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Sagawa Talks to Baltimore Sun about Service

Baltimore Sun

Success through service

Baltimore‘s “chief service officer” can help unlock vast opportunities for involvement

By Shirley Sagawa

July 19, 2010

For decades, Maryland has led the way in promoting volunteer and national service. The first (and still only) state in the nation to require service learning for high school graduation, Maryland has laid the groundwork for an engaged population. U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who for decades has quietly ensured that programs like AmeriCorps receive funding, has led the Maryland delegation in making service a national priority. And now Baltimore steps onto the national stage as a recipient of a highly competitive Cities of Service grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Rockefeller Foundation, which will enable Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to appoint a “chief service officer” to become part of her senior team.

At a time when needs are great and resources are limited, service offers untapped potential to address Baltimore’s most pressing problems. As I researched my recent book, “The American Way to Change,” I found hundreds of highly effective organizations using volunteers and AmeriCorps members to produce extraordinary results.

For example, Playworks, a national organization featured in the book, sends trained, full-time coaches, many of whom are AmeriCorps members, to 24 public schools in Baltimore, where they transform recess into a positive experience that helps more than 10,000 local kids get more out of their school day. Teachers in schools that partner with Playworks report they reclaim up to 36 hours of class time each year as students are able to stay focused in the classroom as a result of these activities, which include physical games at recess and conflict-resolution tools.

Experience Corps, another national organization, partners with Greater Homewood Community Corporation and the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health to utilize the time, skills and experience of adults 55 and older in elementary schools. In Baltimore, students in schools with Experience Corps had improved math and reading standardized test scores in first, second, and third grade, and increased percentages of third graders scoring at the advanced and proficient level on the MSA reading tests than in the comparison schools, as well as fewer suspensions and principal referrals.

Despite the opportunities programs like these represent, it’s the rare leader at any level of government who incorporates service into plans to lower the dropout rate, or other challenges such as increasing financial security, lowering energy consumption, or revitalizing neighborhoods.

The new Baltimore chief service office will have no shortage of challenges to tackle with the help of volunteers. Fortunately, the CSO will also have strong organizations to build on, in addition to Playworks and Experience Corps. The Baltimore City Public Schools’ new volunteer matching system is a promising tool that can expand school-based service. Civic Works, an urban service corps, tackles environmental and other challenges by engaging area youth. Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together Baltimore, and Baltimore CASH (Creating Assets Savings and Hope) Campaign all use volunteers as key parts of their efforts to assist low-income residents become financially stable. And Business Volunteers Unlimited Maryland connects 25,000 individuals to service opportunities each year.

In addition to helping to change Baltimore for the better, those who step forward to help may well find that they themselves also benefit. Studies document that students who serve do better in school and in life, and that adults who volunteer can advance their careers. Those who serve others have better physical and mental health, live longer and are happier. In fact, a study of Baltimore Experience Corps volunteers by Johns Hopkins researchers found that compared with a control group, the older volunteer tutors had better overall health, including strength, cognitive ability, and physical activity levels. They also watched less television and had a bigger social network than seniors in the control group.

Ironically, it is often those people who could most benefit from volunteering who have the fewest opportunities to serve. Disadvantaged youth, the unemployed and people with low levels of education volunteer less than others. The new chief service officer should be sure that Baltimore’s plan includes those who are not typically asked to serve.

In accepting the Cities of Service grant, Mayor Rawlings-Blake commented that “to move the city forward, we need everyone to be involved.” If the chief service officer is able to bring that about, we can expect to see not just better schools and safer streets, but stronger communities and healthier citizens as well.

Shirley Sagawa is a visiting fellow with the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., and the author of “The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers are Transforming America.” Her e-mail is

Craigslist Foundation Bootcamp!

Will you be in California on August 14th?  If so, be sure to check out the Craigslist Foundation Bootcamp taking place at UC Berkley campus!  At this event, you can chose from nearly 40 workshops, visit exhibits, and meet new people who share your passion.

You will also get the chance to hear from Chip Conley, the opening keynote speaker.  Chip is the founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre, California’s largest boutique hotel company consisting of over 40 award-winning hotels, spas and restaurants.  He is also the author of PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow. In addition, there will be more than 70 other speakers who will share innovations and success stories that are improving the quality of life for many in communities and neighborhoods at home and globally.

The bootcamp will also be featuring multiple learning sessions every hour.  You can learn how to strengthen neighborhood organizations, how to get your non-profit organization to effect local and national change, how to utilize new innovations in community and civic engagement, and much more.  With so many opportunities to learn, this is a great chance for you to gain the tools necessary to help your community and the world at large.

Register now if you want to be one of 1,500 passionate people gathered together to strengthen their communities and neighborhoods!

Weekly Round-Up of Featured Organizations: AA LEAD, Give an Hour, ManaTEENS, The Mission Continues

A weekly look at the accomplishments, rewards, partnerships, and news of some of the non-profits mentioned in The American Way to Change:

AA LEAD works to promote the well being of Asian American youth through education and community building.  Their staff provides after-school programs and one-on-one mentoring to provide a healthy and nurturing environment for young Asian Americans in the DC metro area.  Recently AA LEAD was honored by being one of 5 finalists for the Best Practice Award  at The Washington Post and The Center for Non-Profit Advancement‘s Annual Excellence in Nonprofit Management Award ceremony.  According to Rick Chen, Manager of Development, “Although we were not chosen to be the winner, it was the entire process that proved to be the most rewarding – being able to concretely identify and list the many best practices we are currently using, which has helped us become the successful organization we are today.”

Give an Hour‘s mission is to create a national network of volunteers that can respond to both emergencies and long-time problems that America faces.  Their current priority is to help the troops who are currently serving or have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as their families.  The non-profit is currently taking part in a a new coordinated approach to military care outlined by Michelle Obama in an address to the National Military Family Association’s summit.  Part of her plan calls for stronger civilian-military ties.  According to Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, founder and President, Give an Hour is eager to heed this call to service.  “Our volunteer mental health professionals represent the civilian community.  By offering free counseling to members of the military and their loved ones and by working to educate communities on the psychological effects of war, we are recognizing the sacrifices our service men and women and their families are making.”

ManaTEENS promotes the youth voice and volunteerism in Manatee County, Florida.  They believe that all of Florida’s residents have the resources and the power to help address local needs.  They are working to make service a way of live, especially for the young.  Innovations in Civic Participation recently received a grant from The Corporation for National and Community ServiceLearn and Serve America Program.  ICP is going to work with three non-profits, one of which is ManaTEENS, to focus on environmental education and disaster preparedness.  Thanks to this partnership, teens in Florida will get the chance to help their community while learning more about how to care for and preserve the delicate environment of Manatee County.

The Mission Continues developed on the premise that many veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan still don’t feel like their work is done.  The returning wounded should be honored for their sacrifices, but we should also recognize that they still have a lot left to give.  According to one wounded veteran, “I lost my legs. That’s all. I did not lose my desire to serve, or my pride in being an American.”  Recently The Mission Continues has expanded into San Antonio, Texas where they opened a new office just last week.  According to their website, “With the nearby Brooke Army Medical Center caring for wounded warriors in transition, we have a great opportunity and responsibility to work with these veterans.”

Stay tuned next week…

Sagawa Discusses Service in Pittsburgh

Serving Pittsburgh: The city can raise volunteering to a whole new level

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

By Shirley Sagawa

The weak economy continues to leave people out of work and in need of help. Nonprofit groups are struggling to keep up with demand, but one piece of good news is that volunteering is up, according to data released last month by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In Pittsburgh, one in four residents volunteers, making Pittsburgh the 25th out of 51 large cities in volunteering. That’s a good start, but it means that three out of four Pittsburghers don’t give their time.

Now, with a grant announced late last month by Cities of Service, an initiative of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Pittsburgh can flip that percentage. With this grant, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has funds to hire a chief service officer — an innovative new position that will help the city raise its volunteer rate and use volunteer service strategically to attack the city’s toughest challenges.

Volunteering is a longstanding American tradition. Volunteers played a critical role in building this country, from the early pioneers who raised each others’ barns and quilted each others’ blankets to those who ran the Underground Railroad and built the Appalachian Trail.

Volunteers were often pioneers whose work led to whole professional fields or American institutions. Public libraries, fire departments and social work began with volunteers. So, too, did broadcast radio, adult education, Morse code and professional baseball. Pro bono volunteer lawyers argued the historic Supreme Court cases that created the right to counsel and the right to “Miranda” warnings when you are arrested. Volunteers bought Bill Gates his first computer.

Although many people think of volunteers as nice but not necessary, that’s just not the case. While researching my recent book, “The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers are Transforming America,” I found hundreds of examples of contemporary organizations that are achieving significant, measurable results against key challenges.

Among them are a volunteer tutoring program that eliminated racial gaps in reading in an urban school district, a youth-led energy-saving effort that has reduced CO2 emissions by tens of millions of pounds and a program where volunteer MBAs teach business skills to prisoners, reducing their recidivism rate dramatically. These are just a few examples of efforts that any local leader could adapt to almost any community.

Today’s volunteer workforce is changing both in the types of service needed and how people want to serve. Gone are the days of “least common denominator” volunteering when the task had to be something that anyone could do. Many volunteers today are looking to use their skills, not engage in a rote activity. Pro bono service is not just for lawyers, but for PR specialists, technology experts, systems engineers and many others.

Volunteers can offer many pairs of hands to undertake tasks that seem beyond our grasp and community knowledge that can power outreach efforts and sustain a neighborhood turnaround — or build the bridges that help people find their way out of poverty.

Yet despite this potential, it has been the rare policy maker who has included service in any comprehensive plan to address an issue. Instead, most nonprofit organizations work in isolation, scraping together the resources they need to engage volunteers productively, with their work often out of the view of other public problem solvers.

Pittsburgh’s new chief service officer will have a good base to build upon. Jumpstart, for example, pairs University of Pittsburgh student volunteers with Head Start students for one-on-one attention. The result: The tutored students improved their school-readiness skills by 29 percent above those of their peers. Similarly, Literacy• AmeriCorps members and the volunteers they recruited in Pittsburgh are helping thousands of adults learn to read or to speak English. And Pittsburgh Cares matches nearly 20,000 volunteers with positions each year.

With its new chief service officer, Pittsburgh joins California and New York City in this innovative new approach to public service. In 2008, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger became the first state leader to give his service commissioner a seat at the cabinet table. The next year, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed the nation’s first chief service officer. In both cases, the profile of service as a strategy was raised so that other cabinet secretaries and senior staff began to recognize its power to address the challenges they faced.

Now Pittsburgh has the opportunity to put its own stamp on this new way of doing the people’s business — by leveraging the power of the people themselves.

Shirley Sagawa is an author and a visiting fellow with the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

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Shirley Sagawa’s upcoming San Francisco Appearance

Thursday, July 15, at 6 pm, San Francisco Education Fund and Books Inc. co-host author Shirley Sagawa to discuss The American Way to Change: How National Service and Volunteers Are Transforming America, which tells the stories of real people who have dedicated themselves to service and the nonprofits that engaged them.  Books Inc. Opera Plaza location, 601 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco.

Shirley Speaks at Press Conference for New Nonprofit Legislation

Yesterday, Shirley delivered remarks introducing new legislation, called the Nonprofit Sector and Community Solutions Act, H.R. 5533, to strengthen the nonprofit sector’s relationship with government.  The bill looks to establish a new council and inter-agency working group meant to produce annual reports and facilitate coordination between governmental leaders respectively. This bill also looks to charge more agencies with the task of collecting data and researching the work that nonprofits do.

Here are Shirley’s remarks:

I am thrilled to be part of this event and to be partnering with the  National Conference of Nonprofits.  We deeply appreciate Representative McCollum‘s leadership on behalf of nonprofits, including supporting innovation.  We especially appreciate your efforts to see that the Social Innovation Fund is fully funded.

I am here to represent America Forward, an initiative organized by New Profit, which includes more than 90 results-oriented, entrepreneurial nonprofit organizations with programs operating in 1000 American communities. Together, these organizations serve more than 10 million people per year and have a collective budget of more than $400 million. Coalition members and the America Forward effort focus directly on the toughest domestic challenges facing our nation in education, public health, poverty and economic mobility, workforce development, crime prevention, and civic engagement.

America Forward’s vision is that one day, our leaders and citizens will work together to foster innovation in the social sector, identify what works, and grow the best solutions to wherever they are needed. Our objectives are two-fold:
1) to introduce social innovation into the national dialogue, helping to fuel a discussion about new, more effective ways to solve domestic problems; and
2) to advance a policy agenda that will create an infrastructure for innovative nonprofits and government to act together to scale the impact of solutions that work.

We see this legislation as an important part of this policy agenda and are pleased to be working with Rep. McCollum as well as the partner organizations that have helped to frame this ground-breaking proposal.

With rare exceptions, the nonprofit sector is invisible to the federal government.  We have entire agencies devoted to supporting small business, trade, commerce, and other industries.  And yet, the nonprofit sector is just as vital to our economy, employing one out of ten individuals and delivering critical human, social, educational, and cultural services.  Innovation in the social sector is as important as it is in the business world.  This legislation will help the federal government do a better job supporting innovation in this realm.

We look forward to continuing to work with you to move this legislation in the next Congress.

How Service Can Tackle the High School Dropout Crisis

Where are you going to do your year of service? This was the question that Alan Khazei and Michael Brown had in mind when they founded City Year in 1989.  Their goal was to prove that a diverse group of young adults, 18 to 24 years old, could use their varied experiences along with their common-held energy and idealism to improve communities.

City Year quickly attracted funding from the Commission on National and Community Service along with other private foundations and individuals.  With this money, City year grew to nearly 1,000 corpsmembers.  Originally, these volunteers served at all types of nonprofit organizations that would benefit from the help of a team of young adults, but eventually they discovered that City Year’s greatest impact was on urban schools.

City Year aims to help students from lower school to high school build the skills they need to graduate from high-school and go on to college.  City Year has found “off-track” indicators that can predict which sixth graders are most likely to leave school without a diploma, these include poor attendance, unsatisfactory behavior, and course failure in math and English.

In their effort to help students stay on tract, with funding from Pepsico Foundation, City Year has partnered with Communities in Schools, the largest dropout prevention organization in the US, and Talent Development, a program at Johns Hopkins University that specializes in school reform models, to run Diplomas Now.

The program works to combat the drop-out crisis that many schools around the country, particularly in urban areas, are experiencing.  Research shows that the graduation rate in America’s 50 largest cities is 50 percent.  Nearly 2 in 5 African American, Hispanic, and Native American minority students fail to graduate on time.  And, 50 percent of the yearly high school dropouts come from just 12 percent of the country’s high school.  It is these high schools, and these students, that Diplomas Now works to serve.

The program partners the most challenged middle schools and high schools in the country with national service teams that can provide tutoring, mentoring, monitoring, and engagement activities at a scale that the schools would not otherwise be able to provide for their students, particularly for those that are having the most trouble.

The Diplomas Now model consists of whole school reform with research and evidence-based support factors, a teacher-friendly early warning system that gets proper intervention to troubled students in time, a team of adults that works with the administration and faculty to to support students at a scale and intensity that they could not otherwise provide, and a collaborative work environment that makes the job manageable.

The full-year pilot results from Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, a high-poverty middle school of 750 students in Philadelphia, showcases the fantastic effect that Diplomas Now could have around the country.  The percentage of students off-track in attendance was reduced by 52%, the percentage of students off-track in behavior was reduced by 45%, the percentage of students off-track because of failing math was reduced by 83%, and the percentage of students off-track because of failing English was reduced by 80%.  Moreover, the school met Adequate Yearly Progress for the first time ever.  Mid-year results for the program in other cities show similar results.

While City Year’s partnership with Communities in Schools and Talent Development, along with their subsequent launch of Diplomas Now, is an important step in school reform, it is also important to remember that no progress could have been made without the hard work of the volunteers and corpsmembers.  Without them, there would have been no one to call parents to see why their children were not in school, or to spend an hour one-on-one with a student figuring the reasons for his disruptive behavior in class, or to teach a slow-learner how to read.

So, the question stands, where are you going to do your year of service?

Welcome to The American Way to Change Blog!

In this space we’re going to be profiling the organizations in the book, talking about how citizens in service and volunteerism are a critical way to solve problems in America, and more.

Check  back often and let us know what you think, if you have feedback, or just want to say hello.

-Shirley and The American Way team