Archives For November 2013

Investing in opportunity

GUEST BLOGGER: Brandon Baker, Director of Development, Kids-U


We’re happy to have been mentioned in Ira Silver’s new book Giving Hope: How You Can Restore The American Dream as one of 75 nonprofits nationwide that is efficiently using our resources to increase access to opportunity.

The success of Kids-U stems from “collective impact,” which is when a group of individuals from numerous sectors come together to solve a social problem. For us, that group is Dallas Social Venture Partners, an array of professionals in the Dallas area who aim – in their words – “To Do Good Better.” DSVP doesn’t just throw money at the problem; these men and women take a systematic business approach to finding solutions. They assign a team of professionals to work with local nonprofits to help them create sustainability and develop strategic marketing, while providing coaching, mentoring, and board development. The services, training, and knowledge they provide is invaluable.

Kids-U was an investee of DSVP in 2010. Notice the word “investee” – that’s how the various Social Venture Partners across the U.S. think about the groups they fund. They support scalable social enterprises, thinking about the nonprofits they support as businesses.

Many people have told me they like Kids-U’s business model and want to know how they can adopt it and make it scalable in other neighborhoods across the U.S. I have met with at least 6 agencies in the last year telling them how we created our model, negotiated our contracts, and implement our programming.

Our unique approach is that we charge the owners of our apartment complexes to have our services in their low-income, high-crime apartment communities. This seems like a simple concept to anyone from the business world, yet it’s something very few others in the apartment-based, after-school industry in Dallas have tried. And I’d like to take it one decisive step further, by creating a fully sustainable model that doesn’t have to rely on outside funding.

This may sound impossible, but it hardly is. We’re modeling ourselves on an organization in Austin, Foundations Communities. They buy and own their own apartment complexes and provide social services like education, shelter for victims of domestic violence, and counseling. They’re solving multiple issues using affordable housing as the delivery mechanism. They are taking away barriers for people who previously couldn’t receive services because they couldn’t travel across town, or they didn’t know they had certain options available.

Foundations Communities takes the money they make from their apartment communities (renters pay on a sliding scale based on income) and invest it back into the members of their communities through educational and supportive programs. At Kids-U, we’re moving towards this business model after seeing firsthand its ability to dramatically impact the people of that community. Instead of being a burden on the local economy, they are driving it through property development, creating jobs, providing places for the homeless to live, and educating people to be self-reliant.

So, the next time you see the word “investee,” think about how a model of sustainability could impact your city or your sector of the industry…in the way this has successfully occurred in Dallas!

Ounces of prevention in the fight against homelessness

GUEST BLOGGER: Linda Wood-Boyle, President & Executive Director, HomeStart Inc.


Providing opportunity for all can be a tough task when addressing homelessness. But organizations across the United States, and here in Massachusetts, have found success in ending homelessness through creative thinking. As an agency that has worked with homeless families and individuals for 20 years, we recognize that one of the most creative solutions to ending homelessness is to stop it before it started.

Ten years ago, HomeStart, Inc. became one of the first agencies in Boston to focus on homelessness prevention. At the time, there wasn’t much we could do to help families and individuals on the precipice of homelessness until after they were already in shelter. We recognized, however, that it didn’t make much sense to wait until people had entered the system to help them if there were ways to offer them effective assistance while they were still housed.

Thus, our homelessness prevention program was born. It has been incredibly successful in keeping people out of the shelter system and lowering taxpayer costs. We strongly believe it could be even more effective if resources were available to help people long before they are living on the edge.

In the decade since we began providing homelessness prevention services, we’ve learned how much more cost-effective it is to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place than it is to help house them after the fact. Consider these facts: the Commonwealth of Massachusetts spends $30,000 every time a family enters the state family shelter system, including resources spent on shelters and motels, and $2,000 per month per bed in the individual shelter system. According to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, in December 2012, there were 3,800 families with children and pregnant women in Massachusetts’ Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter program. You can do the math – $30,000 times 3,800 families. Failing to prevent people from falling into homelessness is expensive for the Commonwealth, and not in the best interest of those families to be in shelters or motels.

In contrast, HomeStart has helped almost 3,000 families and individuals in the 10 years we’ve been doing this work. Our average cost is $1,500, which includes emergency rental assistance and administrative costs. In fact, in assessing a pilot program we are pursuing with the Boston Housing Authority, we estimate that we reduced the number of forced evictions by 61 percent, which saved the city and taxpayers more than $360,000 in eviction costs alone.

There are always more people we can help who are living on the edge, but as we are looking to the future, and where our resources can best be applied, we think it makes sense for agencies like HomeStart to direct our attention to individuals and families long before they reach the crisis stage. As an agency, we provide stabilization services to people coming out of shelter and living in transitional or permanent housing. Doesn’t it make sense to provide families in crisis with those kinds of services before they are on the verge of eviction?

The federal government, through the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), has put a lot of effort into applying the principles of Housing First to chronically homeless individuals. And by most accounts, including through the experience that we have working with the chronically homeless at HomeStart, it has been a success. By providing men and women who have struggled to remain housed with wrap-around services in addition to their housing, we have seen a significant number of individuals successfully break the cycle of chronic homelessness. It may be time to apply a similar level of care and assistance to those who are near homelessness, but haven’t quite reached crisis stage yet.

We know prevention works. In a strange way, we can tell through the absence – the absence of individuals and families who we see in shelter once we’ve successfully prevented them from entering the system or the absence of phone calls and requests for assistance we receive from them once we’ve helped them avoid homelessness. But we can also tell by how cost-effective it is for the Commonwealth and its taxpayers. As we look to the next ten years and to the creative solutions we need to provide opportunity for all, it makes sense to apply what we’ve learned to help people before they even get to the immediate crisis stage. By doing so, we’ll be proving once again that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – in this case, the pounds are measured in stable lives and lower costs.

Reversing the cycle of poverty

GUEST BLOGGER: Brenda Lyle, Founder and Executive Director, Family Learning Center


For over 33 years, I have worked with low-income and minority children and their families at the Family Learning Center in Boulder, Colorado. I founded this nonprofit to provide pathways to economic sustainability, positive early childhood and youth development, and health and wellness skills for families with children living at or below poverty level.

Although much of the Boulder population is white and above the average Colorado and US household income, 17% of families live in poverty.  Many are from minority populations: African-American, Hispanic, and Native American. Their children lag behind their white peers. Some of the challenges facing poor and minority children include lack of mastery of skills beginning in kindergarten, which accumulate from grade to grade, leaving the children farther and farther behind.

The only way to combat this problem is from within their cultures, families, and communities, working in a sustainable cycle of cradle to career. We address the whole family, with programs for educational mastery, cultural identity, health and wellness, and economic and business skill development. Pride in cultural identity is essential to success for the entire family. Mastery of skills promotes self-esteem among children and their families. Knowing they have a chance to succeed and contribute to the community by pursuing education and careers not only stops the poverty cycle, but also sets an example for other families. That way, children can see that being poor or a minority does not mean they cannot succeed and thrive. And the model works – 100% of our children graduate high school; 95% go on to college. Their families achieve economic and family stability – and a strong cultural pride and identity too!

Changing the Trajectory of Young People’s Lives

GUEST BLOGGER: Rafael Alvarez, Founder and CEO, Genesys Works

I am honored to join an ongoing conversation on this blog and across America about the opportunity gap that divides those who have and those who seemingly never will. Whether through school-based services like Communities in Schools, education recovery and training programs like YouthBuild USA, or college success initiatives like College Bound, the need is tremendous. I am humbled to be a partner in this work to bridge the divide.

Eleven years ago, I walked away from a coveted corporate position in business strategy to address the lack of educational attainment of disadvantaged youth. I had seen firsthand the bleak scholastic and occupational prospects facing economically challenged high school students and at the same time understood the industry need for a diverse pool of high-skilled talent.

What began as a humble effort to help just 10 students has grown to serve nearly 2,500 students to date and is becoming a driving force in bridging the gap between corporate America and the education system. Genesys Works engages economically disadvantaged high school seniors in professional corporate internships, changing their trajectory in life. Established in Houston in 2002, Genesys Works now serves the Bay Area, Chicago, and the Twin Cities. This year nearly 1,000 Genesys Works interns will engage in meaningful internships at major corporations, like AT&T, Accenture, and JPMorgan Chase.

More than 95% of Genesys Works’ alumni are accepted to college and 86% persist beyond their freshman year. Along with many partner organizations across America, Genesys Works is truly changing the trajectory of life for low-income high school students.

Inspiring students to achieve

GUEST BLOGGER: Kelly Garrett, Executive Director, KIPP St. Louis

At KIPP St. Louis, our mission is to open doors of opportunity for students. At our flagship charter middle school, KIPP Inspire Academy, dedicated teachers and staff are helping students from underserved backgrounds prepare for college. As the executive director of KIPP St. Louis, I am privileged to work alongside them.

Earlier this year, we celebrated a major milestone for KIPP Inspire. Our founding class of students graduated from 8th grade and went on to some of the area’s top college-prep high schools. Watching our students at their promotion ceremony, I couldn’t help but think about how far we’ve come, both locally and as part of KIPP nationwide.

KIPP got its start twenty years ago this fall. On the evening of October 11, 1993, two young Houston teachers, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, decided to sit down and make a plan. With U2’s “Achtung Baby” playing on repeat, they stayed up all night writing out their ideas for a new kind of school—one that would help students from underserved backgrounds achieve success in college and the world beyond. By morning, the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) was born.

In the two decades since that October night, KIPP has grown into a national network of 141 public charter schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Across the network, KIPP serves over 50,000 students in grades PreK-12, 95 percent of whom are African-American or Latino, and over 85 percent of whom qualify as low-income. All of KIPP’s schools are based on a core premise of high expectations and college readiness, with a strong culture of excellence and collaboration among students, parents, and teachers.

KIPP schools are organized into 31 regional networks, including KIPP St. Louis. Although many of our students come to KIPP Inspire Academy in 5th grade performing several grade levels behind in math and reading, by the time they reach 8th grade their average achievement is higher than their peers’ in the state of Missouri. Earlier this year, a study by Mathematica Policy Research found that KIPP middle schools—like KIPP Inspire—are helping students achieve significant gains in math, reading, science, and social studies.

We are very proud of these results, but we know that the best is yet to come. As our first class of students settles into their college-prep high schools, we are looking ahead to new ways to help prepare St. Louis students for success in college. Most recently, we’ve partnered with St. Louis Public Schools to share best practices, professional development, and facilities, with the hope of creating new opportunities not just for KIPP students, but for those in the public schools around us as well.

As we look forward to the next 20 years of KIPP, I am excited to see what we can learn from our growth and results thus far. We have accomplished a lot, and we have much work still to do if we want to expand educational opportunity for students. Through it all, we remain focused on the mantra that inspired Mike and Dave that night in 1993: “All children can and will learn.”

Planting seeds for success

GUEST BLOGGER: Anscia, 2012 Graduate of The SEED School of Washington, D.C.

The SEED Foundation is proud to have been featured in Ira Silver’s new book, Giving Hope. Anscia, a graduate of one of our boarding schools, shares the impact SEED has had on her.

I am a sophomore marketing major at St. Johns University. When I was growing up, I often wondered how I would get into a college. I knew I could do it. But, living with a grandmother who was not financially able to attend college made me question the likelihood of actually attending. Luckily, The SEED School of Washington D.C. gave me assistance. It always kept college in the forefront of my mind.

During my junior year at SEED, I completed a course called Junior Seminar that prepared me for my college applications. It taught me SAT terminology, enabled me to go on a college tour, and work on a draft of my personal statement. I also worked with my college counselor, Mrs. Richardson, during and after school. These are just a few examples of how SEED has helped prepare me for college.

I have worked a lot with the College Transition & Success (CTS) team since my senior year. I have been assigned a CTS advisor who is there to answer my questions and assist me throughout my undergraduate career.

In addition to support from the CTS team, I have been able to help my school. I am a strong advocate for volunteering, especially when it involves people younger than I. Through the CTS team, I’ve provided tips about middle/high school preparedness and college preparedness to students at The SEED School of Washington, D.C. and The SEED School of Maryland. I’ve really enjoyed speaking to the students. It’s given me the constant reminder that I was in their shoes a few years ago. And now, look at where I am!

SEED’s public boarding schools are in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. We have plans to open a third school in Florida in the fall of 2014. Students live on SEED campuses five days a week and are provided a rigorous academic program, life skills curriculum, and college transition and support services. More than 80 percent of SEED students are first-generation college bound. Like Anscia, more than 90 percent of SEED graduates go on to college. Meet more SEED graduates, and learn more about SEED at