Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Growing Up and Giving Back

This is the story of three at-risk kids who grew up to give back in very meaningful ways to the organization that helped them grow up successfully.
Russell and Mario

Russell was 11 when his mom asked him if he wanted to be in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. He describes the impact that his Big Brother, Mario made on his life as monumental. They did so much together, camping, Fiesta activities, and "just hanging out," through which Mario provided Russell with a ‘sense of worth” and helped him “face my anger, sadness, fear, and guilt and replace it with forgiveness and understanding when my own father abandoned us.”

Russell speaking at a luncheon
 The pair have been together for 17 years now, staying in touch even after the formal part of their Big Brothers Big Sisters relationship was over. Mario continued to provide advice and guidance for Russell during college and while Russell tried to find a teaching job. Russell also stayed connected with the Big Brothers Big Sisters agency, serving on its Alumni Board, speaking at events and advocating for the mission. This semester Russell started teaching at South San High School, continuing to pay it forward and honor his mentor, Big Brother Mario.

Mo supporting Brianna in choir
Brianna’s mom felt that having a Big Sister would be a stabilizing influence after Brianna’s father disappeared. Brianna was matched with Big Sister Mo in 7th grade. She was so thrilled to visit Mo’s home the day they met and wrote all about Mo’s dog and four chickens in her journal. Over the next 5 years, Mo supported Brianna through middle school, high school and her first year of college. They did all kinds of things together which Brianna really feels expanded her interests and broadened her horizons. They cooked with fresh vegetables from Mo’s garden and ran in a 5K (Brianna can now run a mile in less than 10 minutes!).

Brianna was in ROTC all 4 years of HS

When she graduated High School Brianna received the Tyree Williams scholarship through the Big Brother Big Sister program and enrolled full time at Alamo Colleges while working part-time at Belk Department Store. Shortly after that Brianna moved on to Schreiner University and was presented with an opportunity to give back to Big Brothers Big Sisters as an employee. Brianna is currently working as a Service Delivery Coordinator through a grant from The Callioux Foundation, paying it forward everyday in honor of her mentor, Big Sister Mo.

Julio and Keith in the workplace
Julio's mother enrolled him in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program after they moved away from his father and a troubling home environment. Julio credits his Big Brother, Ross, with shaping who he is today. He describes Ross as a "really nice guy" who gave him an example that was vastly different from previous male role models in his life. Julio tells stories about hanging out with Ross at the ballpark where he learned compassion and rooting for your team even when they are down, and going to an ice cream shop all the time where the same cute girl always seemed to be working (who later became Ross' wife.)
Julio and fellow board members

When Julio grew up and became a successful, contributing adult with a job, he began donating to Big Brothers Big Sisters through the United Way over many years in several jobs in different cities. He said that no one ever called and asked why he was donating to the agency until he moved to San Antonio. After sharing his story with Big Brothers Big Sisters staff, the next thing he knew he was on the board, and then chair of the board! He also got his company, Clear Channel Communications, now iHeart Media, to participate in the workplace mentoring program where he and almost 50 of his co-workers became Bigs. Julio has been matched to two Littles, Keith and Daniel, paying it forward in honor of his Big Brother, Ross.

These are the stories that inspire me to continue with this work.

Monday, July 25, 2016

3 Days of Overhead

Recently, the Wounded Warrior Project came under fire for what was portrayed in the media as wasteful overhead costs. This video, asking who would be the next WWP, was developed after that media firestorm. One of the examples of waste that WWP was crucified for was shocking"staff development" costs. 

So, before Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas (BBBS) gets accused of participating in a giant 3 day boondoggle, I offer this explanation for my Leadership Team's trip to Washington DC last week.  But first, a word about nonprofit staff development.  If you google "nonprofit staff development," the first thing that comes up is "52 Free Development Opportunities."  Even in the for-profit world, staff development is often neglected, overlooked and/or skimped on, but in the non-profit world it's nearly nonexistent.  If there is a budget line item for it at all, it's the first thing to be cut if revenue is tight, and revenue is always tight. At BBBS we didn't even have a line item for staff development in the budget until a few years ago.  It's embarrassing, I know.  It flies in the face of good business practices. We are always being told in the nonprofit world to "act more like businesses," unless of course it increases our overhead, which it always does, as I wrote about a while back in this JoyfulRant post, The Nonprofit Catch-22.  So, we vacillate between the desire to treat employees well and invest in their development, keeping overhead low and doing "free" stuff. So, if there is an opportunity to take staff to a conference filled with workshops and presentations developed at a national level, we are all over it. 

So last week, I took my team to Washington DC for a GEAR UP conference.  This is an annual event that alternates between DC and San Francisco that thousands of education and youth development professionals attend.  GEAR UP is a US Department of Education funded program designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education.  BBBS is a GEAR UP sub-contractor with the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD).  Our agency has provided mentors for over 300 GEAR UP SAISD students for the past 5 years.  The conference we attended last week was put on by the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP), a national non-profit, non-partisan organization working to increase access to higher education for economically disadvantaged students. NCCEP advances college access through advocacy, training, and research. They put on a really great show! 

The decision to send our 5 top leadership staff to this conference was made for several reasons.  Most importantly, was because our organization is about to experience major changes to the way it does business. We are moving to new offices and implementing a new service delivery system that will enable us to increase quality while serving more youth than ever before in the history of our organization.  I felt like we needed a bit of a retreat.

We had a great time!  The trip was copiously depicted in every social media outlet that we have access to.  We spent long days in weird hotel florescent lighting attending plenary meetings and workshops, and long nights eating, drinking* and sight-seeing. All of us made it home ok except our Southwest Airlines traveler who ended up spending the night in Dallas due to the airline's technology issues last week.  Lest we lose sight of the many purposes of the trip in all of the fun social media illustrations, here is a helpful list of the ways the conference benefits our mission: 

1. We make all kind of connections: Last year at this conference, we learned all about a program called Virtual Job Shadow that we will be piloting this coming year with GEAR UP students, who will be high school seniors.  We also met the creators of a new for-proft called The Student Success Agency that provides on line career counseling for high school students by matching them with a current college student.  This year I really appreciated a workshop on advocacy that I will pass along information from to the Texas Association of BBBS. 
2. We find our what is new in the business:  Knowing what others are doing in the mentoring space is critical for us.  There were 1,800 conference attendees from all across the US and we attended workshops on a variety of programs.  I was amazed to hear all about a mentoring program that has a 92% college graduation rate! This was topped only by a workshop I once attended on a mentoring program in Oregon that has a 5 year 98% volunteer retention rate.  This kind of learning at previous conferences has played a big part in informing the changes we are making to our programming. 
3. Passing our knowledge on to others:  We presented our workplace mentoring program for the 2nd time at this conference. It's exciting for us to know that a superintendent that attended our presentation 2 years ago was able to go home to California and replicate the program with students and businesses there. We will be doing post conference coaching sessions with 4 other agencies this coming week. 
4. Team Bonding and R&R:  I never underestimate the value of getting together outside the office for a little team R&R.  Here are a few of the social media pictures; dont we look like we had a really great time :)  --  

The BBBS leadership team!

Nick Cannon's inspiration speech
Presenting our workshop
A sea of 1,800 people
One staff member had never been to DC

This trip wasn't cheap.  Anyone who looks at our financials will only see a number, and relative to other nonproft numbers, especially small human service nonprofits like ours, it 's not a small one.  But I wish it was even bigger.  I wish my whole program staff could have attended.  Our organization would be better for it.  It's not the same to bring back the info, especially with regard to #4 above, although there is great value in that.  I hope that the investments that the WWP project made in its staff and other means of overhead, don't take the movement back too far. 
*disclaimer:  no alcohol or recreational activities were paid for by the nonprofit or government funder

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Charming Madonna Inn

My sister, Ali and daughter, Lacey in Sept 2014 when we first saw the Madonna Inn
Located right off on the 101 halfway between Los Angeles and San Fransisco, the Madonna Inn is my new favorite place. Two years ago on a quick trip to California to pick up my daughter, my sister and I were compelled to stop in at the Inn for a drink one night intrigued by the lights and the layout of the place. We were utterly charmed. The ballroom off the "Silver Lounge" where we had a drink was filled with swing dancing seniors. The decor was opulent and exaggerated. The major color scheme was pink and gold. Perusing one of the gift shops we discovered that all 110 rooms had different themes. We vowed to come back and stay in one of them. Last week we did. Here's that story in pictures.

Also, Click to check out the pictures of all the rooms.  
The first glimpse of the Inn as you drive in from the 101
The main building where registration happens
The infamous sign
Ali and my daughters on the stairs
Ariel snapping on the stairs - it's hard to stop taking pictures
It's in the middle of wine country - bonus!
The carpet, the rock fireplace, it's so awesome
There are stained glass windows all over the Inn
More stairs, flanked by cherubs, with more of that carpet
Entering the Silver Lounge
Main lobby hallway
The Gold Rush Steakhouse
The Copper cafe Pastry & Coffee House
The Silver Lounge
Silver Lounge Bar
Silver Lounge another view
Stone fireplace in the lobby
This might be the owners...

Wine tasting everyday
Me and the girls
Ali on the stairs
The Steakhouse
The Gold Rush Steakhouse is really striking
The Copper Cafe where we had breakfast
The Cafe counter
The Cafe booths and wall murals
Exterior walls
One of the buildings

The Secret Garden - lots of weddings here

The building where our room was and the spa/pool area above
Our suite
The Imperial Family Suite
Green and gold
Ali in our suite
Our suite
The dressing table
Suite view

The Secret Garden
Going up towards the spa
Charming Architecture
View from the pool
Another hill view from the pool/spa area
The pool; colorful
The gazebo by the waterfall at the pool
Ali with her umbrella drink form the pool bar
View of the pool area from below
In the gazebo
One of the gilt mirrors in the Imperial Family suite
Me in the Secret Garden
Ali's birthday dinner in the Gold Rush Steakhouse on the 4th of July
The kids call these chalice-goblets (choblets)
Dressing for dinner in the suite

The famous pink champagne cake
Off to the spa for massages
The Inn at night

Copper Cafe
Wine bar in one of the gift shops
Ariel in the spa relaxation room
Ali relaxing
Me poolside, post massage
The pool rock waterfall

The dance floor
The Madonna Inn is in San Luis Obispo but our trip took us from Paso Robles in the north to Solvang south
The big picture
There were flowers everywhere - and 60-80 temps

Pool bar drinks
The hot tub on the 4th
The pool bar

Ali with a post card of the famous men's bathroom
The preceding are pics from 2016, the following are from the 2014 visit.
The Inn at dusk

the dance floor and band

Silver Lounge bar

Event space

Wine for sale and tasting

Gift shop

Post  cards of the 110 guest rooms