7 Questions with Eloise Russo, Executive Director of City Kids Wilderness Project

Today for 7 Questions we welcome Eloise Russo, Executive Director of City Kids Wilderness Project! Eloise has been with the organization since January 2011. Prior to City Kids, Eloise worked with Institute for Non-Profit Management and Leadership in Boston, MA, and with Kaplan K-12 Learning Services, managing after-school and summer school programs for 800 under-served DC youth. Eloise earned her BA from Tufts University in Peace and Justice Studies, and her MBA from Boston University’s Public and Non-Profit Management Program. Most recently, Eloise was selected as a member of the 2012 class of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington’s Future Executive Directors Fellowship.

1. Welcome Eloise! What motivated you to begin working with City Kids? What need does it fulfill and how is your organization working towards meeting this need?

I started with City Kids Wilderness Project (City Kids) shortly after graduating from business school. I grew up in DC, attended public school K-12, and wanted to join an organization doing community building and youth development work with DC youth. In addition, summer camp and wilderness experiences through Outward Bound were critical in helping shape my view of the world and my abilities and confidence as a leader. Joining the City Kids team allowed me to combine my passions for youth development and wilderness programming with my background in program management and organizational development.

2. What was your most interesting recent development?

City Kids works closely with many other nonprofits and social service organizations in order to open doors for our youth. For many years, we have had a strong partnership with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), through which many of our youth have received scholarships to attend NOLS wilderness courses. One of our youth, Tyrhee Moore, successfully completed two NOLS courses and is now being sponsored to climb Denali in Alaska as a part of Expedition Denali. This is an all African American climb designed to help inspire youth of color to get outside, get active, and become stewards of our wild places. Tyrhee grew up as a part of the City Kids program, is now a student at West Virginia University, and is a mentor and role model for our younger youth.

3. What other projects are you up to?

We just moved out to Jackson, WY for the summer, where we run programming for our DC youth. We’ll have three sessions of summer camp where campers will go horseback riding, canoeing, swimming, and white water rafting. Camp is a fun-filled time for our youth and includes camping trips to National Forests and National Parks including Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.

4. Who inspires you (in the philanthropy world or otherwise)?

My biggest inspiration is our kids and seeing them grow and challenge themselves through the City Kids program. Our kids consistently step outside of their comfort zones to try new things, be it rock climbing, jumping off a ledge as a part of a high ropes course, or applying for and participating in their first internship or job experience. Being a part of an organization where trying new things is built into the structure of our work, encourages all of us, staff and kids alike, to take on big challenges and to not be afraid to fail.

5. What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces, and how are you working towards combating this issue?

We’re growing! City Kids started as a summer camp for DC youth in 1996, and in the past several years, we have expanded to become a year-round program. We now have a four day per week after-school program for our middle school youth, weekend outdoor adventure programming, and leadership development, job training, and post-secondary educational and career support for our older youth. As we grow our programs and the length of time that we work with each child enrolled in the program, we need to work hard to ensure that our focus on program quality continues to be high and that we continue to be able to provide individualized support to our youth. In addition, as our programs grow, we have also needed to focus on growing our organizational capacity in order to support our increased efforts. To support this growth, we applied and were recently selected for a Fair Chance capacity building partnership. We are excited about what this year will bring and look forward to building the strength of the organization so that we can continue to provide high quality programming for under-resourced DC youth for years to come.

6. What’s your biggest take-away lesson you would tell others that you have gleaned from your experiences?

Build and nurture your network! I recently participated in the Nonprofit Roundtable’s Future Executive Director Fellowship and have been blown away by the support of my peers through this fellowship. Having a strong network of people to go to for support, to bounce ideas off of, and to share resources with makes the role much more manageable and makes your potential impact that much greater.

My biggest lesson that I learned is that it really helps to absolutely love what you’re doing. Being an ED is a demanding role, but when you love what you’re doing, it can also be a really fun role. On any given day I can have a funding meeting, conversations with a parent, a meeting with our accounting team, a conference call with board members, a program site visit or even be directly involved in leading our youth programming. Having a strong belief in the mission, and an innate enthusiasm for the role, helps to make the breadth of the responsibilities of the ED role more personally fulfilling and ultimately helps make me a better leader and advocate for the organization.

7. What’s next for your organization, both in the short term and long term?

In the short term, we’re focused on revamping our evaluation system. Working with kids for 6+ years includes many important milestones and being able to track our participants’ growth over time and their ability to meet goals is crucial. In the long term, we’re focused on creating a sustainable organizational structure. This involves formalizing many of our program and organizational systems as well as being really thoughtful about our growth, financial model, and community of supporters.

7 Questions – Buzz Mauro & Deb Gottesman (Theatre Lab)

Today, we are welcoming not one … but two non-profit leaders to “7 Questions.” Buzz Mauro and Deb Gottesman are co-directors of The Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts, which serves hundreds of youth and adults through its Life Stories program, and hundreds more through classes and summer camps in acting, directing, playwriting, and musical theatre .

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

We are about to embark on a project that is one of our “big dreams:” a theatre and documentary film project by and about the participants in our Life Stories program for homeless women residing in N Street Village’s Recovery Housing Unit. Life Stories is our signature outreach program which trains people from typically marginalized populations to create original dramatic works based on their real-life experiences. We work with incarcerated and severely at-risk youth, seniors, critically ill children and their families, as well as with formerly homeless women. And we now feel that it’s time to share the work of the women from N Street on a larger stage. The monologues, scenes, poetry, and more that these women have created are so powerful and so well-acted that we want to make sure their voices are heard — not only by social justice activists, but also by people who love great theatre.

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7 Questions – Tamara Wilds Lawson (Posse Foundation)

We’re psyched to introduce … Tamara Wilds Lawson, director of Posse DC. The Posse Foundation, which has grown to eight sites across the country, identifies public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential and send them to college in supportive teams (or” posses”) that act as traveling support systems.

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

We are currently in the final push for our annual Power of 10 fundraising event taking place on October 5, 2011, at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre here in downtown DC. The event will highlight our Posse Scholars and our programs, which both prepare them for and help sustain them through their collegiate experiences. We will also honor Barbara Harman, The Catalogue for Philanthropy’s dynamic president and editor.

2. What else are you up to?

This is a busy time of year for Posse DC because we have started our Dynamic Assessment Process (DAP), which is the unique way we identify the talented young leaders from area high schools we will send to top colleges and universities across the country on four-year full tuition scholarships. This fall, we have already interviewed over 1,000 potential Posse Scholars.

3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?

Most recently, my exposure to the talented young people participating in programs at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center motivated me to seek fulfilling work that would highlight the kind of intellect and capacity for excellence they consistently exhibit. I am thrilled that The Posse Foundation, which has been providing opportunities for incredible young leaders like them to go to college for over 20 years, through the vision of its president and founder Debbie Bial, is the perfect place for me to do just that.

4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?

Reggie Van Lee, who is an Executive Vice President with Booz Allen Hamilton where he leads the firm’s not-for-profit and public health businesses, is a phenomenal leader in the philanthropic world! Although he has a national profile, which he developed over the course of a 25 year career in which he has helped transform public and private organizations, he is personally involved with several local projects in New York City and Washington, DC. He is beloved in DC because of his unique ability to see the intrinsic value of productive non-profit organizations, regardless of their size, and support them unconditionally. I am inspired by the breadth of organizations and lives he has transformed on a national and local level.

5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?

One of the biggest challenges we face as an organization is that there is an overreliance on standardized test scores by many institutions of higher learning — which leads to countless capable, dynamic students being overlooked. As a result, we find that the demand for our Posse leadership and merit scholarships far outweighs our capacity to provide opportunities for all of the great young people we encounter to get a college education.

6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?

Chose an organization doing work you are passionate about because that passion will help sustain you when the work becomes intense and your responsibilities seem daunting. My advice for future directors is don’t underestimate the importance of hiring a strong team of professionals who are a good fit for the organization and consistently supporting them once they’re on board!

7. What’s next?

As the new Posse DC director and a native Washingtonian, I am looking forward to building new partnerships with local organizations and strengthening our existing relationships with key supporters.

EXTRA:?If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?

Ella Jo Baker, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Frederick Douglass.

7 Questions – Marti Worshtil (Prince George’s Child Resource Center)

CFP welcomes … Marti Worshtil, Executive Director of Prince George’s Child Resource Center, which offers a wide variety of services that foster stable child care programs, help working families, and nurture home environments where children can thrive. The Family Support Center is the hub, where family-friendly programs reach over 18,000 people a year.

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

The Resource Center celebrated our 20th anniversary with a Family Festival at FedEx field. Even with torrential rain and thunder one hour before the event and horrendous heat and humidity after the storm … we had a blast! Almost 1,300 attend and danced the Cha Cha slide with the County Executive, climbed Calleva’s rock wall, skated, painted, broadcast news on CTV and learned all about County services.

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7 Questions – Kathleen Sibert (A-SPAN)

CFP welcomes … Kathleen Sibert, Executive Director of the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN), whose workers reach out directly to to homeless men and women — frequenting wooded areas, overpasses, parks, and abandoned buildings, encouraging them to pick up a bagged meal and to drop in at Opportunity Place, the hub of A-SPAN’s operations. Want to take part? A-SPAN’s clients need new glasses and bus fares for job interviews. Help out HERE!

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

The most interesting recent project that we are involved in is the 100,000 Homes Campaign, which is being brought to Arlington as 100 Homes. It is a national initiative to house the most vulnerable people living on the streets and is a powerful way to end homelessness.

2. What else are you up to?

We are constantly working to expand the services that we offer to our clients who live on the streets of Arlington. We run the Arlington’s Emergency Winter Shelter from November through March and brought nursing services there, which has significantly improved the health of our clients and dramatically reduced the number of times they are seen at the Emergency Room and in the hospital. Continue reading

7 Questions – Tim Payne (For Love of Children)

Welcome … Tim Payne, Executive Director of For Love of Children. For hundreds of children and teens, FLOC offers carefully paced, one-on-one tutoring that bring them to grade-level proficiency in reading and math and after-school workshops teach teamwork, leadership, and community service. Learn more!

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

Our biggest news is that for the sixth consecutive year, 100% of FLOC seniors have graduated from high school on time and have enrolled in postsecondary institutions for the fall. We celebrated this news with many great projects and partnerships. Among the most exciting is a donation from TerpSys, an amazing corporate donor and partner. TerpSys, led by CEO Ed Woods, gifted a laptop to every graduating senior in FLOC’s 2011 class. Owning their own computers would have been impossible for these students, but TerpSys’s generous donation made it a reality for each of them. We hosted an inspiring event at our headquarters where Ed and his team presented the laptops to students.

I am also extremely proud that FLOC awarded scholarships to all of our 2011 graduates through our own Fred Taylor Scholarship Fund. We celebrated this news at the annual Fred Taylor Scholarship Dinner, which featured an extremely moving media project that used film and photography to tell the story of each graduating scholar. Our scholars helped create this project through a grant awarded to us by Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts. It was a fantastic evening where students, families, volunteers, staff and supporters came together to celebrate another successful year at FLOC. Check out the video here.

It is truly amazing to watch our students graduate from high school prepared academically, financially, and technologically for postsecondary success. Continue reading

7 Questions – Amanda Andere (FACETS)

Let’s get to know … Amanda Andere, Executive Director of FACETS in Fairfax, VA. Through emergency and supportive programs to prevent homelessness and assist those who are already homeless, FACETS works to ensure that every area family has a place to call home.

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

In May, over 500 people woke up to make a difference at the FACETS Opening Doors Benefit Breakfast. At this free breakfast, members of the community, current supporters, and elected officials heard directly from the people with whom we work about the impact we’ve had on their lives. The result was over $190,000 raised to help us continue to open doors for people in need and break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.

2. What else are you up to?

FACETS is an active partner in the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness by 2018. It has changed our work dramatically and we are now embarking on our second joint grant with eight other partners that will help people move from homelessness to housing more quickly. On October 22nd, we will hold our annual Taste of Fall with FACETS — a great event with wonderful food, live and silent auctions, and awesome music. Continue reading

7 Questions – Mark E. Robbins (Yellow Ribbon Fund)

This week, we’re getting to know … Mark E. Robbins, Executive Director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund. The philosophy of the Fund is simple: wounded servicemen and women deserve first-class care as they recover. And their families deserve the same. With the help of over 1,200 volunteers, Yellow Ribbon Fund supplies the personal services that government programs just don’t cover.

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

We are launching a new initiative to stay in touch with the injured service members we helped while they were being treated at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital after they return to their hometowns. Many of these young men and women have a good support system at home and have goals of getting a job or going to college. But many do not have this safety net and we are reaching out to see how we can help.

2. What else are you up to?

We are starting to build a network of attorneys who can do pro bono work on behalf of veterans with legal needs. We are getting close to launching this effort and believe that this will be a very important service. Continue reading

7 Questions – Sarah Leavitt (Lambi Fund of Haiti)

This week, let’s meet … Sarah Leavitt, Digital Outreach Manager of the Lambi Fund of Haiti! Based on the premise that Haitians themselves understand how development is best achieved in their own communities, Lambi Fund supports small-scale economic development projects that are conceived, implemented, and evaluated by community-based organizations.

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

The Lambi Fund of Haiti just launched an exciting new partnership with a coffee cooperative in Northwestern Haiti. I find this to be an incredibly promising program because we are working with 51 coffee farming groups (with 805 members in all), who are working together to increase coffee production and sales in their region. For the duration of this project, Lambi Fund will work with these coffee producers to modernize their processing plant and to increase outputs during harvests.

In the first phase, Lambi Fund will fund the purchase of a coffee pulper and help the co-op build a glasi (drying surface) which will help improve the efficiency and quality of the co-op’s coffee processing methods. In the second phase, Lambi Fund will fund the purchase of 20,000 lbs. of coffee. Coffee purchased from growers will be processed and placed in a storage facility (to be built) and then sent to sell in international markets. Lambi Fund will also provide 25,000 coffee seedlings and 6,000 shade trees along with the funding and supplies needed to build a tree nursery. This will significantly increase the amount of coffee being grown by farmers in the region.

Throughout the entire duration of this project, we will also be providing training on technical and managerial aspects to co-op members that will ensure program success. Training on modernized coffee processing methods along with project management, and tree nursery care and maintenance will be provided. Its programs like these that really excite me — we are working hand-in-hand with communities to improve their means for agricultural production, increasing the value of goods and strengthening economic opportunities for entire regions in Haiti. Continue reading

7 Questions – Juliana Ratner (Free Minds Book Club)

Welcome to “7 Questions” … Juliana Ratner, Program Director of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop. The club meets weekly at the DC Jail, exploring literature and creative writing and empowering young inmates to transform their lives. Learn more!

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

Every day is an interesting project with this job! On Friday, however, we hosted guest writer Michael Mattocks, co-author of the memoir Unlikely Brothers, in book club. That day book club met on the unit itself, where the acoustics are bad and it’s hard to hear, and all the book club members were so focused and attentive. Michael talked about his journey from drug dealing and incarceration to being an involved and responsible father of five boys, and what writing a book had taught him — and they were full of questions and eager to read their own writing aloud. Afterwards Michael said that it had been one of the most powerful moments of his life, to have the opportunity to share his story with them, and to hear their poetry.

2. What else are you up to?

We’re in the process of producing a literary journal of our member’s work. We do a book every year, but this year we’re taking it to the next level. The journal has an editorial board of four Free Minds members, three of whom are in prison and one of whom is home. They have been in charge of every aspect of the book, from selecting the themes for each section to doing the final pick of poems, and it has been amazing to watch. They are committed and insightful editors and so deeply pleased to be able to give back in a positive way, especially if it can influence other people’s lives and choices.

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