Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giving Back to Our Communities

Each fall brings with it a chance to give thanks and give back. On this #GivingTuesday, we hope you will join the GreenLight Fund in celebrating the work our portfolio organizations are doing each and every day to transform the lives of thousands of children, youth and families in Boston, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Following a day for giving thanks and two days of getting deals, #GivingTuesday is a global day dedicated to giving back to your community. We hope you'll join GreenLight in this global day of generosity by considering a donation to one or more of our portfolio organizations. Each organization in our portfolio offers an innovative and effective solution to critical issues facing the most vulnerable people in our communities. Learn more about our organizations below, and check out our 2013 Portfolio Report.

Blueprint Schools Network  (Launched in 2013, Boston)
Blueprint Schools Network uses a research-based framework of comprehensive reform strategies to accelerate achievement in the nation’s highest need schools. Blueprint partners with school districts to plan, implement, and monitor school improvement efforts with the goal of dramatically improving the educational and life opportunities for all students.

College Advising Corps (Launched in 2014, Boston)
College Advising Corps is an innovative program that works to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college and underrepresented students who enter and complete higher education. By hiring and training recent graduates of partner colleges and universities as full-time college advisers and placing them in underserved high schools, the Advising Corps provides the support that high-need students need to navigate the web of college admissions, secure financial aid and enroll in colleges where they can succeed.

Family Independence Initiative (Launched in 2010, Boston)
Family Independence Initiative empowers low-income families to move out of poverty through access to connections, choice and capital. They invest resources based on the strengths and initiative families demonstrate towards improving their lives and other’s lives in their communities, and collect information to learn and share what works.

Friends of the Children (Launched in 2005, Boston)
Friends of the Children – Boston creates generational change by engaging children from high-risk communities in 12 years of transformative mentoring relationships.

Genesys Works (Launched in 2013, Bay Area)
Genesys Works changes the life trajectories of underprivileged high school students by enabling them to work in meaningful, yearlong paid internships at major corporations during their senior year in high school. After an 8-week intensive training program on hard and soft skills, students work at one of Genesys Works’ client companies where they discover that they can indeed succeed as professionals in the corporate world.

Peer Health Exchange (Launched in 2007, Boston)
Peer Health Exchange gives teenagers the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy decisions by training college students to teach a comprehensive health curriculum in public high schools that lack health education.

New Teacher Center (Launched in 2012, Boston)
New Teacher Center is dedicated to improving student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of new teachers and school leaders. NTC works with schools districts, state policymakers, and educators across the country to develop and implement induction programs aligned with district learning goals. NTC induction programs include one-on-one mentoring and professional development, all taking place within school environments that support new teachers.

Raising A Reader (Launched in 2008, Boston)
Raising A Reader-MA is an evidence-based early literacy program that helps families of young children (newborn through age five) develop, practice and maintain habits of reading together at home.

Single Stop USA (Launched in 2012, Boston; Launched in 2013, Philadelphia)
Single Stop helps low-income individuals persist through college and achieve financial self-sufficiency and economic mobility by providing access to benefits and services such as tax credits, health insurance, SNAP/food stamps, financial counseling and legal counseling.

uAspire (Launched in 2013, Bay Area)
uAspire’s mission is to ensure that all young people have the financial information and resources necessary to find an affordable path to – and through – a postsecondary education. To accomplish this mission, uAspire partners with schools and community organizations to provide free financial aid advice and advocacy to young people and families to help them overcome the financial barriers to higher education.

Year Up (Launched in 2013, Philadelphia)
Year Up provides urban young adults with skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. They achieve this mission through a high support, high expectation model that combines marketable job skills, stipends, internships and college credit accumulation. Their holistic approach focuses on students’ professional and personal development to place young adults on a viable path to economic self-sufficiency.

Youth Villages Transitional Living Program (Launched in 2009, Boston)
Youth Villages Transitional Living Program provides support to young people who are aging out of foster care or other children’s services, to help them begin life as independent adults, find safe housing, continue education or training, achieve stable employment and build healthy support systems for the future.

Be sure to spread the word about #GivingTuesday and celebrate a new tradition of generosity!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Single Stop USA Launches Two New Massachusetts Sites

Author: Rachel Martinez
Development Intern, GreenLight Fund

In the fall of 2011 the GreenLight Fund supported the launch of Single Stop USA to Boston. Single Stop works with community colleges to help low-income students and families access existing resources proven to increase economic mobility and academic success. Now, we’re excited to announce that Single Stop is expanding in Massachusetts, with two new sites opening this fall.

Given the success of its program at Bunker Hill Community College, Single Stop is set to partner with both Roxbury Community College (RCC) and Springfield Technical and Community College (STCC).

As part of an ongoing effort to revitalize and expand the college, RCC will now feature Single Stop in its admission process. Single Stop received significant support from Roxbury’s new president, Dr. Valerie Roberson, who recognizes that a large portion of the student body is made up of low-income individuals who will greatly benefit from the Single Stop’s services.

The only technical community college in Massachusetts, STCC is already known for its strong workforce development, and with Single Stop’s help there will soon be even more opportunities for students. Springfield Technical Community College, which led the fundraising for the new program, plans to integrate Single Stop into the campus through automatic referrals from financial aid and coordination with enrollment management systems.

For more information visit www.singlestopusa.org.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Catalyst for Change: A Conversation with Matt Spengler, Executive Director of Blueprint Schools Network

Author: Sarah Lassonde
Director of External Affairs, GreenLight Fund

Matt Spengler doesn't shy away from a challenge. As founder and executive director of the Blueprint Schools Network, he is helping to turn around some of our nation’s lowest performing schools. By forging deep partnerships with school districts and leveraging research-based practices from high-performing charter schools, Blueprint helps plan, implement, and monitor school improvement initiatives. 

And he’s getting results. In Denver, where Blueprint has been operating since 2011 in 10 schools, student growth has “outpaced the district” in just two years. All of Blueprint’s schools were in the top 13 in the state for student growth in mathematics, and at Montbello High School, every 2014 graduate was accepted to a two- or four-year college for the first time in the school’s history. 

With support from GreenLight, Blueprint is working at two “Level 4” schools - a designation reserved for the state’s most struggling schools - the Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy (K-5) and the English High School. Blueprint will work as a turnaround partner to implement reforms in partnership with the district with the hope of achieving similar results. We have no doubt he’s up to the challenge.

As GreenLight Boston celebrates the launch of Blueprint this week at our Tenth Annual GreenLight Gala, we sat down with Matt to talk about why he founded Blueprint, and why he’s particularly excited about the opportunity to work in Boston. 

Sarah Lassonde: Why did you decide to found Blueprint Schools Network?  

Matt Spengler:  I started my teaching career under emergency credentials. I walked into a large dysfunctional high school in South Central Los Angeles that was turning teachers over, year after year. I had no training and no experience, but with 10 openings to fill mid-year, the principal looked at my resume and said “when can you start?” Over six years at that school, I saw the dedication and quality of people who were trying to make a difference for kids, and it became clear that our efforts were like putting a fist into a bucket of water. You’d make the effort and pull out and see that nothing had changed.

Since then I've been a principal and part of many educational organizations, and I've seen firsthand the power that a high-quality teacher, a remarkable principal and a high-functioning school can have on kids, both in terms of academic performance, but also on the opportunities they have in the future.    
Blueprint was really born out of a desire to create high-quality schools that kids can actually walk to, so that regardless of zip code or where they grow up, they’ll have a high quality system of schools that are in their own neighborhood.

SL: Education – and in particular, the achievement gap – has been at the top of the headlines both in Boston and around the country. Can you talk about how Blueprint is working to address educational equity?

Matt Spengler: I believe schools are the one place where every kid has the opportunity to change and to grow. When you look back across the decades, even though we have individual pockets of success and some schools that are doing well, we’re not seeing this uniformly across the country. We’re not seeing great change across a network of schools. We know that within individual schools it’s possible to change outcomes, it’s possible to achieve equity, but we haven’t seen this at scale.

At Blueprint, our job is to provide a catalyst, so that low-performing schools over short periods of time can sustain promising practices and improve results for kids.

SL: How do you know you’re making a difference?

MS: In Denver, when you walk into Blueprint schools, it’s incredibly powerful and energizing, especially after seeing the schools two years ago (before the turnaround). You see the community that gets formed, because there is a group of caring adults that are invested in students and are using smart strategies to make change.

At Blueprint, we feel the same sense of ownership as the principal, the teachers and the community members feel. So when we see positive change in a school, it’s momentum-building, it’s energizing, and it’s what we want to see in districts across the country.

SL: Why is Boston such an exciting opportunity for Blueprint?

MS: Blueprint Schools is headquartered in Newton, so we’re excited to work in our own backyard.  Boston is the birthplace of public education, and we’re currently working with the oldest public high school in the United States. There is a district full of dedicated adults who are working very hard to make change. Boston also has a strong spirit of community service and public service.  

However, the needs in Boston are similar to those we see in other parts of the country, of kids who are not developing the same skills and the same enthusiasm for learning that we see in high-performing schools. What we hope to do in Boston is to leverage these assets and bring together effective strategies in concert to help make change in these schools.  

To learn more about Blueprint Schools Network, please visit www.blueprintschools.org

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

GreenLight’s SIF Initiative at 2: Portfolio Update

Author: Kate Barrett
Program Manager, SIF Initiative

As the GreenLight Fund (GreenLight) embarks on the third year of our Social Innovation Fund (SIF) Initiative, we wanted to share an update on how the work has unfolded on the ground in Boston, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area – and the incredible progress our grantees have made to date. We are inspired and encouraged by the work they are doing each and every day to change and improve the life trajectories of children and youth in each of our three communities.

With its SIF Initiative, GreenLight selected six nonprofit organizations to launch new sites in one of the three GreenLight communities. We selected these organizations based on evidence that their programs were working to close the achievement and opportunity gap for the low-income youth they serve. In Boston, that’s CollegeAdvising Corps and Blueprint Schools Network. In Philadelphia, that’s Year Up and Single Stop USA. In the Bay Area, that’s Genesys Works and uAspire. These grantees are targeting outcomes that include: college enrollment, persistence and completion; school turnaround; occupational skills; and career-track employment.

GreenLight has supported these six organizations with funding, external evaluation expertise as they implement rigorous evaluation, on-the-ground assistance to help them connect with local partners and supporters, technical assistance on federal grant compliance, and access to a learning community of peers.

Since their selection in the spring of 2013, our grantees have made significant progress. In just one year they have launched their programs in these new communities, hired exceptional local leadership, fostered deep and meaningful partnerships with schools, higher education institutions, corporations and other nonprofit service providers, launched rigorous evaluations with external evaluators, and raised significant match funds.

GreenLight SIF Portfolio by the Numbers: (as of 6/30/14)

Number of grantees: 6

Number of People Served, including projections: 

Dollars Invested: 

For GreenLight, the SIF has proven to be an effective way to scale our work to reach more people living in high poverty areas with transformational interventions. As GreenLight’s National Executive Director, Margaret Hall mentioned in her March blog post, “the SIF has been a booster rocket for expanding our reach and impact, improving our evaluation knowledge and skills and introducing us to an incredible community of peers, who collectively are making a powerful difference across the country.” GreenLight is looking forward to the next three years of our SIF Initiative to build on what we’ve learned and continue learning. We are already implementing these learnings to improve our work to identify and support innovative, evidence-based organizations to launch in our communities when they have the potential to make a significant impact.

GreenLight’s SIF Initiative is made possible through a 2012 grant from the Social Innovation Fund (SIF). The SIF is a key White House initiative and program of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) that combines public and private resources to grow the impact of innovative, community-based solutions that have compelling evidence of improving the lives of people in low-income communities throughout the United States. Five years into the program, the SIF now includes 27 intermediaries investing in 217 effective community solutions in 37 states and Washington, DC with more than $700 million invested by non-federal partners.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Perfect Match – A Lesson from The College Advising Corps

Author: Rachel Martinez
Development Intern, GreenLight Fund 

In September 2013, the GreenLight Fund supported the launch of the College Advising Corps in Boston. The College Advising Corps places well-trained, recent college graduates as full-time college advisers in the nation’s underserved high schools. Their mission is to provide support for high-need students throughout the college application process, serving as positive role models, while also helping foster a college-going culture. This fall, 16 advisers will serve in 15 Boston public high schools, as well as KIPP Lynn.

On my first day at GreenLight, I was lucky enough to sit in on a College Advising Corps (CAC) summer training session to prepare college advisers to work with local high school students this coming year.

The day’s session focused on helping high school seniors select colleges where they have the greatest likelihood of succeeding. I was particularly struck by the difference between helping students find a good “match” vs. “fit” when selecting a college. According to Jennifer Cox Bell, CAC director of programs and partnerships, and the session trainer, match is purely about a student’s academics, whereas fit involves assessing colleges based on many facets of a student’s life: income status, family commitments, extracurricular interests, to name just a few. CAC has a strong track record and deep expertise in helping students select colleges that are both good matches and fits for them. They help them consider many factors like financial aid offerings, location, graduation rate, extracurricular activities, and degree options in selecting a college. 

The Boston Advisers with CAC leadership, Jennifer Cox Bell and Katie Magyar
One of the ways low-income, first generation students often select colleges that aren't the best fit is by under-matching. Almost everyone in the room raised their hands when Cox Bell asked if we knew what “under-matching” meant. Sadly, many students, especially those from families with incomes in the lowest quartile, enroll in colleges for which they are overqualified. As a result, these students may feel unchallenged academically and may not get the support that other colleges could give, which significantly decreases their chances of graduating.

A large part of the afternoon’s training involved teaching the advisers about tools and strategies they will use to help students find colleges with the right fit for them. Cox Bell suggested that the advisers try an activity designed to help students visualize what they want in a college. The activity includes printing photos representing many aspects of college life, such as class size, setting, and campus culture. The adviser’s high school students would then stick post-it notes on the photos that appeal to them in each category. Although it seems simple, this is often a very effective activity, especially since many of the students are the first in their families to consider college and still may not believe that it is an option for them.

The Boston Advisers with GreenLight Fund staff
One of my favorite features of the day was hearing advisers tell stories from their own experiences.  Most of the advisers are themselves are from low-income communities and were the first in their families to graduate from college. One adviser told us that the valedictorian of his class didn't even attend college. As the son of immigrant parents, it was difficult for this student to navigate the college application process – even with a strong academic record. Unfortunately, he did not have the support of a college adviser who could have provided much-needed guidance about options, like applying for scholarships. Another adviser described her own experience at a university that “refused to let her drop out,” suggesting that if she had selected another university or under-matched she may have dropped out herself.

The Boston Advisers discuss the best college options for a sample student
The highlight of the day was seeing the passion of the advisers to help students follow in their footsteps to and through college. During discussions of case studies of hypothetical students, the advisers were already strong advocates for these students, carefully considering how best to help each one and showing how hard and creatively they will work to ensure every senior in their high schools prepares for, applies to and selects a college where they can succeed.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Seeking Opportunity at Every Turn

Author: Stephanie Whitham
Intern, GreenLight Fund Bay Area

In early 2013, GreenLight Fund selected Genesys Works to be its first portfolio organization to import into the San Francisco Bay Area. Genesys Works is a national nonprofit organization that started in Houston, Texas over 12 years ago to help change the life trajectories for low-income students through meaningful work opportunities with a region’s best companies. GreenLight is investing $1.165M over five years to support students like Peony Yu (story below) with Genesys Works’ launch and growth in the Bay Area.

Many have experienced “senioritis,” or having no motivation during senior year in high school. It is hard to avoid with all the excitement of the celebrations, college acceptances, and graduation just around the corner. Peony Yu not only avoided senioritis, but she made her senior year one of the most productive and meaningful times of her high school career.

Peony was born and raised in Oakland, CA by her mother and described herself as a curious child, always wanting to try new things. When Peony saw a presentation by Genesys Works at her high school during her junior year, she learned she could have the opportunity to be placed in a year-long program that would match her with a paid internship as well as help with the college application process. Peony was immediately drawn to the fantastic opportunity, and was encouraged by her mother and brother to take a chance and try something new.

Peony applied and was accepted to be part of the pilot cohort of young professionals for Genesys Works Bay Area. After initial acceptance into the program, Peony then attended an eight-week summer training where she learned to communicate and take initiative in a professional setting, as well as technical skills that Peony would use during her internship. At the end of the eight weeks, Peony was assigned to work for Gensler, an architecture firm in downtown San Francisco. Landen Zernickow, Program Coordinator and Alumni Success Manager at Genesys Works Bay Area, remembers Peony beginning the training as one of the more quiet students of the group, but by the end of the training Peony was taking initiative and was becoming more comfortable advocating for herself.

As Peony began her senior year, she was faced with the challenge of managing a difficult schedule that included multiple Advanced Placement and Honors classes and an internship where she would work until 5 p.m. 5 days a week, plus, she was working hard to complete her college applications.

Beyond the challenge of managing many commitments, Peony remembers being very nervous her first day working at Gensler, concerned that she was not fully prepared to handle her responsibilities. Peony was surprised at how quickly she was able to complete tasks, with her supervisor giving her more and more work as her internship progressed through the school year. When I asked Peony if her internship was what she expected she happily responded, “I didn’t expect to have fun!” She thought she was just going to go to work and that would be it, but she realized she made valuable connections with her co-workers and enjoyed her projects and tasks. Peony described some of her biggest lessons learned as “not being afraid to make mistakes, and learning how to adapt to a different work environment that includes communicating with and asking co-workers for help.” 

Peony and Peter Katz, Executive Director of Genesys Works - Bay Area, at the 2013 Breaking Through Ceremony
Approximately 8 months into her internship and senior year, Peony was accepted to the University of California – Irvine and plans study Biological Science. Peony is excited about attending college, and credits Genesys Works for giving her the extra confidence to be more outgoing and seek out new opportunities. She is even planning to join the dance team at UC-Irvine to help meet new people and try something she has not done before. However, before she even thinks of being on UC-Irvine’s campus, she will complete the remainder of her 12-month internship with Gensler at the end of this summer.

Class of 2013 - Genesys Works Bay Area Breaking Through Ceremony
One of Genesys Works’ goals is not only to support students to access college, but to also support their persistence to college graduation – more than 95% of Genesys Works graduates go on to college, with more than 86% persisting beyond their first year. Like all Genesys Works Bay Area alumni, Peony will have Genesys Works as a resource throughout her collegiate career. Staff will continue to work with each of the young professionals to ensure they are on the path to success to matriculate and graduate from post-secondary institutions.

Peony does not know what she wants to do after graduating from college. However, she hopes to have a job where she can travel and continue to foster her curiosity – with her new mantra leading the way: “never say no to an opportunity.”

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why I Volunteer: A Peer Health Exchange Educator Shares His Inspiration

Guest post by: Anthony Almazan
Peer Health Exchange Volunteer

Peer Health Exchange (PHE), GreenLight Boston’s fourth portfolio organization, works to give teenagers the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy decisions. They do this by training college students to teach a comprehensive health curriculum in public high schools that lack health education. In this guest post Anthony Almazan, a second-year PHE volunteer from Harvard University, shares how he inspires and is inspired by his students.

Every week or so, I step into a new classroom full of 9th graders, ready to share my knowledge around health and wellness. Nearly thirty times I’ve delivered the scripted lines of my Peer Health Exchange curriculum, peppered with the same “spontaneous” jokes for extra flavor. But no two classrooms are ever the same. The wild laughter in one classroom might be replaced by diligent silence in another. The classrooms reflect the diversity of the students themselves, who hail from various backgrounds, carry a variety of different preconceptions about their health and fall along a vast spectrum of tolerance for my attempts at being funny. The students I encounter never fail to get me thinking about my place in these classrooms. This past year, three very different students reminded me why I love getting up at 6 a.m. to ensure Boston’s teenagers are empowered with accurate information to make good decisions about their health. 

Peer Health Exchange volunteers in the classroom.
Peer Health Exchange volunteers in the classroom.
There was the student who trusted me. She was a girl of few words who sank quietly into the back of the classroom. I finished my workshop, but she stayed behind to catch me on my way out. She had been waiting to ask me privately if a specific activity she had engaged in could put a teenager at risk of an unplanned pregnancy. It was a simple question, but it was an important exchange for the both of us. Asking these kinds of questions as a teenager is not easy, and identifying trusted sources of support can be even more difficult. For students who may not feel comfortable talking to a parent or teacher about these issues, having a Peer Health Exchange volunteer in the classroom could mean being able to ask a question that would otherwise go unanswered – and could potentially threaten their health. An encounter like this one is exactly why I like to wait around the classroom a bit after my workshops end, just in case student gathers the courage to ask me something that could be entrusted to no one else.

There was the student who challenged me. Confident and outspoken, he was the school’s resident skeptic. He criticized the validity of our curriculum, demanded sources for our statistics, and made sure to interrupt me to point out if I ever misspoke. Unsure if he was genuinely frustrated with our workshop, I spoke to him individually as the rest of the class began a group activity. I asked him where he learned so much about this topic, and told him that I had nothing but respect for his knowledge. He loosened up for the rest of the class period, and during our discussions he contributed some of the most insightful comments I had ever heard in my workshops. I returned to his school a few weeks later for another workshop and passed him in the hallway. He greeted me with a smile and a “What’s up, man?” Students like him remind me of the importance of our volunteers’ roles in these classrooms. We trade in strict discipline for witty banter and the benefit of the doubt, knowing that our goal is not simply to direct a classroom but to engage its students in meaningful discussions about their health. Our volunteers know that not too long ago, we were sitting in classrooms like the ones we now teach in, and by capitalizing on what we share, we open up important lines of dialogue with our teenagers.

There was the student who inspired me. She was the attentive girl who sat in the front row poised to absorb my every word. She was the kind of student who made teaching about tough topics easy. I returned to her school a few months later to teach a different group of students and saw her familiar face on the way to my classroom. She stopped me in the hallway to hand me a flyer for an HIV/AIDS awareness event and to tell me that Peer Health Exchange had motivated her to help plan the event by joining a local health advocacy organization. I asked her how Peer Health Exchange had encouraged her to get so involved. Her answer? “You were all so inspiring.” She is a testament to the power of a group of volunteers that genuinely cares about the health of our teenagers—that doesn’t just teach about health but firmly believes in everyone’s right to it. We recruit volunteers who are passionate about the health of our students based on the conviction that our conversations in these classrooms can teach these students to care, not just for their own health, but also for the well being of those around them.

A friend once asked me why I choose to dedicate so much time to Peer Health Exchange. These three students are the answer to that question. Our volunteers step into each classroom with good intentions, and every so often, we encounter a student who gains something immeasurably valuable and reminds us why we do what we do.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Addressing Disparities: GreenLight Philadelphia Identifies Three High-need Issue Areas

Author: Salomon Moreno-Rosa
Program Associate, GreenLight Fund Philadelphia

As GreenLight Philadelphia embarks on its second annual selection cycle, we are working with our Selection Advisory Council to take a proactive look at the critical needs of the city and identifying national organizations that would be a strong fit in our community. After months of discussions and surveying key local leaders in the nonprofit sector, venture capital and entrepreneurial communities, local government and academic community, GreenLight is focusing on three high-need issues on which we believe we have the greatest opportunity for impact. Below I have briefly outlined these issues and potential approaches we could pursue in addressing the problems.

Youth Exiting Prisons:

Mayor Michael Nutter has made addressing crime and public safety a key focus for his administration’s second term by exploring innovative ways to curb high recidivism and reentry rates in Philadelphia. Reflecting the adage: “the best anti-crime tool is a job,” the administration’s strategy is to foster public and private partnerships that can provide this at-risk population with work opportunities and marketable skills. [1]

Every year, approximately 19,000 inmates are released from Pennsylvania state prisons. 30% of these individuals (over 6,500 people) return to Philadelphia. [2] As the average percentage of re-arrests within the first three years or release climbs to 66 percent -- and nearly 80% for young adults -- the imperative for connecting ex-offenders with stable employment and other services is a major need. [3]

High recidivism rates have immense costs for the city in terms of crime, the price of repeated and extended incarceration, and the loss of wage and sales taxes that employed, productive residents contribute. A study commissioned by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia found that for every 100 ex-offenders connected to employment, the city generates $2.7 million in additional tax revenue over the employees’ lifetimes. The study also found more than $2 million in savings on corrections, probation, and parole. [4]

A growing body of research suggests targeted interventions in the first year after release - when ex-offenders are most motivated to turn their lives around – are most effective at cutting recidivism rates and achieving long-term behavior change and job stability.

In our search for promising approaches to lowering recidivism, GreenLight is looking at models that target ex-offenders in these early years and have results helping them get and keep jobs and resist repeat offenses.

Teacher Development & Retention:

The United States faces a teacher retention problem. Over the past 15 years, teacher attrition has risen sharply across the country, impacting student achievement and exhausting resources for our nation’s classrooms. It is no surprise that teacher effectiveness improves with experience with the steepest learning curve in teachers’ first few years in the classroom. However, due to a high rate of new teacher turnover, many teachers drop out before reaching their peak effectiveness and becoming accomplished educators. Their departure is an expensive one – costing the United States an estimated $7.3 billion annually. Even more problematic, research shows that our highest-need schools are especially prone to high turnover rates. In Philadelphia, 70 percent of new teachers leave the district in six years. [5] It is a costly problem, for both schools and families, and by allowing high teacher attrition rates to persist, the student achievement gap will continue to grow.

The number of beginning teachers in the U.S. has climbed sharply over the past several decades. As a result, improvements to new teacher induction have gained momentum across the education world as a mechanism to develop and retain strong teachers through increased mentorship and support. Studies also show that beginning teachers who participated in some kind of induction had an impact on their students’ achievement through higher test scores and improved attendance. [6]

During a period of budget shortfalls for the School District of Philadelphia and the mounting costs associated with teacher turnover, there is a great opportunity to invest in innovative models to improve new teacher induction and in the process, improve learning outcomes for Philadelphia’s students.

Early Childhood Education:

Much attention has been focused lately on access to quality early childhood education. From statehouses [7] to the White House [8], policymakers are focusing on early childhood education as a way to address the achievement gap in low-income communities. The effectiveness of high-quality pre-K in preparing students to learn, begin schools with the literacy skills they need to succeed, and lessen the need for remedial education later on is well documented. Early childhood education has also been shown to help mitigate language and behavioral development gaps that often form in students who come from poverty. [9] While social and academic benefits make strong arguments for increased investments in early education, the financial incentives are just as prudent. A study conducted by Nobel Laureate economist, John Heckman, found that for every dollar invested in early childhood education society generates as much as $7 in savings. [10]

However, in Philadelphia, access to high quality early childhood education programs remains a major hurdle for many low-income families. In southeastern Pennsylvania, approximately 60 percent of children under the age of five are in a childcare setting (fig. below). Of those, only 14 percent are considered high-quality. [11] Philadelphia’s needs are two-fold: providing more access to childcare (increasing childcare slots) for young children who receive informal care, no care, or spend months on Head Start and Early Head Start waiting lists; and increasing the overall availability of high-quality childcare services, including center- and kin-based programs.

Ensuring school readiness and healthy physical and cognitive development for Philadelphia’s 100,000 children under the age of five is critical to the long-term vitality of the city and its residents. It is concerning that out of 2,052 early childhood education programs, over half (58%) have no quality rating at all. Bolstering the prevalence of accreditation services and helping the slew of programs without quality ratings to become accredited is a key strategy to improving quality of childcare programs.

GreenLight is exploring models that work to ensure family-based childcare programs create learning environments for children and their caretakers to excel in school and beyond.

GreenLight Philadelphia has begun intensive, early-stage conversations with the city, local nonprofits and proven models across the country about addressing some of the major issues confronting our region. GreenLight sees great opportunity to make a long-term impact in Philadelphia by focusing on those issues where there is public awareness and demand to take action. Right now, three major issues we believe are most ripe with innovative approaches: expanding early childhood education, increasing teacher effectiveness, and connecting youth exiting the prison system with sustainable employment. Through an emphasis on these issue areas, we are excited to continue our pursuit of a concerted and collective effort to improve the opportunities and outcomes for all Philadelphia residents.

Sources Referenced:
[1] http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/cityhall/Ex-Offenders_Protest_Nutters_Speech_To_Chamber.html
[2] http://www.phillytrib.com/component/k2/item/493-phila-recidivism-rate-proves-costly.html
[4] http://economyleague.org/files/Ex-Offenders_Exec_Summ_for_web.pdf
[5] http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED498001.pdf
[6] http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/05/16/kappan_ingersoll.h31.html
[7] http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pennsylvania-governor-corbetts-budget-increases-funding-for-education-by-387-million-new-initiatives-to-raise-student-achievement-243542871.html
[8] http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/03/04/obamas-2015-budget-more-early-education-funds-new-race-to-the-top
[9] The Long Reach of Early Childhood Poverty: Pathways and Impacts
[10] https://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/spring2011/Heckman.pdf
[11] http://www.dvaeyc.org/about/press-releases/city-maps-detail-child-care

Monday, April 28, 2014

Family Independence Initiative: Turning Communities into Families

Our GreenLight SpotLight series shares stories of impact from our portfolio organizations, clients and social entrepreneurs.

Author: Rebecca Simon
GreenLight Fund Development Intern

We recently met with one of the family members participating in the Family Independence Initiative (FII) at their office in Jamaica Plain. FII, GreenLight Boston’s fifth portfolio organization, empowers low-income families to move out of poverty through access to connections, choice and capital. Since 2001, FII has innovated and tested new approaches to economic and social mobility that demonstrate that low-income families have the initiative and capacity to move themselves and their communities out of poverty.

Families organize themselves in groups that meet monthly to share their goals and plans for improving their circumstances. At each meeting, the members report on their progress, help each other overcome barriers, identify resources they need to move forward and encourage each other. FII provides each household participating in the groups with a computer to provide data on what they’re doing.

As families set and work toward their goals, FII collects this data to understand the steps they’re taking, the barriers that hold them back, and the resources that will best support their efforts. FII is then able to invest resources based on the strengths and initiative families demonstrate towards improving their lives. These resources range from microloans to start businesses to technology-based services like Hello Wallet and Rental Karma to manage their finances and improve their credit. It is an incredibly innovative approach to poverty alleviation and the results are promising. In the first two years in Boston, families saw an average 20% increase in income. Savings went up 259% on average, and indicators on housing situations, health and well-being all rose significantly.

However, the most compelling illustration of FII’s success is best reflected in the stories of family members like Jo Ann.

Photo credit: Carl Mastandrea

Jo Ann, born in Puerto Rico, moved first to New York as a child and then to Boston where she bounced around from aunt to aunt. Today, Jo Ann lives in Jamaica Plain and has three children and five grandchildren. She was first introduced to FII through a family member who asked her to join one of the meetings.

Jo Ann was at first skeptical about FII. She wondered if it was a scam that would take money and time from the members and give nothing in return. Though it sounded too good to be true, Jo Ann decided to give it a try. After learning more and meeting other families in FII, Jo Ann took a leap of faith and signed on as one of the original 35 members of FII in Boston.

In joining FII, Jo Ann had a number of goals she wanted to achieve, primarily to go back to school. With the encouragement of her FII group, she joined her 22-year old son at Bunker Hill Community College to get a degree in human resources. She also took courses in information technology – skills she brought back to her FII group. FII gave Jo Ann not only the springboard she needed to achieve her goals, but also the confidence to be a leader in a group. When she was asked to lead a group meeting she was hesitant at first: “I had never led anything in my life and I had no knowledge of what I was going to do, but I said all right, I am going to try it.”

Now as an FII Fellow, Jo Ann takes her role seriously. The job of an FII Fellow is to lead projects and initiatives within the FII community, encourage families to work together and to create and offer resources to achieve goals. From the start, Jo Ann encouraged her group to rely on each other, share ideas and meet more often. Everyone participates in her group, and when one person wants to quit, it becomes a team effort to make sure that person knows they have many shoulders to lean on. Jo Ann’s enthusiasm is contagious and her group has come to know and love her signature drum roll. “We’re the loudest group…when someone achieves a goal or does something positive, drum roll!” 

Photo credit: Carl Mastandrea

Within just a few months of being at FII, Jo Ann saw a lot of changes in herself. She became more extroverted, social and open to hearing other people’s advice and opinions. Most surprisingly to herself, Jo Ann noticed that she started to turn to the other members of her FII group for help and advice, whereas before she would have asked one of her numerous relatives. Said Jo Ann, “on top of all of the resources, you get a family. I have a lot of family and so many cousins, but when I need something, I turn to my FII family first because I know there’s real sisterhood support there.”

One of Jo Ann’s main goals these days is to recruit new members to FII. She told us that when things fall apart, FII provides a sense of determination, perseverance and hope. She explains to the people in her community that “FII gives us a support network. You bring information to the group and you get information in return. It isn’t a place where it’s all ‘give me, give me’ and you get nothing in return. Everyone has something to give and something to offer.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

5 Reasons to Consider Applying to the Social Innovation Fund

Author: Margaret Hall
GreenLight Fund National Executive Director

A couple of weeks ago, the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) announced its fourth, and largest, funding round. Since 2010, the SIF, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, has funded 20 intermediary organizations to select and support subgrantees, nonprofits that have innovative approaches to social change and potential to make a significant, measurable difference across the country. The GreenLight Fund received a SIF award in 2012.

As with the past three funding rounds, the application period is short, with applications due on April 22. So organizations considering applying must decide quickly. As you weigh the pros and cons, here are five reasons to apply, based on GreenLight’s experience.

1. Getting a SIF award could be a game changer

For the GreenLight Fund, receiving the SIF award gave us a national platform and spotlight we didn't have and couldn't have built nearly as quickly. Though we had recently expanded GreenLight from Boston, where we started it in 2004, to Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area, we were hardly known outside our home city. The award gave us important credibility in these new sites as we were building our networks there.

2. Not getting it could be a game changer

2012 was not the first time GreenLight applied to the Social Innovation Fund. In SIF’s first round in 2010, we applied to operate the GreenLight model in eight communities around the country in partnership with community foundations. We didn’t get it, in large part because at the time GreenLight was just in Boston and we hadn’t yet built the capacity to operate in or support multiple sites. As we learned, the SIF’s interest was in growing great nonprofits with proven results, not in building the intermediary organizations it funds to find and support these great organizations.

Though we weren’t successful on that first try, the application process itself catalyzed major change and growth for GreenLight. We built relationships all over the country that have been helpful to us in many ways since then. We envisioned GreenLight in eight other communities and pushed our thinking on what this could look like and how we would implement and support such a network.

Most significantly, as it turned out, the application process created the springboard for expanding GreenLight to other cities, always part of our greater vision for GreenLight. The Bank of America Charitable Foundation, which had committed matching funds if we had won a SIF award, allowed us to use those funds to grow GreenLight to two new sites. Two years later, we launched GreenLight Philadelphia and GreenLight Bay Area in early 2012. We applied again to SIF later that year and this time were one of four organizations nationally to receive a SIF award.

3. It will likely deepen your knowledge of rigorous evaluation

The Social Innovation Fund takes evidence and evaluation seriously. Though the GreenLight Fund has always required results from our portfolio organizations, the SIF is giving us the opportunity to go deeper with organizations and build our own knowledge about effective, rigorous evaluation. Because of our participation in the SIF, we will be better able to support all of our portfolio organizations – not just our SIF subgrantees – as they evaluate their programs in our cities.

4. It models some of the best philanthropic practices

I just attended the biennial conference of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. I was struck by how many times key practices of the SIF came up in sessions – not in discussions about the SIF, but in discussions about what nonprofits need from funders to be effective.

For example, nonprofits need multi-year funding to provide more stability and predictability as they make long-term commitments to their clients. SIF funds for five years allowing GreenLight and other intermediaries to fund their subgrantees for five years.

Nonprofits need funders who know them well, are willing to engage with them to address organizational challenges, and champion them to others. The SIF staff engages regularly with GreenLight’s staff. I’ve been impressed with the quality of their engagement with us and their flexibility. And I’ll take passionate SIF Director Michael Smith cheerleading for GreenLight any day. Likewise, the nature of the SIF requires deep engagement between GreenLight and our SIF subgrantees. High engagement is business-as-usual for GreenLight, which works closely with all of our portfolio organizations, taking a seat on local Boards, and partnering with the local leadership to launch their programs in our cities and address challenges that arise. For organizations that have not had such high engagement with their grantees, the SIF is a chance to work with nonprofits in a deeper way.

Nonprofits need flexible funding that supports the whole organization to achieve results. This one may surprise you and, depending on your organization, SIF funds may seem more or less flexible. For foundations that have never had to report to a funder, I’m sure the Federal compliance requirements feel burdensome and limiting. But for GreenLight, which imports high-performing nonprofits into our cities, SIF has allowed us to fund comprehensive costs of our subgrantees’ expansions, while reporting on the overall results they are achieving.

5. You will be able to make a significant, measurable difference for thousands of children and young people in communities you care about

At GreenLight, we spend our days working with the staff and boards of nonprofit organizations, but we never forget the real purpose of our work – to transform the lives of children, youth and families living in high poverty areas of our cities. With our SIF grant, we will be reaching at least 10,000 children and youth every year in Boston, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area by 2018 through our subgrantees. In Boston, that’s College Advising Corps and Blueprint Schools Network. In Philadelphia, that’s Year Up and Single Stop USA. In the Bay Area, that’s Genesys Works and uAspire.

The SIF is not your father’s Federal grant program, to be sure. Adhering to the administrative and financial compliance requirements takes resources and patience. Raising the 1:1 match for SIF dollars can be a challenge. But for the GreenLight Fund, the SIF has been a booster rocket for expanding our reach and impact, improving our evaluation knowledge and skills and introducing us to an incredible community of peers, who collectively are making a powerful difference across the country.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Importing Innovation for Big Community Impact

The following post by GreenLight Bay Area executive director Casey Johnson appeared on Opportunity for All on Wednesday, March 14, 2014.

At GreenLight Fund, importing is at the very core of what we do — Boston, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area on an annual basis. We import proven nonprofit models into our communities when we know that they will address a critical gap in services for low-income children, youth and families and achieve measurable results.

To achieve our mission of changing the life trajectories of children and families in GreenLight’s three communities, we must do this importing well, with significant work on the front-end – selecting organizations to join our portfolio – AND on the back-end – launching and supporting those organizations in our GreenLight communities.

Front-end: Selection
GreenLight first spends a tremendous amount of time identifying and understanding the most critical needs facing low-income children, youth and families in our communities. We lean on community leaders, philanthropic leaders, recent data and policy reports, as well as our local Selection Advisory Council, to help us identify urgent needs in the community. We hone in on the gaps where services are not being provided by the existing nonprofit and public sectors, and then search the country to find models that have a proven track record of meeting these needs in other cities. We look for program innovation and results, past experience with scaling and growth, adaptability, as well as strong leadership and operational excellence. Our diligence is a rigorous process, designed to ask the tough questions and get the right answers from potential organizations, and ensure a strong fit within the local community. This deep due diligence takes between 9-12 months. Once selected by GreenLight, the work does not end there – we then partner with the selected organization to build a strong foundation locally.