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Change Across Time

Written by Matt Gayer, Co-Executive Director of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

It’s always a privilege, and just a lot of fun, to talk with someone living out their passion — doing work they care about. It’s even more fun when you are talking to two people doing so, and those two people are lifelong DMVers who love this city, making change, and laughing.

The following is a December 2019 interview I was proud to be a part of with Emma Strother, Development Manager at LearnServe International, and Yasmine Arrington, Founder and Executive Director of ScholarCHIPS. LearnServe is a DC-based nonprofit that equips middle and high school students from diverse backgrounds with the entrepreneurial vision, tenacity, confidence, and leadership skills needed to tackle social challenges at home and abroad. ScholarCHIPS is also based in DC and focuses on providing college scholarships, mentoring and a peer support network to children of incarcerated parents, inspiring them to complete their college education.

Emma Strother and Yasmine Arrington

Emma Strother and Yasmine Arrington

What made this interview especially exciting is that ScholarCHIPS is a “second-generation” Catalogue for Philanthropy member. Yasmine founded ScholarCHIPS in 2010 when she and Emma were both participants in LearnServe’s Fellows and Abroad Programs. Both LearnServe and ScholarCHIPS were recently selected as two of the best local nonprofits in the region. Any nonprofit in the Catalogue passes a rigorous vetting process, and it is a special honor to have both in this year’s class.

Without further ado, the interview and the enlightening conversation with these two changemakers is below:


Matt: A big part of participating in LearnServe as a student is creating a social venture project. Thinking back, what do you remember from the projects you worked on as part of LearnServe in high school?

Emma: The biggest thing I learned from my project was how to take responsibility and to feel empowered to make a difference. I signed up for LearnServe because I was that traditionally over-achieving student and thought this would add to my resume, but it became something more very quickly. I had an opportunity to combine my passion for music with community building, and it was really empowering to really think about how to use what I cared about to make a difference. More so than my specific project, I just remember LearnServe driving home for me that youth are often told they are the problem or are too young to solve the problem. Scott and others on the team told us that actually we can make a difference right now, and we actually have an obligation to take action when we realize things are unfair or messed up in our community.

Yasmine: I agree entirely with Emma. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but the exposure to so many different leaders, styles, and professional experiences was invaluable. As part of LearnServe, we regularly had speakers come to talk with us. Those guest speakers, sharing their experiences, successes, and failures, helped me to become more of a problem solver and to think more strategically. I’ll never forget when LearnServe staff started the project off, they asked me what pisses me off. For me personally, after some reflection, the issue that hit home for me, and really pissed me off, was mass incarceration and the larger prison industrial complex. I knew though that if I wanted to affect change I needed to make a plan and do my research. The LearnServe process helped me hone in on focusing on how to support the children of those currently incarcerated, because there wasn’t much support out there. My father had been in prison, and LearnServe gave me the chance to use my lived experience to solve a larger social structural problem. I felt empowered because LearnServe showed me I had the power to create change, even as a teenager.

Emma and Yasmine in Zambia as LearnServe Fellows in 2010

Emma and Yasmine in Zambia as LearnServe Fellows in 2010

Matt: Thank you both so much for sharing. So let’s fast forward a bit – both organizations have come a long way. ScholarCHIPS has awarded over $200,000 to 60+ scholars in the past decade, and 18 graduates to date. You have college, and even law school, alumni and two of your former students serve on your board. LearnServe has expanded its programming and has served 3,000+ students since 2003. Given all that both of you are working on now, how do your original LearnServe experiences back in high school impact your work today?

Yasmine: The problem-solving skills I developed and belief that I can make a positive difference are two things I carry with me every day. Just practically, I still have a lot of those connections from our program, like Emma, who I speak with on a regular basis about nonprofit best practices. So the community was and still is a huge benefit. The tools we learned and put in our toolbox impact my life every day – through ScholarCHIPS, but I even use those same problem solving skills in other aspects of my personal and professional life. I am intentional about incorporating the element of social justice into everything I do, and that ability to call people to action on issues of justice I first honed as a LearnServe fellow. These lessons have made my life feel much more rich and meaningful, and turned my world upside down for the better.

Emma: I definitely agree with all of that. It also started a journey for me of challenging myself and taking action. Like Yasmine, I still use that network of peers and mentors to talk through my work – to brainstorm problems and opportunities I’m facing. Two things come to mind about how those high school experiences impact me today. The first is that one of LearnServe’s values is joy. To make this justice-fighting work sustainable, it has to be fun, relational, community-focused, and it has to bring us joy. These issues are serious and need to be taken seriously, but it is also vital we have a joyful community to reengage, imagine, and partner with. The final thing is that LearnServe taught me to take nothing for granted – an important mindset these days.

Matt: Alright you’re both busy so just two more questions. First, what is one thing you all are excited about for 2020?

Emma: I’m really excited that as an organization, LearnServe is going to focus on local impact and the ripple effect of that work. So better capturing the impact of a story like Yasmine’s, where someone not only stayed local and made a difference, but how that difference has impacted so many others. Honestly, it’s one of the reasons we love the Catalogue for Philanthropy so much. The Catalogue has been a longtime partner of LearnServe’s helping to build awareness of our work and capacity for our staff. This enables us to better serve, and serve more, students just like myself and Yasmine. Now that Yasmine is running her own nonprofit and they are also in the Catalogue – the ripples just keep going out.

Yasmine: I love that idea of ripples of impact. For me, this year, I’m really excited about focusing on initiatives and partnerships that will help provide a structure of sustainability and longevity for my organization. Additionally, I’ll be participating in capacity building activities with Fair Chance and also the Catalogue for Philanthropy. We are focused on increasing our partnerships in the community this year, and on beginning to build an endowment for the future generations of ScholarCHIPS scholars. I also recently published a journal for all my fellow social entrepreneurs out there called “Daily Reflections for Social Entrepreneurs.” Check it out here.

Yasmine with ScholarCHIPS Scholars

Yasmine with ScholarCHIPS Scholars

Matt: Alright, I’m going to take a page from LearnServe’s book for this last question. What is pissing you all off these days?

Yasmine: Honestly, the same thing pisses me off today that did back then. I’m angry about the prison industrial complex, mass incarceration, and the downstream impact this has on youth. I’m mad that our prison system is punitive, and that there is still such a strong school-to-prison pipeline. I am pissed that a college education is still just as, if not more so, inaccessible and unaffordable for low-income families and first and second generation college students, as it was before. Grant and scholarships help, but we still have a long way to go to a more equitable world. Something has to change and I’m tired of seeing the same issues exist – so I’m going to keep fighting to make a difference.

Emma: I’m pissed off that people in power and/or with privilege so often stay silent on issues of justice. When I think of the people that inspire me, they are all people with a fire lit inside for what they care about. You can feel their passion. And while I’ve definitely learned self-care is important, challenging yourself is important too. We can’t afford to have apathy or indifference. So while it is important to find joy while fighting the fight, we all need to be doing something if we can. And we need to hold those in power who aren’t doing something accountable.

Matt: Thank you both so much for taking the time to chat with me today and for sharing your stories. You can find out more about LearnServe and how to get involved here. To support ScholarCHIPS, you can go here. And to learn more about charities in the Catalogue network or to learn more about our work, you can go here.

Mikva Challenge DC: Project Soapbox

In a place like Washington DC, when people think of power and politics, they think of the President, Congress, CEOs, or lobbying chiefs, but Mikva Challenge DC is on a mission to reshape that perception. Mikva DC exists to enhance the expertise and power of young people to create change, and to inform both local and national policy making. Modeled after the successful civic engagement programming developed for youth in Chicago, Mikva Challenge DC develops youth to be empowered, informed, and active citizens who will promote a just and equitable society.

One way Mikva DC students ‘do civics’ is by speaking out on how to address issues in their communities via an annual citywide speech competition called Project Soapbox. This past December, students took to the stage to speak about a range of deeply important topics, like mental health support, LGBTQ discrimination, racism & xenophobia, food deserts, and homelessness.

Mikva_2018_Dec-202_mjhiuz

One of this year’s competition winners, Nehemiah Jackson, enthralled the room when he proclaimed from his soapbox:

“When I grow up, I want to put an end to this nonsense. I believe that police officers need a punishment for brutality. My solution is for police to have better training on how to deal with the public. Better and longer training would help police understand that people might have mental illnesses or might be nervous when stopped by police. During training police learn state laws, criminal investigations, patrol procedures, firearms training, traffic control, defensive driving, self defense, first aid, and computer skills. But something they don’t learn is how to help people with mental illnesses. Something they don’t learn is how to deal with scared citizens, something they don’t learn is how to handle their own anger. Also, how about we can create non-deadly weapons that don’t kill. It seems to me if you can send Rovers to Mars, have cars that drive themselves, then why can’t we make weapons that don’t kill?”

Mikva_2018_Dec-209_bpvvme

After experiencing a day of these incredible speeches, one student remarked: “I am not done in this fight. There are others struggling like I am and our challenges united us. I feel inspired seeing my peers use their stories and identities to fight for change.”

It was not just students and the Mikva DC staff who felt the power in the room. As Jenny Abamu of our local NPR station, WAMU, said: “Though there is only one winner, students didn’t treat the event like a contest. They encouraged each other – judges listened and responded to some impassioned performances by noting resources for students dealing with crises. Many students said they wanted to raise awareness. In this way, they were already winners.”

Mikva Challenge DC’s credo is that young people who do civics will help make the nation become its very best democratic self. And who can argue against that when you hear, see, and experience the vision and power of DC youth for yourself?

Collaboration in Bloom

Conversations around “Collective Impact” and “Nonprofit Collaboration” continue to gain traction as more and more funders and nonprofits see the progress that happens when organizations gather together to leverage their collective resources, networks, and knowledge.

At the Catalogue, we hear countless examples of our nonprofits joining together to collaborate, innovate, and accomplish big goals. And since we believe in the power of nonprofits to spark big change, we want to help them leverage the power of collaboration as much as possible. Beginning in April, the Catalogue for Philanthropy will be debuting several new features on our website to promote nonprofit collaboration.

Collaborative Fundraising Campaigns
Collaborative Fundraising Campaigns (1)Our Collaborative Campaigns encourage the Catalogues network of 350+ charities to use their collective impact to tackle important issues in Greater Washington. With a common, clear goal in mind, two or more Catalogue nonprofits can fundraise together to achieve that goal. When a donor makes a gift to the campaign, funds are split evenly across the participating organizations. We’re excited to debut our Collaborative Campaigns this Thursday, April 7th with Girls on the Run councils of Greater Washington (DC, Montgomery County, and Northern Virginia). You can preview their campaign for healthy & strong girls here.

Collaboration Corner Blog
Our Collaboration Corner blog posts will feature perspectives from two or more nonprofits that give readers an inside look at the collaborative process. From learning how the organizations came together, to what issue(s) they’re trying to tackle, any benefits/challenges along the way, and how the public can get involved in supporting their efforts, this blog not only serves to inform our community, but also nonprofits looking to glean “lessons learned” in the process of collaboration.

We’re excited to debut these features in April, and hope you’ll support those organizations collaborating with one another to create a greater, Greater Washington.

Want to get involved with a fundraiser, or submit a blog post? Contact us at info@cfp-dc.org.

Want to give back before “back-to-school”? We’ve got you covered.

Support Local Back-to-School Supply DrivesLooking for a way to help local students and their families kick off the school year on the right foot? Consider supporting one of the back-to-school supply drives from the following Catalogue for Philanthropy charities (click the image to visit the supply drive homepage — and please, don’t forget to tell the charity that you found it through the Catalogue!).

1

6

5

CFNC

Project Create

Generation Hope

10

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Celebrating Meyer Foundation’s Julie Rogers

Last night, Catalogue President Barbara Harman joined other leaders in the DC nonprofit community to celebrate the work of Julie Rogers, President and CEO of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, who will be stepping down from her position after 28 years of leadership.

The event, held at the Carnegie Institution for Science, included performances and tributes from grantees (such as 2013-2014 Catalogue charity DC Scores), past and present board members, and staff.

Reflecting on the event and Meyer Foundation’s impact on the Catalogue for Philanthropy under Julie Roger’s leadership, Barbara said:

“I met many people in the assembled group who talked about the impact that a Meyer grant had had on their organization: Meyer’s stamp of approval was critical in their growth. We can say the same at the Catalogue: Meyer gave us our VERY FIRST grant and has been a loyal funder and partner since the Catalogue began in 2003.?Meyer trusted us, even when we were new guys in town, and their support grew over the years.

Julie’s faith was sustaining. Now she is heading off on a new journey, passing the baton, as smart leaders do, to someone she has great faith in and in whose hands she has confidence the Meyer Foundation will continue to grow — Nicky Goren, former head of The Women’s Foundation. Julie ended her brief remarks with the word Namaste, a greeting that means both hello and farewell. We wish Julie the best of best wishes as she embarks on the next phase of her journey. She will be missed!”

Best wishes to Julie Rogers from the entire Catalogue for Philanthropy team!

Helping Nonprofits Build Their Brand

On Tuesday, May 6th,the Catalogue’s Marketing Communications Workshop Series culminated with a session focused on brand-building for nonprofits. The series, sponsored by Integrity Management Consulting, was designed to help nonprofits strengthen their storytelling and value propositions through their writing, imagery, and branding.

Aline Newman, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Catalogue for Philanthropy, presented this session to 40 Catalogue nonprofit attendees. The discussion focused on understanding what a brand is, why branding is important for nonprofits, how it differs from corporate branding, and how nonprofits can use their brand to accelerate their mission. Attendees shared their takeaways from the event on social media with the hashtag #cfpstorytelling.

#cfpstorytelling tweet from Joe's Movement Emporium

It spite of resistance to branding among some in the nonprofit sector (some fear that it is too “corporate” or distracts from activities such as fundraising and program management), the truth is that a brand is one of the most valuable assets in any nonprofit organization. When rooted firmly in an organization’s mission and values, a brand has potential to unite staff, donors and volunteers, as well as attract partners who are best suited to broaden overall impact.

During the workshop, attendees explored the initial steps needed to build a strong brand. A strong brand is not built primarily on logos, colors, or websites, but instead on a thorough understanding of internal identity and external image, and aligning these to establish a sense of trust.

Following the presentation was a lively Q&A and brainstorming session in which nonprofits shared their challenges — and insights — with one another based on recent experiences. Due to the large amount of interest in the topic of branding, the Catalogue is exploring the possibility of developing a new series of workshops devoted to the many areas of this topic. Stay tuned!

Marketing Communications Workshop Series for Catalogue Nonprofits

At the Catalogue for Philanthropy, one of our main goals is to increase the capacity of each of the 350+ charities in our network. This spring — thanks to generous support from Integrity Management Consulting — the Catalogue is hosting our first-ever series of workshops on Nonprofit Marketing Communications.

The series kicked off in early April with Barbara Harman’s workshop, “Telling Your Story,” in which she shared with attendees how to adapt their organizational stories for a variety of audiences and uses. Barbara’s experience as Executive Director of the Harman Family Foundation, as well as her experience as a published author and English professor, gave nonprofits unique perspectives on writing grant applications, thanking donors, communicating with corporate sponsors, and talking about impact. She encouraged nonprofits to speak in a human language (i.e. avoid sector jargon), find organizing themes when describing programs, and empower their readers through engagement.

Barbara Harman speaking with nonprofits

Our 2nd workshop in the series, “Communicating via Imagery” showed attendees how to take their stories to the next level. The Catalogue for Philanthropy and the Meyer Foundation hosted Leigh Vogel- a press and nonprofit photographer (and a longtime Catalogue friend) to share how to integrate imagery into communications plans. The workshop explored how to create an image strategy that that enhances an organization’s storytelling, and included practical, actionable advice for nonprofits about an overview of the kinds of photos they need, how to collect and organize them, and what to do with them both on- and offline. Leigh even gave attendees the opportunity to shoot photos during the workshop using two of her professional cameras!

Attendees had the chance to experiment with professional cameras during Leigh's workshop on the use of imagery in nonprofit storytelling

Stay tuned for a roundup of the Catalogue’s 3rd and final workshop in this series on May 6th, when Aline Newman, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Catalogue for Philanthropy, will work with attendees on how to identify and share their “brand story” in order to motivate donors, staff, volunteers, beneficiaries and partners.

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Around Town: 10/11-10/17

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