People, Relationship Building and Leadership: How to have a Sustainable and Successful 21st Century Community Learning Center – 3 Tips

There is no doubt that the federalAR2016 Cover 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) grant has impact on those that it serves. It is a viable government program. It’s big and requires a lot of investment of resources. It is not for the faint or unprepared. In Reach is going into its third year of funding and I have finally figured out how to have a sustainable and successful 21st CCLC program.

A little background. In Reach is going into its eighteenth year so I know how to have successful programs. 21st CCLC presented me with a different challenge as it allowed the organization to grow threefold and I had to practice managing, myself and others, differently.

In the first year of funding, grantees were provided with training and information on how to manage a program successfully but that year was such a challenging one for me that managing people took a little bit of backseat to a few other important adjustments like securing the funds. More experienced now as a 21st CCLC grantee, the one thing I know for sure is some things you truly must experience to perfect. In this order.

1. Surround yourself with the right team. I’m sure you’ve read this before. It’s true. So so true. If you do not have the right people – staff, contractors, partners – your work is going to be that much harder. Since I mostly work with educators and they work with students, my number one priority,  its imperative to find the absolute best for the job. Just because an individual may teach in the daytime does not mean he or she is right for the job after school.

2. Train, hold accountable and provide feedback – in that order and continuously.

3. Observations – you can gather a lot by just watching, an awful lot. I cannot stress enough the value of this point. If you want to know how well your program is doing, just watch. Watch everyone and show up regularly to just watch. Even when you have a reporting structure in place, you must continuously observe everything and everyone – data, your staff, the students, families, and partners. I was told this in my first year. In my second year, I was able to better invest time in it which has greatly informed the shaping of my upcoming third year. For example, observing my afterschool instructors who are all certified teachers. At first, I was a little reluctant. I figured they work in the day time with the students they must know what they are doing. And for the most part they do but energy levels change by the hours of after school and so does effectiveness. It’s understandable but those I hire need to understand that if they do not have what is required beyond skill set then this may not be the right place for them.

As the founder and executive director of my organization, I am keenly aware of everything especially meeting targets for funders. I have learned that this must be communicated with the whole team often so that everyone can understand how important it is to move as a highly effective team ready to prepare students for college, work and life.

Can #work be spiritual?

Chicago 2015

“If we are committed to true,  meaningful growth, then, work is a deeply spiritual environment where, through our actions, we can implement our obligations to others, build our confidence and sense of purpose, practice our commitment to the truth, strengthen our inherent optimism, experience gratitude, and live with a greater sense of balance.” Alan Lurie

Five Minutes on Mondays: Finding Unexpected Purpose, Peace, and Fulfillment at Work

Of Lent and #Leadership

This year, more thyellow floweran at any other time, as the founder and executive director of a nonprofit organization, In Reach, Inc., it became more apparent that I needed to take better care of my emotional and spiritual self. In the midst of my organization being awarded the largest grant in its sixteen year history also came a tremendous headache with the funder. A headache so enormous that I am surprised my brain is still intact. But this story is not about them. It’s about my personal journey to stay focused on the path I set out on more than 16 years ago to improve the lives of children and youth.

This brings me to the season of Lent.

I have never participated in Lent. I’ve always thought it odd that people give up things like chocolate, Facebook and other seemingly meaningless things, to me. I did not think that that was what Lent was truly about. Not understanding Lent through what I was witnessing from others and apparently not really paying attention in church, I usually did not give too much thought to it. However, in the midst of the challenges of dealing with that one funder and having increased feelings of burn-out, it became clear to me that I needed to make a lifestyle change. Finally, I understood the role Lent could play in this decision. I am all about lifestyle changes. If there is something I need to give up, it would have to have real meaning. I began reading about Lent so that I could understand what I was about to do.

“Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection,” I read. For the first time, it was clear to me. I knew what I needed to give up. The lifestyle change I needed to make so that I could continue doing the work that I love. The work I believe I was called to do. I would give up anxiety. Anxiety. The thing that makes my heart flutter and while spiritually I try not to question God’s plan, I certainly find ways to stress myself about events that I do not control and never will.

I started reading two plans in my YouVersion Bible App – Lent Journey and Preparing Our Hearts for Easter: A Lenten Devotional. I was wholeheartedly in. Never had I felt as committed to giving up something as much as I had felt about giving up this one. Anxiety is not my friend. He brings me self-doubt, unrest and negativity. Three experiences I can’t afford in my line of work where my behavior influences so many others.

Next, I began to change how I work. Really this time. I reorganized my work day with emphasis on better managing my schedule, time and energy. Leadership is difficult and certainly operating a small nonprofit organization is no cake walk. Trying to convince people to care about and support people that they do not know is not easy.

Finally, days after the season has ended, I feel I have made progress. More importantly, I am on the right path to keep doing so. I still have more work to do; however, I know that since I believe in God, a greater being, I must act. He requires me to do so. Here, on this Easter, as I give praise for what has been done for me through Christ, I will have courage, faith and a lot less anxiety so that I can continue in the footsteps before me as a leader in my community and the lives of people I so deeply care about.

When #Employees Run-a-Muck

DSCN0025What do you do when your employee, who after confirming more than once that she would return to work at the end of her maternity leave does not; and then not only does she not return but gives less than two days notice? And, days later, you learn that she went to work with a former partner that she vehemently said disgusted her throughout the working relationship.

I was confused, not because she was not coming back, I figured that out months ago, anyone who repeatedly volunteers information that isn’t requested is up to something; but that she gave so little notice to go work with people who gave us so many headaches. Problem or Opportunity?

Already in the early stages of strategic planning focusing on talent recruitment and development, I quickly rendered this an opportunity and lesson learned. An opportunity to start over with someone who will be more suited for my small and growing organization, who appreciates and respects the environment in which they are working, and who truly wants to be where they are. And my lesson learned? To really listen to and trust my gut and rely on professional wisdom to make the best decisions right down to requesting that employees return their keys before going on an extended leave.

Food For Thought, Literally


Stir-Fried Ginger-Basil Chicken


Summer Ratatouille & Parmesan Polenta


Seared Salmon & Panzanella

I don’t exactly favor cooking. Once my daughter went off to college several years ago, that was the first thing I declared I was giving up. Outside of entertaining, I never much enjoyed it. Thank goodness for change. Years later, I am reconsidering.

As the leader of a small nonprofit my days are often very long, my fitness plan is sometimes off and my eating schedule is questionable, except for breakfast. I always eat breakfast. That coupled with the fact that I am a picky eater and prefer a more vegetarian with fish diet than meat, although I enjoy eating meat, mostly chicken, when I do. One day, I realized that I was unnecessarily hungry seemingly quite frequently. A few weeks ago, I decided to do something about it. Something that would encourage me to cook more regularly, diversify my palette and improve my meal selections. This led me to sign up for Blue Apron, a food service that delivers three meals weekly of fresh ingredients and recipes right to my doorstep.

I recently completed my first week of meals, three delicious appropriately proportioned meals cooked in this order – Stir-Fried Ginger-Basil Chicken with Tinkerbell Peppers & Coconut Rice, Summer Ratatouille & Parmesan Polenta with Heirloom Eggplant & Garlic-Cheese Toasts, and Seared Salmon & Panzanella with Corn, Shishito Peppers & Thai Basil. I thought the Ginger-Basil Chicken was going to be my favorite as I really don’t care much for Salmon. Boy was I wrong. While all of the dishes were delightful, the Salmon & Panzanella was absolutely superb especially the Panzanella with its blend of corn, plum tomatoes, mouth-watering Castelvetrano Olives and other tasty ingredients. I was completely blown away by the simplicity and deliciousness of this dish.

The purpose in me sharing this, besides the fact that I made three appetizing meals, is to remind leaders everywhere of how important it is to be just as committed, even more so, to nourishing your body by eating diverse, healthy and tasteful meals every chance you get, as you are to your work. Both your taste buds and your stomach will love you for it.

Problem solved.

Basic Sh*t One Should Know Upon #Graduating from #College and Entering the #Workforce – 8 Recommendations

File Apr 07, 1 38 41 AMAs the leader of a nonprofit organization that seeks to prepare students for college, work and life, I completely get it, when I go into a situation with a student, that there are things that he or she just may not know or understand yet. I am tolerant of this. I get it. Not so much with young adults (think college grads).

As I begin to transition my organization into a highly collaborative learning environment, I have been musing more and more about the hiring process, personalities, training, supervision and all the yummy nuances that go into talent development. And after this past year, hiring two young adults, one right out of college and the other just a few years out (she was terminated after only a month of employment), I have come to believe that most of the articles that I have read and continue to read about the current young workforce not being prepared is so sadly true. As a result of my own experiences, I have come up with the following 8 recommendations to be shared with a young adult entering the workforce that you may know:

  1. If you don’t know – Open Your Mouth and ASK! For example, if you can’t do something, let someone know so they can help you i.e. making a table/chart in Word.
  2. Be inquisitive about your work. Read everything you can especially if it’s right there in front of you.
  3. When you go into a meeting, have something to take notes with. You can at least do that!
  4. Always look your best.
  5. No matter how “cool” your supervisor is, don’t become too comfortable. We are not your friend.
  6. Understand that your supervisor is human too. Figure out just how so ASAP and act accordingly.
  7. Either you don’t care, or you don’t know. You were hired to carry out specific tasks, if you aren’t doing them, it’s because you don’t care or you don’t know.
  8. Use your voice. That’s why you have one. If you uncover something that needs to be changed, speak up.

I hope these recommendations benefit someone.

And for employers – regardless of what’s on their resume, what they said in the interview or was verified by their references, don’t assume they really know anything! Training must take center stage, even with the basics.


Be Inspired by a Quote! #blogboost

Quotation Marks

My recent favorite quote – “When I stand before [the Lord] at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, “I used everything You gave me.”  by Erma Bombeck

When I first read this inspiring quote in a colleague’s email, it was a part of her signature, I thought, “how freaking inspirational!” This quote precisely defines my one true motivation – to use every bit of talent I have, inhale every single breathe deeply, commit passionately, and devour every moment as if it is my last (still working on this one) but more importantly to not let any precious gifts go unused.

Ultimate #Blog Challenge – Share a Photograph #blogboost

In Reach Inc Selfie with GOW Paca1415

This is one of my favorite photos this year, a selfie with sixth grade girls in my Girls of Worth Afterschool Literacy Club. When I look at pictures that I am in with my students, I am immediately and pleasantly reminded of why I enjoy the work I do so much. Even when the funds are low or I have had the craziest day, seeing a picture of my students always brightens my mood and keeps me focused.

Let Me Re-Introduce Myself

File Apr 07, 1 48 41 AM

So I decided to participate in a 30 day ultimate blog challenge during the month of April to get myself in a regular blogging routine. However, so far, I have not done much of anything for the blog since posting recaps from sessions at the #AFPFC last month. I realize that I am more likely to commit to blogging when I have something big to focus on i.e. capturing notes at a conference and perhaps leading up to an event. I also realize that I have to make time for it. Monday through Friday, I am consumed with work, ALL day. In any event, I am committed to blogging #Problem/or/Opportunity regularly because I have a lot to share.

I know I want this blog, my personal professional blog, to focus on the nonprofit sector particularly leadership and fundraising. And although my experiences as a nonprofit executive will drive the content, I will not limit myself to just these areas. So for now, the ultimate blog challenge has my attention.

#afpfc Successful Utilization of Volunteers During a Campaign


Presenters: Susan Pyro and Ashlyn Sowell

“We, as staff, come and go but volunteers and other supporters may stay.”

The presenters walked through a Campaign Case Study in a higher education setting

Key Question
How do volunteers feel ownership of or responsibility for your organization?
~Have a timeline
~Test your preparedness (for a campaign) involving top volunteers and leadership i.e. via a hosted volunteer leadership summit for input

The campaign focused on 5 main priorities:
1. Annual giving
2. Engaged learning
3. Scholarships
4. Faculty support
5. Global Pavilion

~Campaign Planning Committee: primary responsibilities included volunteer structure,  communication, time table
~Campaign Steering Committee: tasked with how to incorporate external input, started with preliminary outreach,  hosting special events to help organize – still in private planning phase
~Campaign Executive Committee: high level oversight group. Focused on four areas: qualification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship.
~Campaign Leadership Committee: a special committee involved in campaign special events important to educate volunteers, have elevator speech, and to get their commitment to the campaign

Always provide updates at each meeting on how doing at that time in campaign.

What can volunteers do
~Peer screening, put list in front of them, ask who they know
~Review language constantly
~Recruit volunteers from the great ones currently have,  (volunteers sign confidentiality statement)
Goals and priorities reinforce messaging – calling, using a list to encourage people attend

What staff could do
~Bears most of responsibility
~Share info with to keep updated

“Greatness takes action!”

~Be aware of pitfalls and successes
~Ask for input and respond accordingly
~Try to remember the inspirational factor for the campaign and social activities for volunteers
~Assign volunteers a mentor to keep engaged, be sure volunteers are on board, be aware of cliques

Remember, campaign is a marathon, not a sprint.