See Kids Dream cultivates advocates to maximize its resources, impact

 

As a small organization, See Kids Dream Executive Director Laura Grindle says they’ve learned how to work with others and build meaningful partnerships.

Grindle and her husband Bill started the nonprofit to empower youth with the skills and motivation to make the world a better place. She says they create service-learning programs where children are in charge, so that children stay involved with community service later on as adults.

“We give kids opportunities to become project managers, researchers and leaders that take on these community problems and decide what to do about it,” Grindle says.

For example, the third- through eighth-grade students determine the needs in their community, zero in on which ones they want to address, research those issues and then decide how they want to help. The projects take anywhere from three to six months to complete.

“Not only are the students our target, they are our mission,” she says. “But in order for us to reach them, we have to work with the schools and we have to engage them in that mission as well.”

See Kids Dream needs teachers to become advocates for the organization’s initiatives and mission. It provides curriculum and training, but Central Ohio teachers are spearheading these programs.

“This year we’ll have more than 1,500 student leaders involved in our programs, and yet we only have two paid staff members,” Grindle says. “By doing this, we’ve been able to maximize our efficiency, with a very thin amount of resources of the organization itself, to still have a very significant impact in the community.”

Your partner’s needs

In order to build partnerships, you have to seek their success as much as you’re seeking your own. Then, that mindset needs to translate to your actions.

“You have to think about them, in my opinion at least, individually as well as together in that partnership,” Grindle says. “When you take that time to really assess what are your partner’s true needs, outside of the partnership that you have with them, that’s where you can begin to understand not only what are the demands upon them, but how you can best help them.”

The schools and teachers are such a big part of See Kids Dream’s service model that it must ensure its programs continue to meet their needs.

With the common core standards and the escalating demands for student testing, Grindle says they were concerned about remaining relevant and also fitting into the window of student and teacher time that was becoming smaller.

See Kids Dream had laid the groundwork by building and maintaining strong relationships with teachers from the beginning. That allowed them to see what was coming and already have established trust.

“Over and over, we kept hearing from teachers that the main issue for them was really the challenge of time,” she says.

The teachers were concerned about having less time to teach because of testing, or having less planning time before or after school because they had to compile and assess more student data.

Adverting a challenge

See Kids Dreams’ main program is Penny Harvest, which is usually run with a group of student leaders during lunch or after school.

With input from educators, however, the nonprofit decided to create a new model called Community Lab. This program still has students running the project, but extra academic lessons and curriculum are wrapped into it.

Students might learn techniques for conducting research and taking notes as they research their community issues, and then later use that research to write an informative or persuasive paper, Grindle says.

“That was a big shift in our perception of how we could deliver a program,” she says. “The really great thing is not only does that help us to avert a potential serious challenge for See Kids Dream to deliver on its mission — by having some of our programs dropped because of the time crunch for teachers — it actually enabled our growth.”

Schools can choose to utilize either program, which is why the number of engaged student leaders has grown from 600 to 1,500 in four years. It also created enough groundswell that See Kids Dream has expanded from elementary to middle schools.

On a level playing field

To maintain healthy partnerships, Grindle says you can’t put yourself above your partner as the only expert.

“We came in saying, ‘This is what we have. This is what we see its value is. What do you see?’” she says.

See Kids Dream meets with the teachers who run its programs at least twice a year. At first, educators think the nonprofit is there to check up on them, but then they realize that See Kids Dream is there to not just gather feedback for its purposes but to gather feedback that is going to help them, Grindle says.

“We found that’s critical — showing up and offering help when you see that it’s needed,” she says. “It opens the door to them becoming your advocates because they know you’re seeking their success, just as much as you’re seeking your own. And that’s truly the definition of a partnership.”