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81 posts categorized "Children and Youth"

5 Questions for...Laurie Garduque, Director, Justice Reform, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

February 04, 2016

Recent opinions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court which hold that imposing harsh sentences on juvenile offenders violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment have transformed the landscape of juvenile sentencing. In December, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which earlier in the year had announced it would be winding down its significant support for juvenile justice reform efforts as part of a refocusing of its grantmaking strategy on  a handful of "big bets," including the over-use of jails and incarceration in America, released Juvenile Justice in a Developmental Framework: A Status Report (48 pages, PDF), its summation, based on twenty years of work, of developmentally appropriate best practices in nine key juvenile justice policy areas.

Last month, PND spoke with Laurie Garduque, director of justice reform at the foundation, about the genesis of its work in the juvenile justice field, the report's findings, and the prospects for further reform as MacArthur exits the field.

Philanthropy News Digest: MacArthur entered the juvenile justice field in 1996, a decision motivated by a belief inside the foundation that juveniles are not adults and should be treated differently by the criminal justice system. What was it about the environment in the mid-1990s that brought the issue to a head for you and your colleagues?

Headshot_laurie_garduqueLaurie Garduque: We'd been investing in research on child and adolescent development before 1996, and that research made it clear that children and adolescents were different, cognitively and emotionally, than adults. But the legal implications of those findings had not been considered. In the 1980s, violent crime among youths increased sharply, and fears of a generation of "super predators," a fear fanned by politicians and the press, led states across the country to move to treat young offenders as if they weren't young. States began to focus on the offense, not the offender, and moved toward harsh, punitive laws that included making it easier to try adolescents as adults. The report notes that, in the years leading up to MacArthur's decision to enter the field, forty-five states had changed their laws to try adolescents and children, some as young as ten years of age, as adults. States had also removed the kinds of due process protections you would like to see for young people – for example, determining whether or not they're competent to stand trial. And within the system itself, the emphasis was less on rehabilitation and treatment, and more on punishment. It wasn't about helping young people learn from their mistakes and getting them back on course; it was about punishing them harshly.

Knowing all that, knowing the harm that can result when you treat young people as adults, and seeing the toll these new laws were taking, dispropor­tion­ately, on young people of color and on low-income communities, the foundation started to look at ways we could use research, scientific evidence, and best practices to stem the tide and reform the system. In effect, we were looking for ways to reverse the rush toward draconian reforms and policies that was sweeping the country.

PND: One of the first things you and your col­leagues did was to create a re­search network focused on some of the important aspects of adolescent development and juvenile justice. Can you share with us some of the key findings surfaced by that initiative.

LG: You have to go back to the origins of juvenile court in the early part of the twentieth century, which was based on the recognition that children were deserving of a separate justice system from adults because they weren't as competent as adults, weren't as culp­able for their actions, and should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their capacity to change. Those ideas were challenged in the '80s as crime rates in the United States rose. To get society to once again accept the idea that a young person is less culpable for his actions than an adult, is less compe­tent to stand trial, and has more of a capacity to change than an adult, we knew we would have to map the adolescent development research that was being done to specific legal concepts. How, for example, do you determine whether someone is competent to stand trial? Are adolescents fully responsible for and truly understand the consequences of their actions? Are they more susceptible to peer pressure? More impulsive? Given their developmental immatur­ity, both with respect to their behavior and their brain development, should the criminal justice system treat them differently? The same is true of sentencing. We tend to punish adults harshly because we don't believe they have the capacity to change, or they're not as amenable to treatment and rehabilitation, whereas young people, who haven't yet matured, either emotionally and, in many cases, psychologically, are more likely to respond to rehabilitation.

So, as I said, it became important to map what all that looked like in terms of adolescents' social, emo­tional, and cognitive develop­ment, and to try to identify what the differences between children, adolescents, and adults in those areas were. We were confident that if we could pro­vide scientific evidence which demonstrated, in effect, how the immaturity of young people argues against them being treated as adults by the justice system, it could be the basis for a new way of thinking about how to hold juvenile offenders accountable for their behavior.

As things turned out, that body of research also became important in terms of recent Supreme Court decisions and was a valuable source of guidance for state and local agencies with respect to their juvenile justice practices.

PND: I want to talk about the Supreme Court in a minute. But first, in addition to supporting research, tell us about some of the other strategies the foundation developed to advance the cause of juvenile justice reform.

LG: What we recognized very early on is that there's no such thing as a single juvenile justice system in the United States. There are fifty juvenile justice systems, in that each state has the power to decide what it is a juvenile offense and what the policies and practices should be in terms of sentencing for that offense. We also knew that there was a great deal of discretion exercised at the local level about whether to process the young person formally or informally, and that states vary in terms of the amount and kinds of resources available to keep kids in the community, as opposed to sending them off to prison. We also knew that if we wanted to demonstrate that juvenile justice reform was practical, feasible, desirable, and could produce better outcomes for kids and the community, all while saving taxpayer dollars and improving public safety, we had to make our case on the ground, in individual jurisdictions.

So, with the research generated by our research network providing the basic framework around which juvenile justice reform should, in our opinion, be pursued  things like ensuring that due process protections for juveniles are in place, minimizing juvenile offenders contact with the adult criminal justice system as well as the use of secure confinement, providing them with rehabilitation and treatment — we had to show it could all be done and produce the desired outcomes.

That was the genesis of Models for Change, our signature effort for over a decade in terms of working with state and local jurisdictions across the country. We wanted to demonstrate to states that they could accomplish juvenile justice reform regardless of their starting point in terms of resources, past history, or politics. We started with Pennsylvania and then expanded our efforts to Illinois, Louisiana, and Washington. As it turned out, that expansion was critical to our success, in that it enabled us to show that there were multiple pathways to reform, regardless of your starting point. It didn't matter whether you were dealing with a Department of Justice investigation, as Louisiana was at the time, or whether you had a long history and track record of progressive reform, as Pennsylvania did. It didn't matter whether you were a red state or a blue state. And it didn't matter whether the drive for reform was led by a charismatic individual inside or outside of government. Through Models for Change, we were able to show that the system could be changed, that reform could happen, and that those reforms could be both cost effective and improve outcomes for kids and the public.

Eventually, we expanded our work with those four states, where the focus was on comprehensive reform, to twelve additional states, where the focus was on specific issues such as reducing racial and ethnic disparities, improving access to and the quality of juvenile indigent defense, and addressing the mental health needs of kids in contact with the system. And through that work, we generated a series of best practices that had been field-tested and demonstrated to be effective, developed guidebooks, tool kits, manuals, and training curricula, and partnered with the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to spread those resources to additional states. Those efforts have made a difference. The spread and diffusion of innovative policies and practices has been validated by the National Academy of Sciences, which in several recent reports talks about a developmental approach to juvenile justice reform and new ways to think about the application of a developmental framework to systems reform. The Council of State Governments has issued a similar report drawing attention to changes in law and policy. So, we feel there has been a cultural shift in the country, one that recognizes the importance of holding young kids accountable, but in ways that ensure they acquire the skills and competencies they need to become successful and productive citizens.

PND: You must be gratified by recent events. First, the Supreme Court, in a six-to-three decision, ruled that a prior decision to bar mandatory juvenile life sentences without parole must be applied retroactively. And on the same day, President Obama issued an executive order banning the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. Does that mean you can declare victory, or is there more work to be done?

LG: We're still dealing with the consequences of the harsh and punitive sentencing practices of the 1980s and '90s, and there is still a tendency to think that treating adolescents as adults is sound policy and practice. Which means we still have work to do in terms of rolling back automatic transfer of juvenile offenders to adult criminal courts.

I also think too many states still put the emphasis on the offense and not the offender. They just don't understand that an adolescent and an adult who commit a similar offense are not, and should not be, considered the same under the law. From an adolescent development perspective, too many of our laws are still unfair, unjust, and inhumane, and those laws have proven to be difficult to roll back. Does it surprise me? Not really. The Supreme Court only eliminated the juvenile death penalty in 2005, and only recently followed that up by eliminating life-without-parole sen­tences for juveniles in non-homicide cases and mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles charged with homicide. But we still see plenty of extreme sentencing practices, which I would call anything beyond twenty-five years without the possibility of parole, for many young offenders. Those laws have proven to be very difficult to change.

PND: Now that MacArthur is exiting the field, how can other foundations support the work that needs to be done?

LG: We think there’s a lot of momentum building behind juvenile justice reform, that networks and advocacy organizations have been seeded at many levels, that juvenile justice professionals and state legislators are better informed, and that there's a substantial body of knowledge out there with respect to best practices, sentencing guidelines, and so on.

That said, MacArthur has shifted its focus to the misuse and overuse of jails, a major issue affecting low-income people and communities of color, where the problem of mass incarceration begins. Based on our juvenile justice work, we were, and are, confident that there is an interest, at both the local and state levels, in changing policies and practices when it comes to the use of jails and incarceration while protecting public safety. One of the things we learned is that local jurisdictions not only need resources to support the adoption and implementation of new policies and practices, they also need technical assistance to help guide their reform efforts. But with new leadership, new resources, and clear pathways with respect to systems reform, the prospects for further change, change that can be sus­tained, are bright. Will there be threats to the current wave of reform? Another spike in crime rates followed by a moral panic? No one can say, but it's certainly happened before. Still, we're hopeful that activists and reformers are in a better position, as a result of our efforts, to deflect any such threats to the gains that have been made and will be able to keep the momentum going.

— Mitch Nauffts

Weekend Link Roundup (January 23-24, 2016)

January 24, 2016

Melted_snowman_ice_cubesOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

Are the residents of Flint, the majority of whom are black and many of whom are poor, the victims of environmental racism? Would Michigan's state government have responded more quickly and aggressively to complaints about its lead-polluted water if the majority of the city's residents were white and affluent? The New York Times' John Eligon reports.

"Recent events have shone a light on the black experience in dozens of U.S. cities. Behind the riots and the rage, the statistics tell a simple, damning story," writes Richard V. Reeves on the Brookings Institute blog. "Progress toward equality for black Americans has essentially halted." 

In the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Tamara Copeland, president of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, writes that, despite the election and re-election of Barack Obama, America is not a post-racial society, and that until the public — and philanthropy — acknowledge that the "negative treatment of a group of people based solely on race is a major contributor to poverty and inequality,...we won't be able to take the steps needed to end racial inequities."

How can America narrow its racial wealth gap? the Annie E. Casey Foundations shares four policy recommendations designed to help low-income families boost their savings and assets, "the currency of the future."

Children and Youth

On First Focus' Voices for Kids blog, Karen Howard shares the five things every presidential candidate needs to know about poverty among America's youngest children.

On the Chronicle of Social Change site, Inside Philanthropy's Kiersten Marek takes a closer look at what new leadership at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation — Peter Laugharn is the first non-Hilton family member to lead the foundation — and a doubling of assets is likely to mean for the foundation's future support of child welfare initiatives.

Community Improvement/Development

Returning to the subject of the most popular post on his blog in 2015, "trickle-down" community engagement, Vu Le argues that communities of color and other marginalized communities too often are "infantalized" by funders, a dynamic that plays out in a number of ways: a lack of trust that communities have solutions to their own problems; unrealistic expectations for communities to "get along"; and demands for communities to prove themselves with little initial support. Instead, writes Le, "[w]hy don't we try the reverse for once, and invest significant amounts in organizations led by the people who know first-hand the inequity they are trying to address." We are tired, he adds,

[of] being asked to attend more forums, summits, focus groups, answer more surveys, rally our community members, only for our opinions to be dismissed. One funder told me, "Communities need to stop complaining and start proposing solutions."

We have been. We propose solutions all the time. But if there's no trust that we actually know what we're talking about, if there's no faith that the qualitative experiences and perspectives of people who have lived through decades of social injustice are just as valid as double-blind quantitative meta-studies written up in a glossy white paper or whatever, then what's the point? The investments will be token, oftentimes trickled-down, and then that will be used to say, "You know what, we invested in you, and it didn't lead to what we wanted," further perpetuating the cycle....

In his last blog post as president of the Vermont Community Foundation, Stuart Comstock-Gay, who is leaving VCF after seven years for the top job at the Delaware Community Foundation, reflects on four questions that all Vermonters — and many other Americans — should be asking themselves.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 26-27, 2015)

December 27, 2015

New-years-resolutionsOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at@pndblog....

Arts and Culture

Eight years after its controversial Central Library Plan was greeted with alarm and derision, the New York Public Library  is moving forward with a $300 million renovation of its historic midtown campus, and this time, library leaders say, "it's a different story." WNYC's Jessica Gould reports.

How can we talk about art and artists in a way that makes clear their contributions to quality of life in the communities we call home? Veteran policy advocate and communicator Margy Waller shares some thoughts on Americans for the Arts' ArtsBlog.

Civil Society

On the Open Society Foundations' Voices blog, OSF president Christopher Stone notes the troubling fact that, in countries around the world and for a variety of reasons, "active citizenship is under attack and the space for civic engagement is closing."

Climate Change

Andrew Simmons, founder of the JEMS Progressive Community Organization and the Caribbean Youth Environment Network and a previous winner ('94) of the Goldman Environmental Prize, talks to the folks at GEP about the global agreement forged at the recent Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC/COP21) summit in Paris and whether it is enough to save vulnerable island-nations from disaster.

Corporate Philanthropy

Based on Corporate Responsibility magazine's list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens of 2015, the folks at the JK group share ten lessons from their work that make these companies the best in philanthropy and how yours can follow suit.

Criminal Justice

On the Marshall Project site, Vincent Schiraldi, formerly director of juvenile corrections for Washington, D.C., and a senior advisor to the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice in New York City, argues that in order to truly end mass incarceration in the U.S., "we need to completely shutter the doors of youth prisons...."

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No Cavalry Will Come to Save Our Cities: We’re the Leaders We’ve Been Waiting For

December 11, 2015

More than forty years after Dr. King asked, “Where do we go from here?” American society is still grappling with the question.

From Chicago to Minneapolis to Baltimore, our nation is in the midst of a defining moment of racial, social, and economic change. For communities of color, this moment is particularly stark and has been magnified by the courageous #BlackLivesMatter movement, which emerged in response to a long history of police violence and criminal injustice against black men and women.

CBMA_report_The_Promise_of_Place_for_PhilanTopicSocial justice, racial equity, and systems change are critical for today's black men and boys, particularly given the barriers that prevent them from realizing their full human potential. For America to prosper, we must recognize that black men and boys are assets to their families and communities and work to expand opportunities for them and improve their life outcomes.

As we have all come to realize, black men and boys face unique challenges on the path to success in education, work, and life. Statistics about these disparities are widely cited, including those from our Black Male Achievement Life Outcomes Dashboard. For example, 12 percent of black boys score at or above proficiency in eighth-grade reading, compared with 31 percent of all boys, while the black male unemployment rate of 15 percent is nearly double the 8 percent rate for all males.

With these challenging realities as a backdrop, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) — along with its partner organizations and networks, including the Obama administration’s recently established My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Alliance — has long been engaged in actions to improve life outcomes and expand opportunities for black males and other young men of color.

Cities — where most of our nation’s black men and boys live — represent a critical focus of that work. We must ensure that all cities in America are equipped with the tools and resources they need to help black men and boys succeed and reach their full potential. That’s why CBMA commissioned a first-of-its-kind report titled The Promise of Place: Cities Advancing Black Male Achievement to assess how America’s cities are doing in providing support to black men and boys.

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5 Questions for...Heather Nesle, President, New York Life Foundation

November 20, 2015

The New York Life Foundation is one of a handful of grantmakers that support childhood bereavement programs for children who have lost a loved one. This year, on Children's Grief Awareness Day, November 19, the foundation launched the Shared Grief Project, a website that seeks to "open up" the dialogue around childhood grief by featuring role models whose "grief journeys" can offer inspiration and guidance to grieving children.

PND asked New York Life Foundation president Heather Nesle about the foundation's grantmaking in the childhood bereavement area, its accomplishments to date, and its hopes for the future.

Headshot-heather-neslePhilanthropy News Digest: Through its Nurturing the Children initiative, the New York Life Foundation has awarded grants to childhood bereavement programs since 2007. How did the foundation come to focus on support for children who have lost a family member or friend?

Heather Nesle: Our dedication to the issue of childhood bereavement began with our support of Comfort Zone Camp, the nation's largest childhood grief camp. Through that relationship, we quickly learned that supporting grieving children was something our employees and agents were particularly passionate about — as well as an issue in urgent need of increased attention and investment.

Like many of our corporate foundation peers, we've looked to integrate our philanthropic strategy with the company's overarching mission and values. Part of New York Life's mission is to provide peace of mind for our policy holders, and we see providing comfort and assistance to children in their time of greatest need as a direct, natural extension of that. We also saw an exciting opportunity to get involved with the issue from the ground up by engaging our extensive agent network.

PND: What kinds of programs and services for grieving children and their families does the foundation fund? And what have you learned about the kinds of support that are most effective in helping children cope with the loss of a loved one?

HN: Our key partners/programs include the National Alliance of Grieving Children, a national network of grief stakeholders whose reach we have helped expand considerably over the past few years; Grief Reach, our program for delivering direct support to childhood bereavement centers and programs across the country through community expansion and capacity-building grants; the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, a group of leading K-12 professional organizations that we convened to produce new educator-specific grief resources and training materials; Camp Erin/Moyer Foundation and Comfort Zone Camp, networks of free bereavement camps; the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which offers compassionate care to those grieving the death of a loved one who served in our armed forces; and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. We also recently sponsored the HBO documentary "One Last Hug," an intimate portrayal of the Camp Erin program that premiered in 2014 and won an Emmy for Best Children's Programming.

We fund a diverse range of programs and organizations, but they all share two basic convictions: that grieving children need to feel they're not alone, and that they need to have outlets to express their grief. Every child is different, so we try to help educate people to better recognize and understand the variety of forms grief can take.

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In Post-Katrina New Orleans, Do Black Lives Really Matter?

August 28, 2015

Katrina_steps_guardianHurricane Katrina laid bare the lack of value attached to black lives in the U.S., a reality that New Orleans residents and the nation are still wrestling with a decade later. Recent events suggest that Americans are at a crossroads in terms of how they think, talk about, and deal with race and racism — but are still a long way from agreeing that black lives do indeed matter.

Ten years after Katrina brought New Orleans to its knees, the outlook for the city's African-American community is as grim as it was before the storm hit. According to the Cowen Institute at Tulane University, an estimated 26,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in the city are disconnected from education and employment. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, which jails nearly 40,000 people per year (66 percent of whom are African American), as many as one in seven black men in some New Orleans neighborhoods are either in prison, on probation, or on parole. What's more, fully half of all African-American children in New Orleans live in poverty — more than in 2005.

As we mark another anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a fateful turning point in the city's and nation’s history, a critical question remains: How has so much racial and economic inequity been allowed to not only persist but worsen?

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5 Questions for...Kevin Washington, President/CEO, YMCA of the USA

August 26, 2015

When Kevin Washington talks about how the YMCA shapes children's lives, he speaks from experience. Growing up in a tough section of South Philadelphia, the Christian Street Y was Washington's refuge from the gangs that roamed the streets of his neighborhood. At the same time, the Y helped foster in him a love for learning and basketball, which in turn enabled him earn a scholarship to Temple University.

In February, Washington became president and CEO of YMCA of the USA. A thirty-six-year veteran of the organization, Washington served as president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston from 2010 to 2014 and was credited with doubling that organization's membership to more than forty thousand households and forging a common identity for the region’s thirteen different branches. He also has served as a member of the Y-USA board of directors (2004-09) and chaired an advisory committee that guided the development of the national organization's new strategic plan.

Earlier this summer, Washington, the first African-American president and CEO of the national organization, sat down with PND to discuss the organization's Hop the Gap campaign and the ways in which the organization has changed its approach to donor cultivation and partnerships.

Headshot_kevin_washingtonPhilanthropy News Digest: We're both reading Robert Putnam's Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, in which Putnam examines the class-based opportunity gap that has emerged in America over the past forty or fifty years. What role does an organization like the Y play in helping to address opportunity gaps of the kind Putnam describes?

Kevin Washington: Well, our Hop the Gap campaign is expressly designed to fill gaps for kids during out-of-school time related to hunger, health, learning, water safety, and access to safe spaces. It's part of our larger commitment to ensuring that all children, regardless of income or background, have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

For example, many of the more than one million kids in the U.S. who attend the Y's resident and summer day camps are from low-income communities. During the school year, kids learn things at a certain age and at a certain rate. But the summer months, and summer learning loss, are a problem. We know, however, and statistics show, that kids who engage in the Y's summer learning loss prevention programs gain on average two to three  months of reading and math skills over a six-week period.

Looking at nutrition, kids who receive breakfast and lunch at school lose the benefit of that program during the summer months. The Y, with support from the Walmart Foundation, is focused on making sure that the food-insecurity gap is addressed by providing four and a half million healthy meals and snacks to nearly two hundred thousand kids this summer.

Last but not least, all kids need to know how to swim. The CDC has found, however, that African-American kids are three times more likely to drown than white kids. So our water-safety initiative is vitally important.

PND: Wow, I had no idea the disparity was so great. What's behind it?

KW: In many low-income communities, there are no pools where kids can learn how to swim. It's also a family thing -- if your mother or father never learned how to swim, chances are you won't, either. We know that if kids haven't learned to swim by third or fourth grade, they likely never will.

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Corporate Social Responsibility: Empowerment Is Key

August 10, 2015

Digicel_haiti_schoolMany businesses understand the importance of giving back to their communities; research has shown that in order to earn trust in the communities where we work, corporations should start by doing “good business” that has a positive societal impact. But there’s more we can and should do to ensure that our efforts have a lasting effect.

The role of corporate citizenship is of utmost importance in emerging economies where resources are scarce and extreme poverty has created an urgent need for initiatives and partnerships that can improve the well-being of local people. This need is even more pronounced in countries like Haiti that have suffered extreme devastation. The massive earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in 2010 — a disaster that killed more than 200,000 people, left 1.5 million homeless, and damaged or destroyed 4,000 schools — created both an urgent need for immediate foreign assistance and a recognition that the effort to rebuild devastated communities and the Haitian economy would take years. While much work remains to be done, I can report that significant progress has been made.

Paradis des Indiens, a Digicel Foundation Haiti grantee, is a small local organization whose efforts to improve education in Haiti’s Grande Anse region offer lessons for all corporate sustainability funders. Using a community-service model, the organization engages children in school improvement projects and volunteer work. Children are encouraged to play an integral role in these projects and, through their participation, develop both a deeper sense of pride in and a sense of responsibility for their communities, which, in turn, inspires a greater commitment among them to rebuilding Haiti itself. While this kind of involvement in community service isn’t typical in developing countries, the impressive ability of Paradis des Indiens to instill a sense of pride and ownership in children is a perfect illustration of how a focus on empowering community members can lead to successful and sustainable projects over the longer term.

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[Review] 'The Chocolate Trust: Deception, Indenture and Secrets at the $12 Billion Milton Hershey School'

June 02, 2015

Cover_the_chocolate_trustWould you be concerned if you knew there was a charity that served only a couple of thousand children each year even though its asset base was  the same size as the Ford Foundation's? Would you wonder what that charity, three times the size of the largest U.S. community foundation, did with the money it accumulates and doesn't spend each year? Would you wonder who benefits from it? 

Bob Fernandez, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, wondered all that and more about the $12 billion Hershey School and decided to do some digging. The result is The Chocolate Trust (Camino Books, 256 pages; $24.95/paper, $9.99/ebook).

The book is important not simply for what it reveals about the trust, about those who have profited from its sometimes questionable practices over decades, and about the kids who have been neglected as a result of those practices. The Chocolate Trust also is a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks nonprofits can self-regulate or rely on local and state government authorities who too often are ethically compromised and politically constrained to keep them on the straight and narrow. 

First, a little history. In 1909, Milton Hershey, who had started a chocolate company and set out to build a town for its workers, established the nonprofit Hershey Industrial School, a residential facility to serve young, fatherless, white boys. In 1918, a few years after Hershey's wife, Kitty, died – they never had children and had no heirs – Hershey transferred his land and other assets to his "orphanage," making it a very wealthy entity indeed.

Hershey stipulated that those assets were to be managed by the Hershey Trust, part of a for-profit bank, and he retained a significant measure of control over the school's operations by reserving to the bank the right to appoint its board members. In simple terms, the bank controlled the school's assets and operations, and Hershey owned the bank – the reverse of standard operating procedure in the charity world, where donated assets typically are controlled by the charity to which they have been donated. 

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Creating a Culture of Mentorship Among Young Professionals — It Starts With Senior Management

May 01, 2015

Headshot_peter_sloaneWe know that young professional mentors who work in the for-profit world can play a crucial role in changing the life trajectories of underserved youth. Despite the trumpeting of mentorship programs by a large number of companies, however, too few know how to create a culture of mentorship. I'm not talking about encouraging employees to build camaraderie or esteem by spending a day cleaning up a roadside, or volunteering at a soup kitchen or pantry, or taking a poor kid to a ballgame (with company T-shirt and hat included). I'm not even talking about creating a culture of corporate "internship programs," which seldom lead to long-term employment for underserved youth but which often do feature prominent, well-intentioned CEOs on their boards (and on their billboards). If you think you don't need a more effective way to promote a culture of mentoring for less fortunate kids among your own workforce of young professionals, do it yourself and lead by example.

Before I began promoting that idea, I tried it with our own organization. I agreed to be a mentor to a young person attending a Catholic high school through Student Sponsor Partners. I wanted all to see that mentorship was rewarding for both the mentee and for me. Soon I was hearing stories from our staff and even my own kids about "their" mentees. 

So, when an invitation to speak to a firm's young employees at one of its regular professional development lunches came, I jumped at it — albeit with the ulterior motive to spread the word about the importance of senior management's commitment to mentorship. In anticipation of the presentation, I was furnished with an agenda, complete with time segments blocked out and a short period for Q&A. The agenda was fine, but predictable — tell them about your foundation's history and what you do kind of stuff, and then entertain questions for a few minutes at the end. The day before the lunch I even received a call assuring me that one of the partners would be happy to assist by prompting me with questions. I, in turn, assured the caller I was comfortable speaking to young professionals and did not need an agenda or prompting. I've done this often, I said, and with good results — that is, if you ignore my speech at my daughter's wedding, which I had decided to wing, only to find myself, when the time came, so overcome by emotion that the wedding planner had to prompt me to welcome the guests (the only part of the speech that rated more than a failing grade with my family).

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Seven Lessons About Childhood Poverty

February 07, 2015

Instead of posting an infographic, as we usually do on Saturdays, we decided to mix things up this week and share a compelling presentation put together by journalist and author Jeff Madrick (Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World; Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present), Clio Chang, and their colleagues at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank here in New York City.

Built with an online tool called Creatavist, Seven Lessons About Childhood Poverty opens with a reminder that the official child poverty rate in the United States today stands at 20 percent, the second-highest among the world's developed countries. The presentation then segues into an articulation of  seven "lessons" about childhood poverty in the U.S. — lessons formulated at the Century Foundation's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative conference last June. They are:

  1. The Stress of Childhood Poverty Is Costly for the Brain and Bank Accounts
  2. Child Poverty Is Not Distributed Equally
  3. The Power of Parental Education
  4. Higher Minimum Wage Is a Minimum Requirement
  5. Workplaces Need to Recognize Parenthood
  6. Government Works 
  7. Cash Allowances Are Effective

The length of a substantial blog post, each lesson includes downloadable tables and charts, a short video, and links to related materials.

So grab a mug of your favorite warm beverage, pull up a seat, and start reading. We're pretty sure that by the end of the last lesson, you'll agree with Madrick, et al. that "investment in early childhood is the best way to create a better economic life for all Americans." 

'Under Construction': Alaska Native Heritage Center Anchorage

January 29, 2015

Logo-under_constructionUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more profiles, click here.

Anchorage, Alaska, is surrounded by natural splendor. Snow-topped mountains soar into clinquant skies, a majestic backdrop for the meeting of two worlds — the monumental grandeur of Alaska's ancient natural environment and the contemporary bustle of the state's largest city.

Straddling both are Alaska's Native people — in particular the tween and teen boys coming of age who are expected to contribute to their communities and provide for their families. That, by historic definition, is what makes a man.

Connected by blood to cultures as vibrant as the land itself, these boys and teens are also living the experience of American millennials. Some come from households steeped in traditional Native values and customs. Some grow up in homes where those norms aren't norms at all. For many, the bridge between their dual identities is the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

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'Under Construction': Growing Kings

December 05, 2014

Under_Construction_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more profiles, click here.

There's an old saying that goes, A boy is born, a man is trained.

In the hodge-podge of races, cultures, ethnicities, and all their companion traditions that is America, there's no formalized, hard-and-fast entrée into manhood. Sans a singular rite of passage, it just kind of happens from family to family, community to community. Getting a driver's license, losing one's virginity, graduating from high school or college and joining the workforce, turning 18 or 21 (depending on whom you ask) — all have been pointed to as touchstones in the shaping of masculinity. Fathering a child is perhaps the most significant of all, but the consensus view holds that, the mechanics of biology aside, the ability to procreate does not make a male a father — nor make him a man.

The absence of active dads in black and Latino communities has been well-documented as the by-product of systemic social factors and poor personal decisions. Whatever the reasons, the result is boys growing up without real-life role models and male figures unable or unwilling to offer their time, wisdom, and emotional maturity to boys looking for the way forward. Mentorship doesn't necessarily substitute for the absence of a biological parent, but it often does provide boys and young men with support and encouragement from older guys who can relate to them because, not too long ago, they were them.

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5 Questions for...John Kordsmeier, President, Northwestern Mutual Foundation

October 21, 2014

In August, the Northwestern Mutual Foundation marked the two-year anniversary of its Childhood Cancer Program, an initiative to raise awareness of pediatric cancer and generate additional funding for research on treatments and a cure, by announcing a $900,000 grant to the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Earlier this month, PND spoke with John Kordsmeier, the foundation’s president, about the program.

Headshot_john_kordsmeierPhilanthropy News Digest: When did the foundation decide to focus on childhood cancer? Describe the process that led to that decision.

John Kordsmeier: Over the years, we've supported a number of causes in our hometown of Milwaukee and have provided assistance for families and individuals in the surrounding communities. In 2012, we refined our strategy and created a vision that identifies tangible social outcomes where we can make the greatest impact through our funding and the volunteerism of our employees. To help us realize that vision, we reviewed more than fifty social issues and narrowed the list to issues that are closely aligned with the company's support of children and families. We then further narrowed the list based on feedback from employees and company leadership.

As a result of that process, today childhood cancer is our signature cause. Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15 in the United States, yet research on pediatric cancer remains underfunded compared to other cancers. We're focused on accelerating the search for a cure for childhood cancers and helping children and their families receive the assistance they need to fight this terrible disease.

PND: The foundation commissioned a national survey of childhood cancer researchers in the fall of 2013. What did you learn from the survey?

JK: We commissioned the survey so as to better understand the state of childhood cancer research. Among other things, the survey found that one in five respondents – 21 percent -- would consider leaving the field of childhood cancer research and that their number one reason for leaving was lack of funding. More than a third of respondents – 34 percent – know a colleague who is considering leaving the field in the next two years, and of those who know a researcher who is considering leaving the field, the top reason, again, is lack of funding. Seven in ten respondents know of a researcher whose project is in danger of not getting additional funding, while nearly four out of five are concerned that future advances in finding better treatments and cures for childhood cancer will suffer due to lack of new researchers going into the field. Overall, nine in ten respondents are concerned that researchers are not pursuing research in childhood cancer due to a lack of funding.

Childhood cancer research is a field filled with hope, passion, and promise. There are research projects under way that have the potential to help children. That is why Northwestern Mutual is committed to increasing research funding to find life-saving cures for this disease.

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Arts Education and Human Development: Creating Space for Transformation

October 15, 2014

Selvon_waldron_PhilanTopicArt can change lives.

For over eighteen years, we have lived that reality at Life Pieces To Masterpieces, a comprehensive arts-based youth development nonprofit serving African-American males from the most underserved communities in Washington, D.C. We have seen — over and over, with more than a thousand young men — the transformation that happens when youth connect to and embrace their creative potential. We have learned that individual brilliance is a universal trait. It only needs the space to grow.

The research is clear: the arts play a crucial role in positive youth development. They stimulate imagination; build problem-solving and critical thinking; develop perception, vision, and self-confidence; teach delayed gratification and the ability to complete long-term tasks; stimulate memory; and motivate children to learn[1]. These benefits are particularly pronounced among youth from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Across all measures of academic achievement and civic engagement, youth from low-income backgrounds with high exposure to arts outperform their peers from similar backgrounds, and they reach outcomes “closer to, and in some cases exceeding, the levels shown by the general population studied.”[2] For funders seeking to assist in closing gaps in opportunity and achievement, arts education has proven to be among the most efficient and impactful investments available.

Of course, not all arts education is created equal. As an organization committed to holistic human development, we know that process and approach matter. All that we do with our Apprentices (program participants) is rooted in our award-winning Human Development System, a concrete set of beliefs, values, and strategies to help individuals connect to their sense of purpose. Our unique, collective process is structured not only to make art fun and creative (though it certainly is) but also to serve as a vehicle for processing experiences, healing wounds, and navigating challenges. For youth facing violence and trauma, it becomes a therapeutic outlet, a chance to reconnect with a sense of control and personal power in an often chaotic world. For youth too frequently told, shown, and exposed to ideas of their own inadequacy, it becomes a powerful tool to rebuild a sense of self-worth and reconnect to the reality of their brilliance.

The philanthropic community tends to operate in perpetual pursuit of silver bullets, hunting out promising outcomes and attempting to copy-and-paste the programs that create them into new environments and communities. We are very proud of our outcomes. In a city where the graduation rate for African-American males is well under 50 percent, for eight years in a row 100 percent of our Apprentices have graduated high school. And an external evaluation of our program found that 100 percent of program participants’ parents and guardians reported improved attitudes toward the future in their children. Still, we don’t claim the specifics of our programs or our artistic process to be any type of panacea. We have grown, developed, and innovated based on the specific needs and experiences of the community of which we are a part. That is why, rather than attempting to franchise or spread nationally, we are focused on reaching more of our target population in Washington, D.C.

We do, however, believe that one of the key factors to our success can and should be applied universally. And we believe that funders seeking to create a truly meaningful and sustainable impact should put this factor at the center of their funding priorities: the intentional commitment to building an environment of love, security, and expression. In an increasingly data-driven world, that can sound soft and unscientific. But it is the truth, as we have experienced it for more than eighteen years. The type of creative expression that produces real, transformative change is only possible when youth are able to immerse themselves in a loving, safe space. What matters is not handing a young man a paintbrush; what matters is allowing that young man to experience an environment that honors and respects his potential greatness.

So before asking an organization about its outcomes, ask about the kind of space they create. How do they make space for unique identities and means of expression? How do they ensure that each individual’s specific talents, abilities, and interests are engaged? How do they provide opportunities for participants to connect with themselves, their peers, and program staff? How do they make sure, every day and in every interaction, that youth in their programs feel loved, safe, and able to express their true selves? When those questions are answered honestly, with thought, care, and intentionality, you can trust that positive outcomes will follow.

Art can change lives. Creating an environment in which it does so is the real art of arts education.

Selvon Waldron, executive director of Life Pieces To Masterpieces, is a youth development leader and human rights activist.


[1] “Fact Sheet About the Benefits of Arts Education for Children,” Americans for the Arts. Washington, DC. 24 September 2013

[2] James S. Catterall, Susan A. Dumais, and Gillian Hampden-Thompson. “Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies.” Arts.gov, National Endowment for the Arts. Washington, DC. March 2012

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