Updated: May 11
1.) What is your background in CSR/Social Impact/Sustainability, if any?
I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, where I had a number of protective factors to lead to a successful life. I had access to good schools, a good family, my Dad’s job gave us great health benefits, there was affordable housing, and a strong community overall. After graduating from the University of Arizona with a bachelors in Communication, I joined the Peace Corps.
My two year volunteer service was in a very rural and remote village in Niger, West Africa. It was there that I came to realize how extremely privileged my childhood was because of where and to whom I was born.
Over the next decade, I went on to lead the construction of over 1,000 classrooms in developing countries with buildOn. It was during that time that I saw resilient communities that lacked basic resources working extremely hard to survive. What I observed was that those communities that came together to work interdependently had the best outcomes. During that same time, I lived part-time in Miami and got my Master’s in Community in Social Change from the University of Miami. Now, for the past ten years, I have called South Florida home.
I believe that our community has an abundance of resources to bring opportunities to all people, including those who are survivors of trauma, who have experienced unstable housing, economic struggles, and food insecurity.
I believe that if we really focused on the root causes of these problems, and looked at systems change to address the inefficiencies and inequities, we would be a much stronger South Florida. One example is Educate Tomorrow, where I am CEO. It was founded in 2003 after the founders realized foster youth in Florida were given the opportunity to attend college tuition free. Yet there was a clear lack of preparing and connecting foster youth to the opportunity.
Fast forward to today, Florida now leads the nation with more than 5,000 students using the college tuition exemption this academic year. Of course, leading to that success meant having to look both at all of the unique and individual needs in preparing our students for the best opportunity as well as organizing the community and the bigger systems in order to better receive these youth.
Lastly, it’s essential to recognize that progress rarely takes place in a vacuum, and at Educate Tomorrow our efforts are only one factor of many that have lead to such a sharp increase in foster youth accessing higher education.
2.) What do you do at your organization in terms of Social Impact, how do you monitor and report the outcomes and what are the goals?
Everything that we do, we hope will lead to life-long transformational change for either the young people we serve or to the system(s) we are trying to improve. Whether that is the foster care system or the education system, or affordable housing.
At the most basic level, what we are trying to do is have children who experienced trauma or unstable housing grow up to be adults who have children who don't have those risk factors.
That takes looking at each person as an individual and treating them in a holistic way. There is plenty of evidence that shows investing in young people, even those who have experienced trauma, is a worthwhile economic investment not just a moral one.
There is often a lot of emphasis on moving people from being dependent to independent. I believe that we need to focus more on creating a community that is full of interdependent citizens.
What I mean by that is that interdependence equates to someone who has the ability to give and receive in high quality ways. It also means that we have the right ratios of what we need to be a thriving growing economy. We need the right jobs, paired with the right skilled labor force, paired with the right ratio of housing options, transportation and access to health care. That equates to a community with a very high level of well being.
When it comes to tracking what we are doing and what results we are getting, we use a CRM tied to an app that allows us to track individual goal plans and every individual interaction with our participants. We track in real-time how our participants are doing when it comes to their educational gains, financially, their well-being and housing.
Positive Pathways' goal is to build an informed, empathetic and unified effort to promote higher education degree attainment among former foster youth.
We do this by informing people of the statutes and policies that effect this population and about the opportunities and best practices that some colleges and universities are doing to increase access and success rates. We are measuring those access and success rates and we are working to get more colleges and universities as well as other stakeholders on board to do this work. Helios Education Foundation and Educate Tomorrow recently collaborated on a research and policy brief found here.
3.) Do you believe in businesses as a force for good and do you have corporate partners? How do you work with them?
I don’t think I could state that businesses are forces for good or not. I think you would really have to look at each business individually. To me integrity over the long haul is everything. There will always be rough patches.
I think it is how businesses react in good times and bad times, that is what ultimately determines if they are a force for good or not.
I think it is our responsibility, the non profit sector, to inform our business partners of the challenges our youth and families are facing and provide them with solutions that will benefit us all.
4.) Do you see a change in behavior in your donors?
One good example of a change of behavior is Bank of America and their Neighborhood Builders Award of which we were selected for in 2015. What I liked about that award is that it came as general operating dollars coupled with both an executive leadership training for me and a rising leader in our organization.
Bank of America was bold in breaking the mold and putting faith in the expertise in the field to be able to adapt, innovate and conform to the ever changing needs in our community:
5.) How do the new technologies and this digital age influence your work? Do you use new technologies to spread the word about what you do?
What I am most excited about is a mobile app we created with funding from the Innovation Fund through The Children’s Trust, which allows our young people at Educate Tomorrow and other partner agencies to create individualized goal plans around their academic, economic, and social emotional well-being. These plans can then be shared at the student’s desire with any trusted adults and/or peers who the student think can help them in achieving their desired outcomes.
As far as spreading the word about what we do, we have embraced the use of social media, you can follow us on instagram, twitter, youtube channel, LinkedIn and Facebook
6.) In your view, what’s the biggest challenge when it comes to marketing Social Impact efforts in general?
Determining the amount to invest on the front end and having a reasonable expectation on the return of that investment.
7.) Please add your call to action
We need an informed, empathetic and unified vision for helping all our young people be prepared to take on the needs of the future. That includes young people who have suffered abuse, abandonment or neglect, housing insecurity, or poverty.
Evidence supports investing in our young people, from 0 through their early twenties, is a great economic investment not just a moral one.