Thursday, May 18, 2017

Advocating for Sustained Funding of Youth Programs: An Interview with Margaret Brodkin, Part 1

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
For over 100 years, afterschool and youth development programs have struggled to secure stable, sustainable funding. Why is this? Is it because we don’t value our children or believe in the importance of out-of-school learning and support? Or is it structural? 

We conducted an interview with Margaret Brodkin, who led a campaign in the early 1990’s to develop a permanent “children’s fund” in San Francisco – a stable and sustainable fund of city tax dollars dedicated to programs that support children and youth. Ms. Brodkin has gone on to assist cities and counties across the country to develop their own “children’s fund”. Below, we offer part one of a two-part interview with Ms. Brodkin. 

Q: How did you get into this business? 

A: My first job, in the early 1970s in San Francisco, was to run the children's program at the Jewish Community Center. What we began to notice was that there was a group of parents who would send their kid to the art class on Monday, dance class on Tuesday, gymnastics class on Wednesday, who really needed something every day. 

'Afterschool' wasn't a common word. The idea that someone needed a program every day for their kids was controversial at the time, because women weren't supposed to work. We decided to start this everyday, after school program. We had to get a special grant to do it, I had to get in my car and drive around and pick up all the kids who were in that program.
Photo Credit:

The program is still in existence and now it is the largest after school program in San Francisco. It started by realizing that kids needed an every day experience. My idea about the importance of community centers - whether its the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Club or the Jewish Community Center or neighborhood center - that kind of community institution was such a fabulous resource. 

The other experience that shaped my perspective was a conference I attended that featured Richard Murphy and Geoffrey Canada. They were talking about the New York Beacon Centers. The idea that a school could be a community center was new. A school could be the place where children and families could come and belong, and it could be the center of the community. It just riveted me, as a model, and came back from the conference and said, “we've got to do this in San Francisco”. 

I think that it is a model for everywhere because every child goes to school. Schools should be the center of neighborhood life. It’s a model that's appropriate for the suburbs, for a city, and particularly appropriate for a rural area. 

Q: You were instrumental in drafting a city proposition to ensure the city had the needed resources to positively impact youth outcomes. What were some of the basic changes that this initiative brought? 

A: At that time, I was the head of a children's advocacy organization in San Francisco where we worked on lots of issues trying to get services and programs for kids but we always hit a brick wall - there was never the money to do it. So we started a crusade to get money for children's services. We introduced the idea of a children's budget and submitted that to the city for three years in a row.

Photo Credit:
We would have some wins, we would have some losses, but we could never really compete with police and fire and the other things the city felt were their responsibility. We got the idea that we would put a measure on the ballot to create a dedicated fund that we call the “children's fund” that would just be for children and youth services. This would be an operating part of how San Francisco did its business.

Everybody in city hall opposed it because they didn't want to carve out money for kids. They wanted the flexibility to add more police, etc. and we said, “no - kids will never be able to compete in the dog eat dog budget process”. We decided to put this on the ballot. We collected 67,000 signatures and it passed. Now its been reauthorized three times - the first time it was passed was in 1991. It became the major source of funding for children's services in San Francisco. 

The children's movement in San Francisco became a political force to be reckoned with and it started with getting this measure passed. We went on for every year getting additional dollars in the budget, getting additional policies changed. 

Q: What did the passage of this proposition change in San Francisco? 

A: There were several changes: 
1) It created this funding stream. The original Children’s Fund was a set aside of 2.5% of the property tax, and we inched it up in each reauthorization campaign, so it is now 4%. The first year it was in effect in 1992, it was $12 million; and within a year it will be $94.7 million.

2) It gave us a huge amount of flexibility with what we could do at the local level. It allowed us to go into neighborhoods that no one had been in before, it allowed us to serve new populations like children with disabilities and LGBTQ young people. That's how we ended up funding the Beacons; that's how we ended up funding health services in the schools; its how we ended up funding arts programs; and more. 
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3) It allowed us to focus on prevention. So many resources go in to address problems after they exist, like after a child is in trouble, or after someone is sick or involved in the child welfare system. It gave the city the opportunity to invest in prevention.

4) It allowed us to create a new office, the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families, which I had the opportunity to lead for five years. This office provided the mechanism for planning; for coordinating; for giving out the money; for holding people accountable; for having a transparent process that people can get engaged in. 

5) By having all this local money, people could leverage state and federal money. This was a huge success for the youth and children's movement and we gained a kind of power to continue the good fight.


Margaret Brodkin
Margaret Brodkin is a nationally recognized children’s advocate and policy pioneer and known as the “Mother of the San Francisco Children’s Fund,” a multi-million dollar annual fund that made San Francisco the first city in the country to provide local dedicated funding for children. She is currently Founder and Director of Funding the Next Generation

Ms. Brodkin served 26 years as Director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth in San Francisco, California – turning a small community organization into an influential powerhouse for kids and a national model for creating a diverse and lasting local children’s movement. Ms. Brodkin later served as Director of San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth & Their Families. She then served as the Director of New Day for Learning – an intermediary partnership organization launching San Francisco’s community school initiative, resulting in the institutionalization of community schools as a centerpiece of the SFUSD education reforms.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Afterschool Program Quality and Effectiveness: 25 Years of Results!!

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
It is important that afterschool supporters have access to studies that have shown that afterschool is an effective strategy to support young people’s success in school, work, and life. This is especially important because the Trump Administration has proposed the elimination of the 21st CCLC because they “lack strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.”

Are afterschool programs effective? We asked our colleagues at Policy Studies Associates (PSA), a leading organization that has studied this question. Below are remarks from Christina Russell, Managing Director at PSA. 

Christina Russell,
Managing Director at PSA
“Through our partnerships over the last 25 years with afterschool programs throughout the U.S., our evaluation team at PSA has seen that afterschool programs can benefit youth, families, schools, and communities in many ways. We have seen evidence that high-quality afterschool programs:

  • Keep students safe
  • Engage students in learning
  • Improve students’ academic performance
  • Develop students’ core competencies for success in life and careers 
  • Support working families 
  • Are in demand

As the afterschool field has matured, we have evaluated the implementation and impact of various program models, technical assistance interventions, and system-building efforts designed to improve the capacity and quality of programs. The research shows—and programs know—that quality matters. Afterschool providers have engaged in continuous improvement initiatives to become more intentional in program planning and to increase program participation, through internal assessment and tracking systems as well as through external evaluation.

We also know that afterschool programs play important, varying, and evolving roles in education. Effective afterschool programs are not cookie-cutter:  they strategically partner with schools and communities to identify gaps and the priority needs of students, and to design services to meet those needs.  As a result, some programs may focus on strengthening the academic outcomes of students, some on the development of essential life skills, and others on closing the opportunity gap through enriching, experiential experiences that expand the school day.   

Our brief entitled, Afterschool Program Quality and Effectiveness, curates the key, policy-relevant findings on the implementation and effectiveness of afterschool programs. In addition, the brief links to some of our most important reports on afterschool initiatives implemented throughout the U.S. 

We hope that the brief makes our research findings accessible. For any of the topics touched on in the brief, there is a wealth of existing data as well as new questions to be explored, and we encourage you to reach out to discuss how PSA’s evaluation expertise can support your efforts as you continue to advocate for and strengthen afterschool.”

Christina Russell is Managing Director at Policy Studies Associates (PSA) and leads studies focused on expanded learning opportunities and their role in promoting positive social and educational outcomes for youth in grades K-12. Ms. Russell also directs evaluation projects designed to inform efforts to improve program quality and capacity. Ms. Russell has extensive experience designing and managing studies that employ both quantitative and qualitative research methods to assess the implementation and impact of education and youth development initiatives.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

You Matter. Your Staff Matters.

By Guest Blogger, Rebecca Fabiano

Rebecca Fabiano
Research has shown that one of the top three reasons why youth stay in after school programs is because of their connection to the staff. YOU MATTER. YOUR STAFF MATTERS.

Those of us who have been in the field for more than a minute know that staff retention can be just as challenging as retaining the participants. Try these things as non-traditional ways to support, motivate and acknowledge your staff.

1. Work with them to PRESENT at one of the local, state or National Conferences; this helps to showcase their talent, their strengths and helps them to deepen their and your organization's networks.

2. For staff in a new role, like that of a supervisor, pair them up with a mentor (either in your organization or from a 'sister' organization); transitioning into a new role can be exciting and challenging, having someone to turn to who has gone through it before to provide a little extra guidance can help ensure success. And then, when they are ready, have them be a mentor to someone.

3. Find ways to show case their strengths and talents; perhaps they can run a photography or cooking workshop for other staff or participants, which may be a little different from their regular responsibilities. Consider sending them to a training or a workshop that speaks to their interests in addition to the required training (like CPR, mandated reporting, etc.)

4. Ask them how they like to be motivated and acknowledged! Not everyone likes the public shout-out at the staff meeting, and others hope for it every week. When you check in with your staff, find out how they like to be acknowledged, you might be surprised to find out a simple thank you note in their staff mailbox could go a long way. My staff used to love a 'good job!' sticker every now and then. Who knew!? You will, after you ask them.

NOTE from Sam Piha, Temescal Associates: I first met Rebecca in 2004 when she was directing The (high school) After School Program in Lincoln Square. I was so impressed with her approach that I wrote a description of her program for the National Institute on Out-of-School Time. You can view it here

Rebecca Fabiano is Founder of Rebecca Fabiano Consulting Services (RFCS), a small business that supports organizations and individuals that work with children and youth by focusing on improving program quality and providing professional development for staff. Rebecca has an extensive background as an executive in non-profit program administration & leadership, youth development, and adult education. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Expanding Horizons, Positive Youth Development, and SEL: The Power of Nature, Part 2

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Offering young people the chance to experience nature, particularly wilderness settings, provides powerful opportunities to promote social-emotional learning, build character skills, and build relationships and a sense of belonging. (See Part 1 of this blog post here.)

Below we continue our interview with youth program leaders who can speak directly to the power of outdoor and wilderness experiences for youth, especially inner-city youth.

Q: Exposing youth to the outdoors can be an expensive and complex task. For programs that do not have access to transportation or camping equipment, what is your recommendation for how they can expose their youth to the outdoors?
Bob Cabeza,
Youth Institute

Bob Cabeza, Youth Institute: I would strongly recommend partnering with agencies who have lots of experience in outdoor education as well as experience in Youth Development. Make sure that they have diverse staff as role models and leaders for the youth. Otherwise, its usually white enfranchised staff from wealthier socio-economic backgrounds and environments who are totally into the wilderness and environment due to life long access but know very little nor can empathize with inner city minority youth. 

A day trip does not give any type of long term impact that a multi-day camping wilderness experience does. They are not the same thing. Also, minority low-income youth need to gain access to beautiful nature, not just a local park. According to National Park data, over 92% of people who visit the parks are caucasian and older. We need to turn that around quickly or this generation will not have the love of the outdoors and advocate for the environment when they get older. 

We contract with other agencies and YMCA's nationally to take youth into the wilderness. I would advise programs to start small. Start with a few youth and staff and maybe a three day camping experience. That way, the cost is less and the staff gain confidence and experience as they move forward.

Brad Lupien,
Brad Lupien and Staff from arc: Transportation in particular is expensive which poses a challenge for may programs. Adventure Sports and camping can be costly too.  But, parks, beaches, forests are cheap. 

Some ideas:
  • There are lots of curriculum books out there for activities that can be done on a campus.  These may be east coast based and out of date but examples include; “Keepers of the Earth” and “And This our Life.”  Activities include leaf identification, nature art, gardening etc.  Essentially, you can bring nature to the schools. At the same time, getting OUT in nature is preferred.
  • There are cheaper ways to get kids into nature. Los Angeles added bus routes that have stops at State Parks.  “Surf Bus” offers surf instruction and the bus for free.  Online pages offer geocaching in local parks. The DOCENTS at city, state and national parks will do group specific walks/talks for free.
  • Finally, we, at arc, use the adventure outings as part of the leadership curriculum.  On campus classes and workshops on communication, problem solving, critical thinking, group dynamics are paired with culminating adventure/nature trips. This allows more expensive programs to be paired with less expensive programs which gets the overall budget to align.

Ashanti Branch, Ever Forward Club: I love the outdoor element, but it
requires an enormous amount of time and planning. To make this happen, we
Ashanti Branch,
Ever Forward Club
take advantage of the offerings of programs that specialize in taking youth on wilderness and camping trips. We partner with Bay Area Wilderness Training, which provides a gear library so that the cost barrier to getting youth outdoors is not a factor. We also partner with Young Men's Ultimate Weekend, a modern day Rites of Passage for young men. We have taken over 60 of our youth to this weekend over the years. This organization creates an outdoor weekend initiation for young men as they are making the journey from young men into mature adulthood. 

Q: What kind of experiences does your program offer youth? 

Bob Cabeza, Youth InstituteWe offer a one week wilderness retreat for our Youth as an entry point to the Youth Institute to help them develop socially and emotionally before we delve into the academic and workforce skill building parts of our program. These experiences are not 'cabin camp'. They are outward bound type of experiences where youth sleep on the ground, build their own shelters, cook, clean, do orienteering, hike, climb, swim in lakes and rivers. They are intense group work learning impactful transformational experiences for youth. Our Youth bond as one family through these experiences and in numerous evaluations, this experience is what keeps them actively engaged in all areas of our program for many years. 

Photo Credit: Youth Institute
Brad Lupien and Staff from arc: What arc Adventure doesn’t offer is a cookie-cutter program. Every kid, every teenager, and every adult is unique in every possible way, so our trips are as well. The most important thing an outdoor education experience can be is accessible, so that participants feel welcome in the new environment and are encouraged to come back. We don’t make assumptions about the groups that we work with, making them fit into the “arc” culture and way of running programs. We take the time to learn the school or team culture, the comfort and participation level of the group, and the things the group wants to accomplish in their time with us, so that our program is a natural extension of their learning and a singularly memorable experience that they’ll want to repeat again and again.

Arc programming ranges from single day adventures (rock climbing, snorkeling, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, surfing, canyoneering) to multi-day camping and backpacking trips.  Staff consist of certified guides to handle the adventures and naturalist/scientist to layer in the hands-on science.  Everyone is trained on youth development, leave-no-trace philosophy and group facilitation.  Whether working with a college, elementary school, church, or after school program we design the program to meet the unique needs of the group while always blending the “sport” with life and social skills lessons.  A day of rock climbing teaches figure 8 knots and ATC use but also how to deal with fear in our lives and how communication is a critical tool in goal setting.

Photo Credit: arc

Dr. Mark Schillinger, DC
Dr. Mark Schillinger, Young Men's Ultimate Weekend: The Young Men's Ultimate Weekend is a modern, nonreligious, wilderness rite of passage initiation for young men ages 13 – 20. Young men of all socio - economic backgrounds attend our event in order to freely voice their concerns about becoming a man and acquire the leadership skills necessary for a responsible adulthood. Young men are in an environment where they can voice their concerns about adulthood, learn leadership skills and discover their own, personal values. The YMUW has a one-to-one ratio of mentors to young men, so young men are in a village with well-trained caring adult men who know how to model the right values.

Bob Cabeza is Vice President of Community Development at the YMCA of Greater Long Beach and Founder of the Youth Institute. The Youth Institute is a year-round program that uses technology as an integral mechanism for promoting positive youth development and developing pathways to post secondary education and career readiness of low-income, culturally diverse urban high school youth. They built their program culture by exposing their youth to wilderness experiences. 

Brad Lupien is President and CEO at arcarc is an after school and experiential education provider. They bridge the opportunity gap by creating transformational learning opportunities that empower youth to realize their full potential. They rely heavily on engaging youth in outdoor sports and wilderness activities.

Ashanti Branch is Founder and Executive Director at Ever Forward Club. Founded in 2004, the Ever Forward Club mentors young men of color in middle and high school by providing them with safe, brave communities that build character and transform lives.  

Dr. Mark Schillinger, DC, is Co-Founder of Young Men's Ultimate Weekend (YMUW). The purpose of YMUW is to provide young men with a weekend filled with incredible fun and challenges, while building a foundation for a confident and successful adulthood, through learning the importance of teamwork, developing a sense of accomplishment and acquiring leadership skills.