September 11, 2019

Supporting Those Who Nurture and Uplift Our Kids

Andy Davey

Andy Davey head shot

While my one-year-old son gleefully ate handfuls of corn bread and macaroni and cheese – and also dropped handfuls of the gooey stuff onto my work pants and dress shoes – I was reminded yet again how much care and support every child needs to be happy, healthy, and successful in life. The two of us, along with my wife and some friends, were hanging out on the glorious Monona Terrace rooftop for the last Dane Dances of the summer. We had the pleasure of enjoying the smooth sounds of a classic Motown band, mingling with others in one of Madison’s most diverse public festivals, and even shaking and swaying a little on the dance floor ourselves. But the evening also featured a special celebration for some of our city’s too often unsung heroes: out-of-school-time workers.

Four of these workers, who were nominated by their peers, were recognized for their profound daily commitments to youth: Tanya Walker of Goodman Community Center; Mayder Lor of Madison Schools and Community Recreation (MSCR); Alejandra Becerril Estrada of MSCR and Urban League; and Nate Savado of First Tee. As Nathan Beck, coordinator of Madison-area Out-of-School Time, wrote in his recent op-ed, these four have “loved and nurtured our kids, provided them with opportunities to learn new skills, supported them with literacy and math, helped shape who our kids are becoming.” Research shows these efforts have a significant impact on the health and learning of youth. They also allow parents to work and increase their earning potential.

Addressing Barriers to Access

Beck also notes, however, that “access to these opportunities is wildly unequal. Around 5,000 kids in Madison have barriers preventing them from participating in after school and summer programs, and those barriers are concentrated within communities of color.” Providing access to out-of-school time programs to all of these kids would require a huge influx of additional resources – on the order of $25 million a year.

Philanthropic funders might address a portion of this resource gap, but fully addressing the need will require public funds of some kind. Nevertheless, as Beck says, “this reality should unsettle us and embolden us with a commitment to action and accountability.”

Andy Davey at Out-of-School Time listening session
Andy Davey and Sharon Lezberg during a gathering with Out-of-School Time organizations.

For MCF, this means listening and learning from those working on the ground about what, beyond more funding, they need to sustain and improve their out-of-school time organizations. This past May, we gathered 24 executive directors and program managers from 20 different nonprofits to have a conversation about how best to build their capacity. These leaders offered a wealth of insight about their current assets and needs. For example:

  • A plethora of one-off workshops are available around town, but what’s really needed are longer-term (6 to 12 months) professional development programs with cohorts of peers so they can build rapport and support each other beyond the training.
  • Organizations also would like help collecting, analyzing, and sharing data in a more sophisticated way. Many in the nonprofit field recognize the value of careful program evaluation, but historically have found little support or funding for it. This needs to change.
  • The out-of-school time leaders also challenged funders to examine our role in addressing structural problems like persistent racism and the sometimes harmful power dynamics between funders and grantees.

Building Organizational Capacity

In recent years, MCF has been giving more grants for organizational capacity building because we know how essential these grants are for nonprofits to allow them to pursue and achieve their missions. Programs are the heart of nonprofit work, but to ensure these programs are sustainable and effective, staff need ongoing training and professional development; development teams need targeted support for creating and carrying out strategic fundraising plans; and organizations need adequate physical space, equipment, and technology to do their work.

Capacity building is needed for nonprofits across the sector. Our conversation with out-of-school time providers in May is part of a larger research effort I’m spearheading. We plan to meet with leaders across all our grantmaking focus areas: arts, environment, learning, and community development. Collaborating with me on this project is Sharon Lezberg, a Community & Economic Development Educator with UW-Extension Dane County. In the end, we’ll have met with and learned from over 100 nonprofit directors and program managers. These conversations will help us to refine our grantmaking strategy and galvanize other funders and organizations serving nonprofits to provide support for capacity building.

Stay tuned for more on the results of this research process. In the meantime, I hope you’ll join me in noticing and reflecting on the crucial work being done every day by out-of-school time workers in our community and think about how, together, we might be emboldened “with a commitment to action and accountability” to further their work.