OhioGuidestone takes 150-year history and builds new horizons to help the community

Rich Frank and the team at the former Berea Children’s Home and Family Services thought it was time for something new. What started as an orphanage in 1864 had evolved quite a bit, expanding its profile into behavior modification.

“We decided we really had to change the trajectory of our organization — still staying a behavioral health provider because of the wonderful support services for families, but we decided that if people aren’t educated, and they can’t get a job, it almost doesn’t matter what we do clinically to help,” says Frank, president and CEO of OhioGuidestone.

Workforce 360° was one of the first new programs launched. The workforce development program is geared to help both young adults and adults become more confident in a professional setting and to empower themselves in their personal lives.

“We have great statistics on putting people to work in the community,” Frank says, “people without high school diplomas, people who have never worked in their life before, people who have had trouble getting a start.”

Focusing on childhood education

The organization’s leadership also felt something needed to be done for younger kids to break the cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity.

“So we chose the central neighborhood, which I believe is the poorest neighborhood in Cleveland,” Frank says. “We started a charter school, Stepstone Academy, with grades K-1.

“One of the more unique features of it is that we take everything that OhioGuidestone does, from counseling, to parenting, to juvenile justice work, to workforce development, to whatever we have here — we have 30 some programs, and we make it available to the families and the kids in the charter school. And it’s made a remarkable difference.”

The incoming K-1 students tested between the first and 14th percentile in reading and math. After just one year, however, scoring for reading and math rose to between the 65th and 85th percentile.

“We just think that is fantastic,” Frank says. “We are building on that, and we’ve got great students, and the kids in this neighborhood are learning.

“It’s phenomenal because that is exactly what we wanted to do. I don’t know how kids got written off in our community, but these kids can learn. They want to learn. They are interested. And they deserve a shot.”

OhioGuidestone hopes to add a grade or two each year until the school is offering grades K-8 along with preschool.

“We would like to start other schools if we can,” Frank says. “But we’ve got to pay for this one first. We think we have a great method of educating people, young kids, and would like to try it out in more places.”


Ready to respond

A holistic approach is used at Stepstone Academy, and it includes parent involvement.

“We make everything that we do here at OhioGuidestone available to the parents in the charter school — parenting, counseling, if they want to go back to school or find a job, we will help them do that,” Frank says. “We will help them with other kids in the family. If they have an adolescent youngster or somebody else who is disruptive in the house, we will go in there and help them with that.”

Another feature of which Frank is proud is the academy’s ability to respond quickly to needs.

“Generally speaking, we are ‘Johnny on the spot,’” he says. “When there is a kid, and a lot of these kids come with behavior problems — they live in poverty, and by and large they come from single-parent families. The minute we see it, we are all over it.

“We have counselors and we have people trained in early childhood mental health, and we’re right there with the kids, and then we engage the parent around the issues.”

This is in contrast to many public school systems where a similar response may take weeks or months, Frank says.


Measuring the results

Building on success is a case of getting the momentum started and then keeping it rolling.

“When we started, we had a great idea, and we were selling a great idea to the corporate community and to others and there were many who bought into it and thought it was a laudable goal,” Frank says. “But now we are selling results.”

Once Stepstone Academy had completed its first year, the test scores showed the progress.

“When you have results, people are more likely to invest in you,” Frank says.

“It is like night and day on how much easier it is to raise a dollar now, it’s not easy — but easier to raise money for the school because we have results.”

Like other nonprofit organizations, OhioGuidestone has an advancement department that concentrates on philanthropy, encouraging donors, individuals, corporations and foundations.

“It is not enough just asking for money, I mean they are looking for impact, and they are looking for return on their investment,” Frank says. “So we try to provide them with that. We measure everything we do, and we try to prove that we just don’t talk the talk, that we walk the walk and that we have done that. We just don’t care, we care and we have impact.”

Frank says during the first few years after he became CEO and president in 2004, he and his staff developed a sophisticated program evaluation process, which is used not only for the organization but for purposes of engaging support as well.

“There are a number of outcomes that we measure: What kind of a difference are we making?” he says. “Is there a degree of change in our counseling clients that suggests they are getting better? In our residential clients that suggests they’re getting better? In our workforce development program that says we are getting people jobs, and we are doing it in a meaningful way?”

Response time is critical, Frank says. Allowing issues to fester is counterproductive.

“All that time, the child could have been getting worse or continued disrupting the classrooms or done other things. We are there, right away. And it has made a huge difference, I think, on how we are able to connect with kids, families and the larger student population in our school.”

How to reach: OhioGuidestone, (800) 639-4974 or www.OhioGuidestone.org