Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to School

Although my internship is coming to an end, a new school year is just about to start at Green Dot! Eighteen schools will welcome new students, families, and teachers over the next few weeks, marking the 10th school year since Green Dot was founded by Steve Barr. This morning, all Green Dot staff and teachers – close to 700 people – gathered downtown to celebrate the successes of the previous years and look forward to the challenges that remain for the students we serve. And perform cheers and step routines to show which Animo has the most spirit (yes, that would be the principals and teachers on stage – not a student in sight).

Even amid funding cuts and political turmoil at all levels, Green Dotters have persisted in thinking strategically about the future of the organization and committing to the success of all students. The goal my project this summer has been to research and identify the key metrics that demonstrate the organization’s progress towards achieving its strategic goals. After several rounds of interviews, workshops, and discussions, we are ready to present a slate of metrics for a management dashboard to the executive leadership a Green Dot.

It’s been a great project for learning how a charter management organization works and how all the moving parts of the mission are demonstrated on a day-to-day basis. Another highlight of the summer was having lunch with the other Education Pioneers interns and Steve Barr. We asked him about his vision for growth, discussions with Arne Duncan (US Secretary of Education, and how the Dodgers are going to make it to the World Series this year.
This internship has been a great professional and personal learning experience for me. I look forward to making my final presentation and wrapping up my work, and keeping in touch with the Dotters I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know this summer.

To get a taste of Green Dot’s work in Los Angeles, check out the SoCal Connected series on Locke High School.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Changing Lives Through Jobs

My internship this summer is at Chrysalis, a nonprofit devoted to helping homeless and economically disadvantaged individuals transition back into the work force. In these times of economic hardship, when it can be difficult for just about anyone to find a job, Chrysalis provides resources and opportunities for the people facing the biggest challenges in obtaining stable employment. As their CEO states, Chrysalis provides people with “a hand up, not a hand out.” The Chrysalis Program includes interview classes, computer skills training, and access to job postings. Each client meets regularly with an Employment Specialist who tracks their progress.

For the clients who have the most difficulty finding employment, for reasons such as homelessness or felony convictions, there is Chrysalis Enterprises, which serves to provide these clients with work experience they can translate into future career opportunities. Chrysalis Enterprises is comprised of Chrysalis Staffing, essentially an employment agency, and Chrysalis Works, a street cleaning and maintenance service that employs Chrysalis clients. The genius of Chrysalis Enterprises is that, in addition to accomplishing the organization’s mission by providing employment opportunities for those in need, these endeavors earn money for Chrysalis, allowing the non-profit to be self-sustaining to a certain extent.

My internship is in the Chrysalis Enterprises office, located in downtown Los Angeles in the “Skid Row” district. Each morning when I arrive, there is a crowd of people on the sidewalk who have just signed in at the front desk in the hopes of getting work that day. Another great thing about the organization’s strategy is that all the clients and potential clients are there because they want to work hard and turn their lives around; no one is there against his or her will.

When I began the internship, I did as much as I could to understand the workings of the organization. I attended orientations for new Chrysalis clients (I even teared up a bit during a particularly moving orientation video) and clients who had been referred to Chrysalis Enterprises, and sat in on many client interviews. When I was introduced to one new client as “David the Intern,” the client carefully looked me up and down, and then said, “Are you really a doctor?”

Additionally, I had the opportunity to spend a morning with one of the street cleaning crews where I was driven around and shown the areas they cover. Coincidentally, it was the “Figueroa Corridor” area, i.e. the area right around USC, where I spend my time the rest of the year. It was interesting to see the area from a different perspective, and to see how all the sidewalks, alleys, and landscaping are maintained; I had never noticed the Chrysalis crews before, but now I see them every time I drive by campus. The crew members take a great amount of pride in their work and were eager to show me the stark contrast between the areas they maintain and the areas that are not covered under their contract.

I also visited the other two Chrysalis locations: one in Santa Monica and one in Pacoima. While at the Pacoima office, I sat in on interviews with clients for a part-time job collecting recyclables at a nearby university. It was heartbreaking to see how each and every one of those clients just wanted to work and was willing to pick up hours wherever they could; I was rooting for each and every one of them to get the position.

Most of the work I have done thus far involves Chrysalis Works; my first major project was to tackle the problem of the record-keeping and customer reporting system. The system in place was that supervisors of the street-cleaning crews would write down the data each day (e.g. how many trash bags were picked up, where graffiti was removed, any bulk items that were picked up, etc.), and one of two people would enter the data on an Excel spreadsheet. At the end of the month, the data would be copied onto one of a variety of report templates and sent to the customer.

My assignment was to fix this system using FileMaker Pro, which I had used years ago when I worked at the Shoah Foundation. I took a few weeks to build a system into which the data could be entered in a standardized format in a location that all employees could access. I had to create a screen where all the necessary data could be entered in a way that it could be pulled onto a singular report for the customer. The next step was to create the report templates within FileMaker, so that once that data was in the system, creating the report for the customer was as easy as selecting the report from a drop-down menu.

We tested this system using the data from June, and sent FileMaker-generated reports to all of Chrysalis Works’ customers, who responded positively to the new format.

Another project I worked on was the thorough analysis of client data. Most of the data on individual clients is collected in the payroll system, but unfortunately, there is not one cohesive report that displays information on things such as average hours worked, number of months employed, hours worked per employee per year, etc. Information such as this is extremely important for judging the efficacy of the program and determining where improvement is needed.

We determined that the vast majority of Chrysalis Works clients work either fewer than 10 hours a week, or more than 30 hours a week; very few people fall in between those categories. Additionally, we discovered that, during the time period we examined, the clients who work the most hours are usually the ones who have been there the longest; there is extremely high turnover among the clients working few hours. The next step is to determine a way to track clients, so that we know what happens to them when they leave the Chrysalis program (e.g. Did they find outside employment? Are they back on the streets?, etc.)

I also had a chance to put my development skills to use, running a training session for the development department on the software The Raiser’s Edge. I had the opportunity to show them a lot of the features I’d used at a prior job, The Guardians of the Jewish Home for the Aging.

As the internship continues, I look forward to learning more about and contributing more to this organization.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

One more month and the learning begins...(newly edited to include link to a picture blog)

So...a lot has been accomplished since the last time I blogged about my summer internship at Pacific Charter School Development(PCSD). School officially opens on September 2, 2009. Thinking back to my first couple of days at PCSD, I can't believe the progress that has been made in 9 weeks. When I first visited the school site, our contractors were just putting up the framing, the outside of the building had barely been started, and you certainly were advised to wear a hard hat as you walked the building. Today, we're expecting furniture move in less than a week from now, the classrooms look like well...classrooms, and the exterior of the building highlights the promise of a new school.

Of course, the last month and a half has not been without its challenges. As anyone that has worked in project management for a real state developer knows, much of your job is tackling new issues that seemingly pop up all the time. Many of these issues deal with getting city approvals, permits, and inspections in time for the school opening. With the help of countless numbers of people these issues have been navigated and at this moment things look promising leading up until the opening. The amount of moving parts on a project can be overwhelming at times. I've learned how vitally important it is to remain organized, cool-headed, and diligent as you work through the various issues that invariably come up. What makes development of a school so difficult is the tight development timelines that exist because school starts on a particular day. Unlike residential real estate development, which I had experience with in the past, delays in construction are not as easily dealt with. If the school is not ready to be opened, 100s of kids will be left in the cold. It's this unique pressure that is both exciting and a little stressful as issues come up and then are resolved. It's a delicate balancing act that project managers for these developments must do. I've been fortunate to work at an organization that handles this as well as any.

The job of a project manager is not done once the building is finished and the students move in either. An additional project I've been working on this summer is helping to compile the documents needed to obtain certificate of occupancy(CO) for two schools that are already open. There are a countless number of conditions that are put on developments that must be satisfied before CO can be obtained. Again, the number of moving parts can become overwhelming if you don't stay organized. With the help of officials from the city, contractors that have worked on the project, architects that have drawn up the plans, and everybody else involved with the project, I'm confident we'll be able to obtain CO in the near future.

As my internship winds down, I've not only gained a new appreciation for project managers but I've also reignited my interest in real estate development. After working on the project management side of development this summer, I'll have seen a substantial part of the development process. From land acquisition, my prior experience at KB Home, to project management at PCSD, I now have a fuller understanding of what it takes to be successful at development.

My last blog post will recap my whole summer and hopefully tell the story of how a finished school is ready to become a place where the possibilities are endless.

Edit: For those of you that would like to see the pictures from the months long construction process...go to to this link. New Green Dot School

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A summer worth remembering…

Time flies. Really, it does. Yesterday, I realized that I had just few more weeks to go before my summer comes to an end. I have gotten so used to my colleagues that it seems that I've been with them much longer than 2 months. My work here at Families In Schools (FIS) was to conduct a technology assessment to analyze how technology can be leveraged to get work done more efficiently. My technology assessment work led me into the core strategic planning team where I soon got involved in an organizational self-assessment initiative, where FIS as an organization is evaluating how they are moving towards their mission. We are using the renowned Drucker Foundation's Self-assessment Tool for Nonprofits. As the project progressed, I got interested in the fund raising process and when I expressed my interest in learning more about it, I was immediately involved in one of the grant proposal processes. I also had the opportunity to attend several of the FIS' programs. Not only was I exposed to mission critical projects but I also had the opportunity to work with a lot of interesting people.

The other amazing part of my summer was the Education Pioneers experience. Education Pioneers is the non-profit organization responsible for my placement at FIS. Education Pioneers' mission is "to train, connect, and inspire a new generation of education leaders dedicated to transforming our educational system so that all students receive a quality education". A cohort of around 40 graduate students from top schools from fields like business, education, policy and law work on mission critical projects at different education related organizations in several cities across the country. I realized that I had never met a group of such passionate and intelligent people before. We discussed everything from the current education issues faced by Los Angeles to national education issues to moral issues. We had several interesting workshops and numerous other resources available to us. We were exposed to each other's projects and had the opportunity to meet distinguished speakers. The whole process was an incredible learning experience for me.

At the start of summer, I had accepted this internship with a little bit of hesitancy. But now I can confidently say that it was a great decision. Frankly, I've had so much fun that I don't even want to go back to school now. Yes, this definitely is a summer worth remembering…