the United Nations; you may find opportunities for involvement and gain access to their funding pool.

Take NeedsList, for example. The online platform was created to help small grassroots groups connect with NGOs across the world in need of shoes, SD cards, and other supplies. Donors can choose to donate goods, money, or time, which brings us full circle.

As the adage goes, it’s not what you know but whom. No other sector exemplifies this more than nonprofit. For foundations on a shoestring budget, make connections, think about what you have to offer, and deliver on your purpose each step of the way. Then, you can let your personal transformation begin.

How to Get Rid of Your Student Loan Debt While Working at a Nonprofit

student loans

All across the country, graduates are taking advantage of various loan repayment programs to help lower their monthly payments and improve their lives. If you plan to work for a nonprofit or in the public sector, it’s smart to explore all of the loan repayment options in front of you – including loan forgiveness.

When Michelle Argento graduated college with $25,000 in student loans, she knew the path forward wouldn’t be easy. As a music education major with little earning potential, she was right to worry about her new $290 monthly payment.

Fortunately, Argento started learning about the federal income-driven repayment programs available right away. And once she qualified for Income-Based Repayment (IBR), she watched her new payment shrink to just $27 per month.

While Argento’s situation has changed over the years, she still benefits on a sliding scale. A marriage and a toddler later, she and her husband pay $350 per month towards their $40,000 in combined student loans. If the couple were on the Standard Repayment Plan, she would owe more like $690 per month, she said.

Instead, the $340 per month they save has meant less stress and more opportunity.

“Having been on IBR for now six years, I have never, ever felt crushed or overwhelmed by my loans,” said Argento. “That flexibility also means being able to take risks in my career by moving to owning my own business, being able to splurge a bit on experiences such as traveling to Europe, and considering going back to school while continuing paying down debt.”

The icing on the cake, however, is that income-driven repayment plans like IBR will forgive any remaining after 20-25 years of payments (assuming there’s any debt left over). The only downside is that once the debt is forgiven, you’re on the hook for income taxes on that amount that same tax year.

Of course, IBR isn’t the only income-driven plan out there. Borrowers can also benefit from plans such as Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR). While each plan works in its own unique way, they all base your monthly payments on your discretionary income and eventually lead to student loan forgiveness.

By and large, income-driven repayment plans were created for graduates just like Argento – people with large amounts of debt and lower-than-average earnings. That’s why many people who work at nonprofits flock to income-driven repayment plans; instead of struggling to afford huge monthly payments, they can enjoy reasonable out-of-pocket expenses and continue working in jobs that let them give back.

Another Option: Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

In addition to income-driven repayment, students interested in working for the public good can look into Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

With PSLF, graduates can have their student loans forgiven after working in a qualified public service position and making 120 consecutive payments on their loans. Payments made after October 1, 2007 qualify and the first round of PSLF participants will receive forgiveness beginning this October.

Ginger, a psychotherapist who blogs at Girls Just Wanna Have Funds, uses PSLF to make her student loan payments bearable. Thanks to the reasonable loan payment she has achieved through PSLF, Ginger figures she’ll save 15 years of payments and at least $100,000 on interest if she sticks with it.

And she should. Unlike other income-driven plans that require you to pay taxes on forgiven debt, PSLF wipes your slate entirely clean. If Ginger is able to stay on her current program for 10 consecutive years, she’ll have zero debt – and no trace of a tax bill – once it’s over.

Although she’ll need to work in public service the entire time, this is a huge benefit for her and others like her to look forward to.

Picking a Repayment Plan

With the right plan, you can settle on a monthly payment you can actually afford and move on with your life. Here are some steps that can help:

Step 1: Explore loan forgiveness options. While we touched on the main loan forgiveness programs in this article, you should research more on each before you sign up. There are also many state- and school-based repayment and forgiveness programs. Check out this comprehensive guide on forgiveness programs to find the right fit.

Step 2: Consider your long-term career plans. While income-driven repayment and PSLF can drastically reduce your monthly payments now, that can change quickly if your income surges or your career changes course. Before you sign up, consider how your future decisions might affect your loan payments.

Step 3: Determine how comfortable you are with debt. While loan forgiveness programs can lower your monthly payment and lead to total debt forgiveness, they also leave you in debt for a longer stretch of time. If you don’t like the idea of debt, you might be better off making extra payments and paying off your loans early instead.

Step 4: Sign up for a plan and stick with it. If you decide you’re okay with debt as long as it’s eventually forgiven, you’re a good candidate for loan forgiveness plans. To get the most out of them, however, you should stay the course and see them to the end. Ten to 25 years might seem like a long time, but it will be worth it when you’re finally debt-free.

If you’re worried how you’ll handle your loans as a non-profit worker, it’s smart to explore all of these opportunities to see if one might fit your needs.

With the right repayment plan, you could score an affordable monthly payment and complete forgiveness in the end. If you’re in debt and struggling, that’s the best thing you can hope for.

SKIP: A Holistic Approach to Promoting Education for Disadvantaged Children

Supporting Kids in Peru (SKIP) is a UK, US, and Peruvian NGO charity, working with impoverished families in El Porvenir and Alto Trujillo, in Peru. The primary aim is to enable children to utilise their right to an education, however by taking a holistic approach, SKIP works with the entire familial unit to do this. This means focusing on key aspects such as education, economic stability, emotional well-being, and healthy and safe living environments. SKIP promotes empowerment and believes that by working in partnership within communities, people can be empowered to make change.

SKIP is comprised of volunteers from these communities as well as volunteers from overseas. When SKIP formed in 2003, local professionals were motivated by the need for education support and joined in on the mission. Many children had never studied and were too old to attend primary school, however, with the help of volunteers 85 children who had been selected were able to commence school after passing placement exams.

The need for a holistic approach soon followed and as the project grew training was provided to parents so that they could create their own businesses and obtain an income to prevent their children from having to work. It wasn’t until 2012 that SKIP gained registration as an international NGO which meant that volunteering visas could be granted to long term volunteers the following year.

SKIP has a variety of programmes available for the communities they serve. The primary education system in Peru is disadvantaged and involves little emphasis on understanding, analytical skills, or problem solving. When SKIP first tested the student’s academic performance, most of the students were performing years below their grade level.

Therefore, SKIP aims to fully finance education, and support the development of emotional intelligence alongside therapeutic treatment for children by using individual therapy or group sessions.  In 2014, SKIP was able to improve Math scores by 29% with reading comprehension scores improving by nearly 50% showing the determination and motivation of the staff.

Additionally, SKIP also trains and supports parents and carers so that they are more aware of their child’s educational needs which maximises parental involvement and allow parents to acquire behaviour management techniques that will impact the family dynamics. Feedback found that the parents or carers felt valued and empowered with a commitment to continuous learning.

Also, SKIP promotes daily access to a library so that children can get help with their homework. This also encourages children to source information for themselves using the reading materials available. SKIP values the importance of this because some parents may not be literate, and so help may not be readily available at home. The library also provides a safe place where children can be intellectually challenged. Once homework is completed, there are educational games available for children to explore other interests.

Children are unlikely to have similar reading materials at home due to poverty and disadvantage which means they are not able to practice reading and so cannot develop skills. SKIP also offers a library that has at least two volunteer tutors to attend each three hour library session so that support can be offered.

There are also family support programmes available which include a dental campaign that not only checks children’s teeth and provides fillings when necessary. There is also preventative care and children are taught to properly brush their teeth. There are also sight tests in which glasses are provided to children if they are required.

The social work team focuses on empowering parents to expand their skills and abilities and can access advice daily with home visits being carried out twice a year at a minimum. By doing this, 14% of the people who were living in poverty in 2010, by 2014 had crossed the poverty line.

SKIP also have an economic development programme that stresses the importance of saving. There are also business workshops aimed at those who may want to develop a business, attendance in these workshops was over 85% with 36 women participating showing the emphasis on promoting equality.

Liz Wilson, the director of SKIP believes that by using a holistic and evidence-based approach, families are empowered and work can be done to help stabilise the entire unit. By working with families and witnessing their commitment and aspiring nature, it is hard to not find it motivating and inspiring. SKIP promote the availability of the services, but Liz Wilson believes it is the families that put the hard work into these interventions.

Whilst volunteering is extremely rewarding, it is not without its challenges. Liz Wilson stresses the importance of stepping back from fulfilling the volunteers’ own needs and looking at those of the project and how some tasks may be necessary and beneficial overall. Individually, we cannot change the world, but there is enormous value in shared contribution.

The Six Steps for Registering A Trademark

If you are in business, then you understand the need to have a brand identity. A unique identifying feature in your business name, the logo, or the service is essential to stand out in the market. To achieve this, you have to sell differentiated products and use a name that hasn’t been used by others or rather, a name that won’t bring confusion or ownership infringement feuds.

Though your business name is unique, a trademark to your products or services will ensure that your brand name is upheld. To register a trademark, follow the following steps:

1. Pre-registration

Here, you do not have to sign anything. Before making any important business step, you must ask if there is a critical need for the business trademark. Products and services, only, are eligible for trademarks. Inventions and literally arts cannot be trademarked.

You should also evaluate the need for the trademark. If the business name is enough to identify your company, the products and services you trade in, then you do not need to trademark them urgently.

2. Selection of the mark to trade in

This is among the toughest choices to make once you have ascertained the need for trademarking. The mark chosen should be unique and means to use in business. Descriptive, fancy, generic, and suggestive names will have to be deliberated.

When selecting the mark, you should also consider the graphical strength it possessed. As aforementioned, the trademark is your brand identity. To sell your brand, the format, availability, and the products to which the mark will be applied should be considered.

3. Name search

As you select the trademark, the ones chosen should be run through the US Patent and Trademark Offices database. A name search helps in preventing registration of an already registered trademark that can cost you more in revenue and legal fees later. This also helps to know if your name is desirable or not.

4. Application

After the selected mark is found to be available, you can fill in the application for trademark registration. The registration can be either on the ‘use in commerce’ or the ‘intent to use’ basis. This can be done online or on paper. You should note that there are various trademark attorneys in San Diego who will help in processing your trademark application. The best offer flat fees for registration and at reasonable values that will not cost your business as much.

5. Application evaluation

Once you have presented everything to the US. Patent and Trademark offices, you will be required to wait. This can be a long process, but with an attorney at hand, the process will be smooth. The status of the application can be monitored every 3 or 4 months. An examining attorney completes the review and approves the application. This takes at least 12 months.

6. Rejection or approval

If a registration goes through, then you will be within the legal bounds to use the trademark on your products or services. You should also note that the trademark goes through the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board even after its approval by the attorney and it is only certified if this board doesn’t oppose the trademark.

Rejection of the trademark registration can be appealed if the name isn’t immoral, a primary surname, slanders a person, resembles another, etc.

In conclusion, though the registration process can be lengthy, it is your first step to improving your brand image and this can result in an increased return on investment (ROI). To ensure success of the registration process, do not leave blank spaces on the application form, use a valid and active email address, and work with an attorney registered to work in the US.

Protest Movement Turned Into A Commitment to the City’s Homeless

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In February 2011, thousands of concerned citizens protested with Wisconsin public employees against Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-led legislature moving to limit public employee rights to collective bargaining. These protests merged into the Occupy Madison (OM) movement, which like many other cities in America was in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Due to city and county ordinances, the OM movement had to move to a new place every night. What OM members didn’t realize at the time was that many who were moving along with them in protest were homeless individuals. The homeless population in Madison had realized that these OM encampments were a safe place where they could get food and shelter. Board member Luca Clemente said that in the beginning of the Occupy Madison movement there was conflict between the activists and the homeless. The homeless felt they were doing the real occupying because many of the activists went home at night. The homeless referred to the activists as “housies” and the activist referred to the homeless as “crashers,” he said.

The homeless realized that OM was protesting for rights that mattered to them too and OM activists realized that OM was faced with the same challenges as the homeless population. Clemente said, “It became clear that people were in real pain.” He said it wasn’t easy, but they got past their differences and worked together. During their two plus year protest, OM advocates spent time and money to build the encampments to meet local laws and city regulations and codes, but in 558 days the encampment was forced to move its location 30 times and the protestors received city and county ordinance citations.

Board member Bruce Wallbaum said, “For years many of the OM members have been fighting for equal opportunity for resources whether you’re homeless or not.” He said in response to the protests and the continued plight of the homeless population, OM became a non-profit organization in 2013. They have advocated with and for citizens in Madison who have and are currently experiencing homelessness. Wallbaum said they have worked together for more shelter space, improved shelter rules, and access to restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities.

Despite their efforts, the homeless shelters remained full and there was no movement by the local government or other non-profits to add any more shelters. According to the Tenant Resource Center, there are approximately 500 chronically homeless citizens in Madison. The coupling of rental rates in Madison at an all-time high and vacancies far and few between (2%) is a problem for many Madison residents. Having a job does not guarantee that you will be able to afford a place to live. Affordable Housing in Madison has long waiting lists (up to a year) and section 8 housing closed its waiting list years ago.

In an effort to help the homeless obtain affordable transitional housing OM became a 501 (c) (3) non-profit and started a project called OM Build. OM board member Bruce Wallbaum said they started building Tiny Houses in June 2013.  Wallbaum said, “The first three homes were built by volunteers and paid for by community donations.” He said that each home costs $5000 in materials and supplies. The houses are 99 square feet and are built on wheels so they can be moved if necessary.

Wallbaum also said due to concern for their property values and a possible increase in crime, 70% of the neighbors were against the purchase of the property for the Tiny Village. After a year of no police incidents and property values remaining stable, they have since come around. He said that Alder Larry Palm has been behind the project since the beginning and the local newspaper did interviews and made a video with the neighbors who now have no complaints.

The Village and the OM Build project is making a big impact and getting a lot of attention.  Visitors from 23 states and several countries have toured the Village in the past year. OM-Tiny Houses & More has a great website with tons of information. Wallbaum said they would love to help start Tiny Villages in other communities, but they are a small group and are 100 % funded by volunteers.

OM resident and member Russel Albers said that he became involved in 2011 because “I believe in affordable housing for all.” Albers says he was living out of his truck during the OM protests because he lost his job and was having trouble finding a new one. He said he couldn’t afford to pay rent. “Until it happens to you, it’s hard for anyone to understand how fast you can lose everything,” he said.  “If your coach surfing and have no permanent address and you’re living out of your car, employers don’t want to hire you,” he said.

Phase 1 was completed in late 2014, OM purchased an old auto body shop on Madison’s near eastside, and the OM volunteers and board members have tirelessly worked to repair and clean up the property and Phase 1.  He said phase I brought in approximately 80,000 dollars in donations and 1000 volunteer hours. Albers said the first three residents took occupancy in 2015 and Madison’s first micro village of Tiny Houses became a reality.

Albers said, The Tiny Village is now working on Phase 2, which has already seen five more houses built and two new residents. He said, “Tiny Home residents are called stewards, and can be a couple or an individual.” He said future stewards have to put in 500 hours of volunteer work on a house or in the OM store to earn stewardship and residency in the OM Village. Once a steward moves into their Tiny Home they must continue to volunteer on a monthly basis. Albers said, “We have rules that have to be followed such as no drugs or alcohol in the Village and every steward has to participate in the chore wheel.” Albers said they modeled the “sweat equity” after Habitat for Humanity and the “chore wheel” from another Tiny Village in the state of Washington.

Albers took me on a tour and I was able to see one of the unfinished houses up close and personal as well as the workshop, cooperative kitchen, three bathrooms, four large gardens, and a retail store. He showed me where the new community center and the new kitchen were planned to be built as part of Phase 2.

For those interested in duplicating their project, they recommend that you visit their web page www.occupymadisoninc.com where they give you tips on how to start a Tiny Houses Village in your community. You can also like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OMBuild or visit the Village in person at 304 North Third Street, Madison, WI 53704.

They encourage everyone to remember, “It takes a village to make a village.”

Include Youth’s Commitment to Northern Ireland Care Leavers

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Located in Northern Ireland, Include Youth supports vulnerable and disadvantage youth by helping them to improve their educational and employment training outcomes, and their main objectives are to increase employment opportunities for disadvantage youth in addition to boosting their self-esteem and life skills.

According to a commissioned review by Include Youth, criminal justice reform and policing were acknowledged as two major areas of concern impacting disadvantage youth with early intervention/family support and diversion programs listed as interventions to reduce risks and increase protective factors for this vulnerable group.

Sharon Whittaker from Include Youth courteously agreed to facilitate a Q&A with us to highlight the amazing work of Include Youth.

SWH: Could you tell us about the mission and vision for Include Youth?

SW: Include Youth is an independent rights-based charity which promotes the rights of and best practice with disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people in Northern Ireland.  In particular Include Youth supports those involved with the criminal justice system and those who need education, employment and training.

Inspired by the experiences of young people Include Youth works to ensure that their rights are being realised. Young people’s views guide us in our advocacy work to achieve social justice, change and promote a greater understanding of their lives in government and across statutory organisations and the community and voluntary sectors.

We provide direct services to support young people to develop their employability and life skills, which are based on working at the young person’s pace and understanding their needs.

SWH: What are the main barriers affecting young people in Northern Ireland?

SW: Overall youth unemployment remains consistently high at 17.5 per cent in Northern Ireland, this is three times that of the adult population.  There are high levels of suicide and self-harm among young people generally, as well as other recognised mental health issues, including severe depression and anxiety.  Almost half of children in care or placed in custody at the Juvenile Justice Centre have serious mental health concerns.

We work specifically with 16-24 year olds from socially disadvantaged areas, have had poor educational experiences, have committed or are at risk of committing crime, misuse drugs and/or alcohol, engage in unsafe or harmful sexual behaviour or at risk of being harmed themselves.   All of the young people we work with are not in education, employment or training and many will have experience of the care system.

Education and employment is a huge barrier for young people in care.  Almost 3,000 children are in the care of the state here and only a quarter will go on to achieve five GCSE’s (grade A*-C) compared with more than 80 per cent of the general school population.  More than 350 young people aged 16 to 21 in care here are not in education, employment or training at any one time.  The unemployment rate for care leavers is double that of young people who grew up in the community.

SWH: What types of challenges have you run into?

SW: How children and young people are perceived in their community is a real challenge for Include Youth. A simple thing like how a young person might be portrayed in the media can impact on social policy is made and on how services to children and young people are delivered.

The young people we work are often most in need or at risk, yet do not have their voices heard and acted upon by organisational representatives and decision-makers.  This means the most vulnerable young people in society are more likely to suffer the consequences of inadequate policies and poor services.

Piecemeal and short-term funding is a challenge for our organisation, as to address the long-term needs of children in care a more sustained and cohesive approach is needed.  There is funding available for short-term projects, which will only ever help long-term goals to an extent.

SWH: Do you think enough is being done to help children in care?

SW: Too many young people from a care background are being detained in the Juvenile Justice Centre under PACE because suitable accommodation cannot be found.  Custody should only be used as a last resort, so not enough is being done to redress the overrepresentation of looked after children within the justice system.

In figures supplied to us by the Youth Justice Agency looked after children represented 40% of individual young people admitted under PACE, between October 2014-September 2015.  Up to 50% of these young people did not receive a custodial sentence, evidence that custody is not being used as a last resort.

We also continually look to Scotland to see what is happening there, as they tend to have more positive policies and practices around their responsibility to children and young people in care.  However some progress has been made to increase labour market opportunities for young people in care.  Business in the Community and Include Youth run targeted initiatives and the Employability Services run by all five health and social care trusts.  Each health and social care trust has employability and guidance schemes in place to help prepare young people for employment and have developed a range of service models, for example, ring-fenced posts and social clause provision in partnership with a number of companies.

SWH: What other vulnerable groups of young people does Include Youth support?

SW: We work in partnership with community-based organisations to deliver cross-community or employability programmes to young people aged 16-24.  Most of these young people won’t have experience of care, therefore their needs vary from young parents, to carers, substance abuse issues to early school leavers.

We also lobby on behalf of children and young people in our formal youth justice system.  Currently 10 year olds living in Northern Ireland can be arrested, prosecuted, get a criminal record and even be locked up however we’re seeking legislative change so that 10 and 11 year olds who commit crime are dealt with in a much more effective way.

SWH: Is there any way people can support Include Youth?

SW: There are a number of different ways people can support our work.  If you’re an employer, public, private or charity sector you may be able to provide a workplace tour or experience for the young people on our programmes or you may wish to join our Board of Directors.  We’re also always on the lookout for volunteer mentors who can support a young person in their area on a one to one basis.  Finally, you can get involved in our Raise the Age campaign and help us raise the age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland.

SWH: What is next for Include Youth?

SW: To continually improve our services for the young people we work with.

You can keep up-to-date with Include Youth on Facebook, Twitter and their website on the latest services they offer young people in Northern Ireland.

Fare and Square Brings Hope to Those Living in a Food Desert

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Fare and Square – First Nonprofit Grocery Store

It seems counterintuitive, but many families live in a desert in the middle of the city. While some cities are located in the arid, hot variety of desert, there are also food deserts in many major American cities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food desert as, “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” While there are often many bodegas, convenience stores, and fast food places in these areas, they area devoid of grocery stores and farmer’s markets, making it nearly impossible for their residents to access fresh food.

Living in a food desert and relying upon convenience foods for sustenance increases the risk of obesity and obesity related health problems. It is more costly, both due to the actual cost of food, and the cost of the associated health problems. Additionally, food deserts disproportionally effect minority and low-income families; 8% of African-American families live within a mile of a grocery store, compared to 31% of white families. Overall, 23.5 million people live in areas over one mile from a grocery store.

However, in spite of the disheartening statistics, there are creative solutions in many areas. One solution, in Chester, PA, is a non-profit grocery store. In addition to their already low prices, Fare & Square provides SNAP users with a discount, so that their food budget can stretch further.

While the solutions to food deserts seems fairly simple and obvious, build more grocery stores and/or encourage more farmers’ markets in low-income areas, the reality it is more complex. In the past several years, many new or expanded grocery stores have been built, and the federal government has allocated funds to ameliorate food deserts. However, in some areas, these expanded markets have not had the effect that many were hoping.

According to Steven Cummins, a professor of population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, for many people, shopping in a grocery store and preparing healthy food is not part of their routine. Perhaps they do not know what kinds of food to buy or how to make them, or perhaps despite the new, bigger stores, financially, fresh food continues to be out of reach.

As for Mr. Cummins’ observation that some people may not know how to prepare fresh foods, there are several programs which teach healthy and budget friendly cooking to low-income individuals and families. Cooking Matters, a project of Share Our Strength, provides hands on cooking classes and nutritional support to individuals and families who are facing food insecurity. During their six-week courses, participants learn everything from knife skills to budgeting techniques to reading ingredient labels.

Food deserts continue to pose a major problem to low-income families. For some, simply providing a store is not enough; programs are needed to support families in all aspects of healthy eating, including preparation, storage, and shopping. Hopefully, there will be more creative solutions to food deserts to help all families enjoy fresh and healthy foods in their diet.

Youth in View: Providing An Engaging Continuum of Care

Youth in View is a not-for-profit child-placement organization dedicated to promoting the well-being of youth by providing a continuum of care through foster care, adoption, post-adoption, unplanned pregnancy intervention and residential treatment services. Located in Texas, founders Sandra and Doug Umoru opened Youth in View in an effort to assist parents in residential treatment facilities who children entered into the foster care system.

Over 3 million reports of child abuse are made every year in the United States with 1 in 4 girls being sexually abused before her 18th birthday. These statistics highlight the severity of abuse facing young people and the need for a proactive intervention to deal with the impact of abuse.

Image Credit: Youth in View
Image Credit: Youth in View

Youth in View bases itself on partnership working to share responsibility and accountability for those who cannot take care of themselves. With four main goals at its center, Youth in View help prepare youth for permanent placement, provide positive family environment encouraging growth and development, provide opportunities to participate in activities outside of an institution, and carefully matching families with children in order to maintain stability.

In some aspects of social work and other fields, reaching people can sometimes be challenging. With first-hand experience of what fostering is like, Sandra and Doug found compassionate and creative ways to work with parents who had no idea what was happening to their child in the Child Protective Services system.

As a plan of care, Youth in the View involve service users in the process while allowing their children to contribute to the policies impacting them. This element of social justice and personalization on both the macro and micro level is often overlooked within the child protection system.

While Youth in View aims to prevent child abuse, it is sometimes difficult when there is not as much support as hoped. Sandra feels there is not enough attention given to child abuse, with it instead being just something that people talk about on banners of campaigns. There needs to be a more practical and engaging intervention in order to support organizations like Youth in View which are not supported by the broad Child Protective Services system. Despite the difficult barriers, Sandra are Doug are determined to make a difference even more so since opening the doors at Youth In View in 2000.

Saundra and Doug Umoru, Founders of Youth in View
Saundra and Doug Umoru, Founders of Youth in View

This positive and heart-warming approach to practice shows that change can be accomplished in even the hardest of circumstances. Sandra and Doug are committed to making a change even with sometimes minimal support from the wider system. Social networking is filled with photos of abused children with the only message being ‘Share if you think this is wrong’. Whilst this increases awareness, a more practical proactive response is needed in order to tackle child abuse but also to help empower children.

Youth in View host training each month in order to provide parents with the right resources and support to raise a child.  Sandra and Doug argue that buying a child toys or being a consistent and caring adult in their life can make all the difference to a child.

The transformation of a child from someone who is withdrawn to someone full of happiness is the best reward any service provider could hope for. Any progress helps to show them that they are one step closer to seeing the light at the end of a very dark and scary tunnel.

Empowerment is a key value promoted at Youth In View, and it is important to provide opportunities for growth. ‘The Lab’ is a space for children to talk about any issues or abuse, and it teaches children how to use their pain positively in an empowering way rather than succumbing to the instinct to run from their experience. By encouraging children to deal with the abuse they suffered, it reduces the negative impact it could have on their adult life.

As a result of Sandra’s own childhood experiences, she empathizes with children in her care by helping them to walk into empowerment and embrace the moment they stopped running. Sandra says that she wants ‘for them to leave Youth in View knowing they’re not victims, but they are victors.

Why Organizations Should Discontinue Newsletters

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Obviously, if you do not have a website at this point in your organization’s history, we should talk about that first. More often, I encounter organizational clients who are not sure how to best utilize the resources they have which especially when it comes to their website and how to increase their visibility on the web. My first presentation is to let them know that they have been focusing on the wrong resources especially as it relates to distributing information to their readers using newsletters.

Rather than lamenting the lack of capital and financial capability, I scaffold and help them construct a translation process to change content into capital. One easy example of content that is not being used to its potential as a translatable commodity is the traditional newsletter. Allow me to use this old-school social media platform as a case in point.

Rather than the traditional print and distribution model, I suggest that your organization switch to a blog powered by a content management system (CMS). CMS is typically described as a way to organize and produce content on the web. Its less-hyped function is as a traffic magnet. Its power in this area depends on the CMS you choose AND the most important and abundant resource you have: Content. Your monthly newsletter is an important source of content. You may be wasting this resource confining it to 20th century methods of dissemination. The switch I propose will result in at least 3 key capabilities that aid the translation of this content into capital: Search, Sharing, and Marketing.

Gain: Search Capability
Archiving is an obvious feature in the digital space. Many organizational newsletter producers save a copy for download in PDF format from their websites. What is lacking in this is the ability of web users to query or stumble upon each individual article through search engines. Foregoing this wastes valuable potential connection points with your target audience.

A blog provides the enhanced ability to search or stumble based on actual content, organizational tags, categories, and concepts. The author of the piece may be a draw, not to mention the author’s own incentive to popularize the article. The references may be a draw. It is a common practice to mingle current events in your articles. People searching to learn more about a particular event will find your blog (or digital newsletter if you prefer).

Gain: Share Capability
Another important feature of a blog is the ability to add social media sharing tools automatically to each article. You can also add plug-ins that make logical and word-based relationships between your articles. This supports the linking and threading of content shared to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

An effective CMS like WordPress can allow your content to be seamlessly and easily viewed on multiple screens and multiple platforms to increase engagement. This means that those who like and share an article or picture share it to viewers who can join the experience on whatever device they choose. The addition of social media links means that any device becomes another distribution point. Your reach becomes exponential, not only because of its digital nature but also because of its convenience.

Gain: Marketing Capability
Consistent posts and new content on your site is a key to Google rankings. 500 words a day could increase your visibility and may make yours an attractive location for advertisers, partners, and your target audience. To accomplish this consistency, a CMS can be pre-loaded with articles that post each day. You already have a newsletter with multiple articles. Post them on a schedule. If you have themed or topic-based sections, set the Political posts to occur on a specific day and the Culture posts to occur on another day in the same pattern each week. Train your readers to expect a certain theme or topic on certain days.

If you are an association, this increases your ability to tell your story, promote events, and disseminate resources. If you are an educational institution, CMS allows you to continue educating, informing, and connecting your students while they study and your alumni after they graduate. If you are an enterprising individual, your “authority” and “klout” as an author may be bolstered solidifying your expertise.

For Readers Who Like Print
The beauty of CMS and plugins that are available is that you are able to present the content in different ways. Readers who are only interested in print can be supported to print an aggregated version themselves. Alternatively, the content creator can use plugins or code a “newsletter” creator that mimics the .pdf download option. In addition, individual articles can both be presented with multimedia bells and whistles AND printable stripped of graphics and menus. Moving to a blog from a traditional newsletter provides the most flexibility for traditional readers, new readers, and those yet to stumble upon your great content.

Funders, Your Grant Application Process May Be Perpetuating Inequity

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A few weeks ago, a fellow Executive Director of color and a friend of mine, “Maria,” was nearly in tears after failing for a second time to get a small grant. She doesn’t drink, or else I would have offered access to the personal minibar that I keep in my office. A shot of Wild Turkey and a brisk walk always cheer me up after a grant rejection.

“I’m so tired,” Maria said over the phone, “I can’t continue putting in my own money to keep this afloat. Maybe nonprofit is just not for me. It’s too hard.” She had spent over 40 hours on these two grants, and I had spent over 12 hours facilitating part of a board retreat, helping develop the logic model, revising the budgets, editing the narratives, and providing moral support.

The grant was a one-time award for less than 10K, and she had been told repeatedly, by different people at this foundation, that her work was important and much needed.

The purpose of this story is not to call out a particular foundation, but to highlight the fact that the standard grant application process needs a deep overhaul because it is leaving behind too many communities.

This past year, my organization assumes more and more the role of a quasi-funder. Rainier Valley Corps (RVC), was formed to build the capacity of communities-of-color-led nonprofits while simultaneously developing leaders of color. We do this by selecting host sites and then sending emerging leaders of color that we train (and whose wages we pay) to these organizations, where they work full-time for one or more years to build these organizations’ capacity. The ethnic CBOs increase their capacity and effectiveness and ability to be involved at the systems level, and the field has a slew of awesome future nonprofit leaders of color that I will personally help to train to be kick-ass nonprofit warriors. Our inaugural cohort of ten leaders starts this September.

Because small nonprofits have to apply to be partners and host sites in our program, we have started being viewed as somewhat of a funder. (We have the best of both worlds: The joy of having to reject great organizations, and the fundraising-associated night terrors of being a nonprofit). I noticed the shift in dynamics when I was visiting these organizations as part of the review process, and some people seemed visibly nervous. As I mentioned earlier, program officers are instantly 27% more attractive than civilians. Suddenly, my wrinkles were marks of experience, my twitching left eye now charming, and this weird gap between my front two teeth a distinguishing feature. Not only that, but apparently my jokes on those site visits were 100% funnier too!

All of that is to say that I’ve been more sympathetic to the challenges that we brilliant, dashing funders are facing, as well as more cognizant of the elements that have been helping or hindering marginalized communities. (PS: I know the term “marginalized communities” can be controversial, and a future post may focus on this, but for now, let’s continue with this term).


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For the past few years, everyone has been talking about Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Cultural Competency. This is good. But when these things do not actually come with profound changes in systems and processes, they can actually cause more harm. Equity, in particular, has been a shiny new concept adopted by many funders. A basic tenet of equity in our line of work is that the communities that are most affected by societal problems are leading the efforts to address these challenges. And yet, many foundations’ application process is deeply inequitable, leaving behind the people and communities who are most affected by the injustices we as a sector are trying to address.

Eight signs that your foundations may be inadvertently perpetuating inequity:

Your application takes more than 10 to 15 hours to complete:  Some grants are ridiculously, hair-tearingly, wall-punchingly time-consuming. An ED friend, who is white, told me her team spent over 70 hours on a single grant once due to the dozens of pages of narrative, a complex budget template, and various attachments. 70 hours. This is a relatively large nonprofit with several staff who are all fluent in English. They didn’t get the grant and were very frustrated. Besides the fact that none of us have 70 hours to waste when there are so many community needs to address, if this grant is difficult for a team that’s fluent in English and in grantwriting, imagine how much harder it will be for an organization led by marginalized communities, who may not be fluent in English, or who may not have writing experience or outside support. If your application is basically a Ph. D. dissertation, you’re perpetuating inequity.

Your LOI is a mini application: An LOI is the first step for many grant applications. Its purpose is for the funder to quickly discern if an organization is a potential good match for its priorities, kind of like samples of naturally fermented sauerkraut at the farmer’s market. It is usually just a two-page letter. But some funders seem to think that this should be an entire grant application and ask for budget attachments, logic models, workplans, resumes, board chair signature, etc. This totally misses the point of the LOI, and an insidious effect is that it creates an extra barrier for grassroots organizations led by communities that are of color, LGBTQ, rural, disabled, etc.

You require more than five attachments: It takes little effort to require something—“Hey, we should ask them to submit three previous years’ budget-to-actuals reports and next year’s budget projections, so we can see how they’ve been growing”— but the repercussions for many communities are significant. For instance, it takes you all of 30 seconds to ask for and look at a Logic Model, but Maria and her team had to spend 10 hours to develop this, since they had never heard of it before. Yes, it was good for them to have it, but the same information could have been obtained by asking “Please tell us about your activities and how they will lead to short-term and long-term results for your clients and community.” The more attachments you require, the more inequitable your process is, because marginalized communities have less time and resources to create the various documents you require.

You require organizations to translate their budget into your format: Yes, there are organizations with crappy budget formats. But a part of the problem may be that funders each require their own budget formats to be used, leading to all sorts of confusion. Most of us in the field would love one standardized budget template that all foundations use. But that is not what’s happening; for every grant application, no matter how big or small, we have to take hours to recombine and move numbers around in order to conform to varying templates. And again, organizations led by communities of color and other marginalized communities will be disproportionately affected, since they have less time. Not every organization has a CFO, one trained in using arcane Excel voodoo magic to get numbers to align perfectly in order to increase their final application score. 

You overly rely on a scorecard to determine funding decisions: Score cards are a quick and simple way to distill complex information: 40 points possible for the narrative, 15 points for the budget, 10 points for the Theory of Change, etc. However, there are critical elements of an organization’s work that cannot be quantified: The value of the organization to its clients, historical traumas the communities it serves have faced, cultural elements of leadership, etc. These things are complex and messy, so we prefer not to deal with them at all. The score card gives us an illusion of objectivity, but it is an illusion, as well as a crutch. Use the score card as a tool for discussion, not as the primary means to make funding decisions. Equity requires us to take the harder path and deal with the messy stuff. 

Your grant is invitation-only: I know some funders are well-meaning, trying to reduce admin costs of processing endless requests so that more funding can go to the community, and trying to save potential grantees’ time. However, organizations led by communities of color, for example, will rarely have the same relationship with you, or run in your circles to eventually build a relationship with you, or have a big enough marketing budget to get noticed by you. The relationship-based funding model is inequitable because marginalized communities in general have fewer relationships with those who have power and resources. Unless you are specifically focused on finding and supporting these communities, your invitation-only process is likely leaving them behind, and you may not know it, because you are invitation-only.

You are rigid in the percentage of an organization’s budget you will fund: Some foundations will fund no more than 15% of an organization’s budget; some only 20%, or whatever. But organizations led by marginalized communities will tend to have smaller budgets, so they will likely get less funding in general. If an organization led by communities of color has a budget of 100K, and you only fund 10% of any budget, then they cannot hope to get over 10K, whereas an organization with a budget of 1 million will be able to get 100K. Applying a rigid fixed percentage means organizations and communities that most need funding will get the least funding. 

Your application takes more than six months to process: I know grant processes that take nine months to a year before applicants hear anything. Usually this is because the funders want to do a really thorough job considering every application. That’s commendable, but a lot can happen in nine months: Strategies change, cashflow dwindle, staff get laid off, babies are born, critical programs fold. The bigger, stronger organizations may be able to weather these various tumultuous changes, but many smaller organizations led by communities most affected by inequity, they in general have less buffer. The longer you take to make a decision, the less accessible and helpful you are to communities that are most affected by inequity.

Making the grant application process more equitable

In many ways, our grant application process is very similar to our hiring process, but it seems to be even more complicated: “We have a job opening available. To apply, please submit your cover, resume, credit history, personal budget, diploma, copy of driver’s license, professional development plan, three writing samples, work plan for your first 12 months on the job, your family tree, and five letters of recommendations.” We have archaic and inequitable hiring practices, and we wonder why we don’t have enough people of color in the field. We have archaic and inequitable grant processes, and we wonder why we don’t have enough organizations led by marginalized communities at various tables.

So, what should you do? Here are some suggestions, gathered with help from some of my hair-pulling, rapidly-aging, occasionally wall-punching colleagues:

Require most attachments AFTER you’ve decided to fund an organization. Once we organizations know we have a high likelihood of getting funded, we will clock-474128_640gladly polish the logic model, create a theory of change diagram, compile 12 years of budget reports, make a shoebox diorama of our relationships to other orgs, write and perform a puppet play explaining our evaluation model, or whatever else you need. This will save everyone’s time and sanity and will greatly help organizations led by marginalized communities, since they don’t have much time to spare.

Provide technical assistance throughout the process: Help organizations make their case. Give feedback and provide support, especially for stuff you require. You might be thinking, “But, that’s not fair to organizations that don’t get the feedback and support.” I would say that fairness often gets in the way of equity. If we want to support communities of color, and LGBTQ, disabled, and rural communities, we must focus more attention and resources on them.

Segment your grant into two or more tracks, one for larger organizations, one for smaller organizations: It is inequitable and ineffective to expect small organizations who have few staff and likely no grantwriters to compete with established organizations who have dedicated grantwriting support. They will always be left in the dust. Have the big orgs compete with one another, and the small orgs compete with one another. (Note: Do not give less to the applicants in the smaller-orgs track; if anything, give more.)

Fund a larger percentage of smaller orgs’ budgets: Nonprofits founded and led by marginalized communities tend to have smaller budgets, so the funding they receive is critical. Dispense with the whole “we only fund 10% of your budget” thing. If an organization led by marginalized communities does important work, if it’s fulfilling a need that no one else is addressing, why not fund 30% or 50% or even 100% of its work? This support, especially in the beginning, is critical to ensuring these organizations gain their bearing, create infrastructure, develop a track record, and survive long enough to get other funding. 

Create a simple renewal process: You already have a relationship with a grantee. Why make them jump through the same hoops and waste time when they should be focused on delivering services.

Ask applicants how much time they spent working on your grant:  Maybe ask this instead of the irritating sustainability question. Analyze to see if there’s a pattern between organizations led by marginalized communities and those that are not. Or run through your own application process by creating a fictional nonprofit and actually writing a grant. I’m willing to bet that most foundations have never had to experience what it’s like to apply to their own grants. 

And of course, stop being invitation-only. And give general operating funds, and give significant amounts that can help organizations grow. (Check out last’s weeks list of 12 awesome things funders are doing as they all help increase equity)

Less paternalism, more partnership

Overall, our grant application process needs to change. As much as we say that individual donors provide the largest chunk of funds for nonprofits, the reality is that this does not always apply to grassroots organizations led by communities that are of color, LGBTQ, disabled, rural, etc. These organizations usually have a stronger reliance on foundation support until they can establish a strong base of individual donors, which may take several years.

After I hung up with Maria, I chugged a small bottle of Wild Turkey from my mini bar and called up the program officer, who has been a great advocate for communities and leaders of color. The review team didn’t find some of the things she wrote to align with the grant’s priorities, I was told. That’s fine, I said, but why make a small grant so hard? Well, she replied, this is usually one of the first grants that small orgs seek out, and we want to make sure they develop some grantwriting skills; trial by fire, etc.

After venting to a colleague about how exhausting another grant was, I was told that the foundation designed this process to be challenging on purpose, in order to “help” nonprofits gain experience with difficult grants.

In each of the above scenarios, funders are well-meaning. But honestly, you’re just creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you perpetuate a difficult system and get others to navigate it, instead of questioning why it needs to be so difficult in the first place. If your foundation prides itself on a tough application process, it is priding itself for perpetuating inequity. You are proud of inadvertently leaving the communities most affected by injustice behind. If your process causes good people to want to quit nonprofit, something is wrong. And if these good people also happen to rank among the few leaders from marginalized communities doing this type of work, something is seriously wrong.

To achieve equity, we must focus on both content as well as process. The content in philanthropy has started shifting more and more toward equity, diversity, inclusion, etc. This is really great. But if the process doesn’t simultaneously shift, we’re not going to get anywhere. We must dispense with the belief that all organizations and communities have the same amount of time, and a full-time finance person, and a professional grantwriter. We must start to treat nonprofits, especially the ones led by leaders from marginalized communities, as partners, and support them to grow. The well-meaning paternalism of many grant application processes needs to stop.

These are all tall orders, and I am learning it the hard way, as my organization figures out our own process. We decided to accept handwritten applications, for example, and actually got an applicant who hand-wrote the application! But, I am positive we can do it. After all, we funders and quasi-funders are good-looking and smart, we can figure this out.

Children’s of Alabama Hosts Special Presentation on Child Health with Princeton University and the Brookings Institute

Children's Hospital of Alabama May the 4th Be With You -Facebook
Children’s Hospital of Alabama May the 4th Be With You -Facebook

BIRMINGHAM – Children’s of Alabama will welcome the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institute to Birmingham to present Volume 25 Number 1 Spring 2015 of The Future of Children, Policies to Promote Child Health. This collaboration of two world-class institutions is aimed at translating the best social science research about children and youth into information that is useful to policymakers, practitioners, grant-makers, advocates, the media and students of public policy.

Nancy Reichman, PhD, a professor of pediatrics at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University and a visiting professor in the department of economics at Princeton University, will present an overview of the chapter “How Healthy Are Our Children?” to the Children’s medical staff during Grand Rounds at noon on Thursday, July 9. Reichman’s presentation will summarize the health of America’s children and the role and extent of government investments in children that are examined in the chapter that was written by Sara Rosenbaum of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University and Robert Blum of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins.

Following Grand Rounds, Reichman will present an overview to attendees of an afternoon conference and will be joined by James Ziliak, PhD, founding director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky, who will present the findings from the chapter on Food Assistance Program and Child Health written by Craig Gundersen of the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois.

Ziliak will also lead a panel discussion featuring child nutrition programs that are working to improve child health. Panel members include Grant Brigham, executive director of the Jones Valley Teaching Farm in Birmingham; Stephanie Cihon of ProMedica, a non-profit health care system headquartered in Toledo, Ohio; Harriet Giles, managing director of the Hunger Solutions Institute and director of external relations in the College of Human Sciences, Auburn University; Dave Reaney, executive director at Bay Area Food Bank in Mobile; and Margaret Morton, ‎executive director of the Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement, Inc.

This presentation of The Future of Children marks the first time the journal has been unveiled in a pediatric hospital.

“We are proud and honored to host this great event here at Children’s,” said president and CEO Mike Warren. “For more than 100 years, our mission has been to serve as advocates for all children and to educate the public about issues affecting children’s health and well-being. Having a role in the presentation of the important child health research published in the latest volume of The Future of Children embodies those efforts to meet the health care needs of all children and to serve as advocates on their behalf.”

The first joint Future of Children journal was published in 2005. Each covers a single issue relating to children. Two journals and policy briefs are published each year, and are complemented by a variety of related outreach events including numerous activities and conferences, an active website, a blog and webcasts of many of the outreach presentations. Topics range widely—from income policy to family issues to education to health—with children’s policy as the unifying element.

The senior editorial team represents two institutions and multiple disciplines. Editor-in-Chief Sara McLanahan is the director of the Center for Research on Child Wellbeing and the William S. Tod Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University.

Senior editors include Ron Haskins, senior fellow and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, and a senior consultant at the Annie E. Casey Foundation; Cecilia Rouse, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Katzman-Ernst Professor in the Economics of education and professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University; Janet Currie, director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing and Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University; and Isabel Sawhill, senior fellow, and co-director of the Center on Children and Families and Cabot Family Chair at the Brookings Institution.

The Future of Children is supported by staff at both Princeton and Brookings. Associate editor Kris McDonald and managing editor Jon Wallace oversee the project; Lisa Markman-Pithers and Reid Quade organize outreach activities; and Regina Leidy coordinates communications.

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research and, based on that research, to provide innovative, practical recommendations that strengthen American democracy, foster the economic and social welfare, security and opportunity of all Americans and secure a more open, safe, prosperous and cooperative international system. Brookings is consistently ranked as the most influential, most quoted and most trusted think tank in the world.

Chartered in 1746, Princeton University is the fourth-oldest college in the United States. It is an independent, coeducational, nondenominational institution that provides undergraduate and graduate instruction in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering. As a world-renowned research university, Princeton seeks to achieve the highest levels of distinction in the discovery and transmission of knowledge and understanding. Today, more than 1,100 faculty members instruct approximately 5,200 undergraduate students and 2,600 graduate students.

Since 1911, Children’s of Alabama has provided specialized medical care for ill and injured children. Ranked among the best pediatric medical centers in the nation by US News & World Report, Children’s provided care for youngsters from every county in Alabama, 42 other states and 10 foreign countries last year, representing more than 653,000 outpatient visits and nearly 14,000 inpatient admissions.

With more than 2 million square feet, it is the third largest pediatric medical facility in the U.S. Children’s offers inpatient and outpatient services across its Russell Campus on Birmingham’s historic Southside with additional specialty services provided at Children’s South, Children’s on 3rd and in Huntsville and Montgomery. Primary care is provided at more than a dozen medical offices in communities across central Alabama.

Children’s of Alabama is the only medical center in Alabama dedicated solely to the care and treatment of children. It is a private, not-for-profit medical center that serves as the primary site of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) pediatric medicine, surgery, psychiatry, research and residency programs. More information is available at www.childrensal.org.

New Field Placement Model With Crittenton Earns Award from CSU Fullerton for its “Teaching and Mentorship” Culture

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Fullerton, Calif. – Crittenton Services for Children and Families (CSCF) is proud to announce the agency’s nomination and selection as this year’s recipient of the Most Committed Partner award by both the CSUF Social Work Department and the CSUF Center for Internship & Community Engagement (CICE).

Each year CICE hosts its annual Community Engagement Awards as a way to highlight students, faculty and community partners in their efforts to strengthen the bonds of engagement that connect the University and the community. CICE’s main mission is to bring faculty, students, and community partners together to create high impact practices for student success.

“Our collaborative partnership with CSUF extends learning from the classroom to the community, giving students experiential learning opportunities that will build their skills, their resumes, and their ability to positively impact the world around them. It is truly a win-win,” said Joyce Capelle, Chief Executive Officer, CSCF, “We are honored to have worked alongside outstanding faculty and staff of CSUF for more than a decade, in order to provide students practical work experience while at the same time making a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable youth.”

Under the “Stellar Support of Students” category the CSUF Department of Social Work nominated Crittenton as an organization that has made a difference in the career trajectory of students via mentorship.  As part of the non-profit’s mission, Crittenton, has made it a part of its strategic plan to make the idea of a “teaching institution” a reality and part of the overall agency culture. For its efforts in guiding and mentoring students, Crittenton has been recognized for going above and beyond its duties as an experiential learning host site.

In addition, as of 2015 both Crittenton and CSUF celebrate a 10-year anniversary of working together to serve vulnerable children and their families curtail the effects of child abuse, neglect, and trauma.

Since the inception of this evidenced-based field placement opportunity for social services, human services, and social work students have been able to take ample opportunity to earn academic units, licensing requirements and gain valuable work experience at a nationally accredited agency.

In fact, throughout this 10-year partnership period, roughly 121 undergraduates and 35 graduate students from CSUF have been given the opportunity to take part of a non-profit’s mission with a connection to a proud national child welfare legacy that goes back to 1883. Nearly 30 CSUF students have been hired as Crittenton employees via this partnership.

At the helm of this internship program collaboration with CSUF is executive team member and CSUF Alumna, Denise Cunningham, Senior Vice President of Crittenton Services.

Cunningham has been a strong advocate of community partnerships between Crittenton and higher education institutions, and has also served in the capacity of a mentor. Her commitment to student success is such that as of this year the CSUF Social Work Department has appointed her Chairperson of the department’s advisory council.

To build tomorrow’s workforce in the human services fields it takes the acquisition of knowledge in the classroom in tandem with developing skill-sets in the community. Crittenton’s partnership with CSUF is an excellent example of this collaborative approach to developing effective practitioners and future change agents.

TalkPoverty is Lifting the Voices of Impoverished Communities

TalkPoverty

Citizens living below the poverty line are often treated as an absent third party while policy makers and service providers decide what “they” need in order to become productive members of society. Debates are launched about how the poor game the system, their laziness, immorality and poor choices leading them to a cycle of generational poverty, but how can we be the experts on communities in which we do not live? Typically when we do let someone struggling with poverty have access to a platform to speak, we are using them as a testimonial to provide proof or support for our decision-making.

However, TalkPoverty is taking a nuanced approach to advocacy by creating a platform specifically to elevate the voices of low-income communities. What will happen if we let members from impoverished communities be stakeholders in the policy making conversations that affect them directly? What could we learn? In social work, we have a term called client-centered practice which means the client is the expert on their life, but it our job to help them use that knowledge to improve their outcomes.

This week, I had the opportunity to chat with Tracey Ross who is one half of the dynamic duo hosting the TalkPoverty Radio Show on the We Act Radio network beginning April 30th at 4:00 PM EST.  Check out our conversation below:

SWH: Can you tell us about TalkPoverty and your role with the organization?

Tracey: TalkPoverty is actually an arm of the Center for American Progress’ poverty team. Just over a year ago, Greg Kaufman, former poverty reporter for The Nation, joined CAP’s poverty team as a Senior Fellow and started TalkPoverty.org, a blog that features stories from low-income families and other community members who explain the impact of our public policies and provide information on grassroots actions across the country helping build to momentum and dramatically reduce poverty.

Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to launch TalkPoverty Radio on SiriusXM Insight, produced by Greg and our colleague Alyssa Peterson.  On April 30th, we’re relaunching the show on the We Act Radio network, a progressive radio station in the heart of DC’s Anacostia neighborhood. We’re using this as another platform to lift up the untold stories of some of the 45 million Americans living below the poverty line.

While this is a serious topic, the show manages to be both entertaining and informative as we work to dispel myths, offer solutions, and call out people and structures creating barriers for people struggling on the brink. Each week, my co-host, Rebecca Vallas and I will speak with grassroots advocates, journalists, elected officials and people living in poverty in order to share important perspectives with our listeners.

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SWH: What are the top priorities for TalkPoverty, and what activities are you currently engaged in to accomplish those goals? 

Tracey: One of our main goals for TalkPoverty Radio is to increase the quantity and quality of poverty reporting. Less than 1 percent of media coverage is dedicated to reporting on poverty. And while there are great reporters covering this issue, there are many news outlets that rely on stereotypes about people living in poverty and don’t provide a nuanced discussion about the causes and solutions. For instance, while many people know that roughly 15 percent of the population is living in poverty, based on many news stories, you would think it was the same people year in and year out. In reality, 4 out of 5 Americans will experience at least one year of economic insecurity at some point in their working years. This is a failure of our economy.

Further, we understand that people experiencing poverty are the real experts, so we give airtime to low-income people, so they can speak for themselves.

SWH:  What are the biggest challenges and barriers you face in creating awareness on poverty?

Tracey: Unfortunately, a majority of Americans report having a family member living in poverty, so I think we’re at a point in time when people are increasingly aware of some of the causes of poverty. A poll we conducted revealed that nearly two-thirds of Americans strongly believe that poverty is primarily the result of a failed economy rather than personal failings. The public also express very strong support for key policies to fight poverty, such as increasing the minimum wage, expanding health care coverage, supporting nutrition assistance, etc.

I think the real challenge we face is holding policymakers accountable. While leaders from both sides of the aisle are increasingly talking about poverty, conservatives in Congress are blocking or cutting key programs that the public supports and that help working families. And we need more progressive candidates to include fighting poverty in their platforms. The public supports these policies, so we need to build a movement to ensure policymakers are doing the public’s will here.

SWH: How can others engage and support TalkPoverty’s efforts?

Tracey: The blog is always looking for contributors from low-income families, but we also hope people will share links to the blog and the show. While many people support specific policies to fight poverty, we need to ensure that this issue gets the attention it deserves, and that people hold elected officials accountable. Lifting up the stories of low-income people, as well as advocates like yourself, will bring life to this issue and will hopefully contribute to a the growing movement for a more equitable economic system.

As our show’s tag line states: “Tune in. Fight back.”

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