Consider this entry yet another story from the field. Over the past several months, I have had the honor to work with staff at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Lorain County. The director and his staff are examples of everyday heroes that work in the horribly mis-named “nonprofit” sector in our communities. These folks demonstrate unwavering dedication to young people, and their passion to get things done, and their actions make them the real social innovators in our country. Unfortunately, because they work in this so-called nonprofit sector, our society sees them as second-class citizens and treated as “do-gooders” and not respected for the professionals they are.
Dan Palotta’s recently published book Uncharitable provides our society with one of the most compelling arguments for us to reconsider this entire “nonprofit” sector.
Mr. Palotta’s argument is important as one contemplates creating innovation districts for teaching and learning environments. The Ohio education bureaucracy by its nature, isolates itself from the nonprofit organizations, most of which do a superb job at providing quality child-care, quality after-school programming, quality mentoring programs and quality college counseling and psychological supports. Over and over again I hear how public school principals make it extremely difficult to link with these organizations offering services to the schools. Union rules and regulations are such that these nonprofits cannot serve unless the schools have mentors who, must be paid. In difficult economic times the nonprofits find it harder and harder to find the private dollars necessary to pay for these added budget items. The schools do nothing to help. In fairness, many of them cannot because they too are cash strapped. Meanwhile, the nonprofit workers at the schools earn a fraction of what teachers earn and oftentimes have no health insurance or retirement benefits. The whole system lacks any rationality. It is done because that’s the way it worked forty and fifty years ago. So the question to consider, ” is there not a way to reallocate the huge sums of state and federal monies that currently go to bloated administrative educational bureaucracies as outlined in the Brookings report I reference in a previous post?”
As a first step, Ohio must shift more K-12 dollars to classrooms. Ohio ranks 47th in the nation in the share of elementary and secondary education spending that goes to instruction and ninth in the share that goes to administration. More pointedly, Ohio’s share of spending on school district administration (rather than school administration such as principals) is 49 percent higher than the national average. It appears from projections in other states and from actual experience in Ohio that school district consolidation, or at the very least more aggressive shared services agreements between existing districts, could free up money for classrooms.
I think there is and here is where I find inspiration. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Lorain County opened in city of Oberlin in March of 1999. The Club has provided programming in neighboring Elyria since 2004 beginning at Eastgate Elementary School and later expanded its programming to Wilkes Villa a crime ridden public housing project in Elyria, the Prospect School, and the East Recreation Center. Elyria is a city that typifies the economic depression in the “rust belt.” The crime statistics and more importantly the social and economic strife make this one burgeoning mid-west town a case study of how we need to change the way we have always done things! This area of Elyria has an unusually high number of children in single-family homes, large number of children with one or both parents incarcerated, one of the highest rates of households where grandparents are taking care of the children. A study conducted by Dr. Mark Singer at the Mandel School for Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University for the Nord Family Foundation in 2000 found that, Elyria is one of three blighted urban cities in NE Ohio that has one of the highest rates of child-on-child (and mainly sibling violence) in NE Ohio due primarily to children in homes where parents are not at home because of work or other issues.
In 2005, the Nordson Corporation donated an old and unused assembly and distribution plant on the south side of town to the Boys and Girls clubs. The Nordson Community Center evolved with financial contributions from local foundations, including the Cleveland Cavaliers Foundation, the Community Foundation of Lorain County, the Stocker Foundation and the Nord Family Foundation. An unused factory has become a thriving center for young people and their families. The Clubs have a simple goal which is to assist youth members in developing skills and qualities to become responsible citizens and leaders. The primary programming focus addresses five (5) core program areas including character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts, and social recreation. A membership fee of just $5 per year allows youth to engage in hundreds of hours of safe, after-school activities. This is part of what schools used to offer before the madness of testing morphed into the punitive system of assessment it now is.
The Nordson Community Center is half complete and now offers a venue for classes, dramatic performances, celebrations, community meetings, health fairs, and much more. The Nordson Center which used to be a dirty and decaying monument to the flight of manufacturing, now looks like this.
Energized from our community conversations about the medically uninsured (Blog post and the need to create medical homes), I introduced the B&G staff, as well as directors from the Lorain County Urban League to the Harlem Children s Zone model. This innovative model, introduced by Geoffrey Canada, embraces the work of nonprofit and other social service organizations and incorporates them into the entire education of the child. Drawing from this idea, our idea was to fill the extra space at the Nordson Community Center with medical check-up rooms. Staffed with volunteers from the medical professions at the local hospitals rooms at the club could be used to address the physical and mental health issues faced by the youngsters and eventually their families.
The Boys and Girls Clubs staff met with the director and physicians at the nearby Elyria Metropolitan Hosptial (a charity hospital that looses about $8 million a year in uncompensated care because the poor use their emergency room as a portal to the health care system). They have picked up the idea and already have a number of health care professionals ready to serve in the center. At this writing the assistant superintendent of the Elyria Schools is endorsing the concept of expanding for-credit educational options to young people who attend the Clubs. This could include online academic credit. Additionally, the Lorain City Schools is also exploring the idea of linking physical and mental health programming in its schools as they plan for the construction of a new campus.
As the philanthropic community engages in serious discussion about integrating technology to the educational sector, it must give equal consideration to how the school systems can better integrate the hand-on and interpersonal work of the social and medical sector which are critically important to supporting families in severe economic crisis. That is a very exciting charge for philanthropy.
The challenge for the educational sector will be how to make more effective use of the “nonprofit” sector which serves to enhance not compete with public education. I discussed this in a post I wrote in 2008, To do so, this sector will have to re-think its perception of the “nonprofit” sector as a group of “do-gooders” and more as business partners. That too is an exciting challenge.
Realizing this dream however will require concerted effort on the State’s legislatures to reconsider they way they allocate federal funds through agencies such as mental health, drug and alcohol, juvenile justice and the like. This is a major challenge for the State and Federal legislators to consider as philanthropy and nonprofits figure out ways to deliver services more efficiently and at lower cost. Check out the attached video and listen carefully to Vivek Kundra.
“One of the biggest problems in the federal government is that process has trumped outcome. … the biggest reason is that everyone is focused on compliance and no one is thinking about innovation…”
The goals expressed in this video are already emerging with tremendous impact for nonprofit organizations. Check out ReadWriteWeb and see what the public sector can do with this tool!!