LS Strategic Plan Executive Summary

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Main Address: 1115 Good Hope Road, SE
Washington, D.C., 20020
Main Phone: (202) 610-9903
Fax: (202) 610-9989
Contact: Curtis Watkins/Mary Bogle/Harry Cole
                                                  EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
This strategic plan is the result of LifeSTARTS Youth & Family Services’ (formerly known as East Capitol Center for Change)
involvement in the Pathways Initiative (Pathways), a process that covered the winter and spring of 2007. D.C. Pathways is the
collaboration between the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation (“the Trust”) and the Fannie Mae
Foundation. In many respects, the initiative is an extension of the District’s “Strategic Neighborhood Investment Program
(SNIP)” which is a “critical component of the city’s plans to increase its residential population and promote healthier
neighborhoods.i As a result, the Trust and the Fannie Mae Foundation selected six community-based organizations that have
the potential to expand or replicate their capacity to serve more children and youth residing in or near underserved areas of the
city, particularly in Wards 5, 7, and 8.

LifeSTARTS was identified as an organization that has the potential to help advance these goals. It assembled a strategic
planning committee in the winter of 2007 and embarked on a series of tasks with the purpose of better understanding what role,
if any, LifeSTARTS could play in this ambitious city-wide initiative.

The strategic planning committee was led by the Executive Director, Curtis Watkins, and key members of the board and staff.
A complete list of participants is attached in the Appendix. The committee met both in small teams and as a large group on
several occasions between February and July 2007.

Each team (or sub-committee) was assigned a specific task and each task was designed to help the broader strategic planning
committee gather all of the necessary information to help it make an informed and strategic decision about how LifeSTARTS
could enhance its capacity to serve more children and youth in and around Wards 7 and 8 (in the District), as well as youth who
are increasingly leaving the District and relocating in neighboring Prince George’s County (Maryland). We are pleased to present
this document which summarizes the planning activities, data gathering, analysis, conclusions, and recommendations.

                                                    Tasks for the Strategic Planning Committee

 Start                                                                                                                                               Finish
                                                           Strategy Formulation

                                                  Task 3(a)           Task 3(b)
                                                Scan & Assess      Analyze External
                                                   External            Factors:
                                              Society, Industry,      Threats

    Task 1(a)     Task 1(b)        Task 2                              Task 5(a)      Task 5(b)     Task 6(a)      Task 6(b)         Task 7        Task 8
    Evaluate      Examine &       Review                                 Select        Review &    Generate &       Select &       Implement      Evaluate &
     Current     Evaluate the    Corporate                              Strategic     Revise as     Evaluate      Recommend        Strategies:     Control
   Performance     Current:     Governance:                              Factors      Necessary:    Strategic         Best
     Results                                                           (SWOT) in                   Alternatives    Alternative
                   Mission,     Board, Senior                                          Mission,                                     Budgets,
                                                                         Light of
                 Objectives,    Management                                            Objectives                                   Procedures
                 and Policies

                                                  Task 4(a)           Task 4(b)
                                                                                                                                    Strategy      Evaluation
                                                Scan & Assess      Analyze Internal                                              Implementation
                                                   Internal           Factors:                                                                    & Control
                                                 Structure,          Weaknesses
LifeSTARTS is a youth and family development organization that runs the majority of its programs in Wards 7 and 8 (in the
District of Columbia). At the invitation of the Prince George’s County Public Schools Board and staff, we have begun to
expand into Prince George’s County, as well. LifeSTARTS programs serve children in the context of their families and families
in the context of their communities. Primarily, we support young people by providing activities that promote mentoring
relationships with positive paid and volunteer adults. These relationships and activities promote academic and life success, as
well as prevent teen pregnancy and involvement in drugs and violence. LifeSTARTS supports the health and well-being of
whole families by promoting strong and healthy parent-parent and child-parent relationships in the communities we serve. In
addition, LifeSTARTS promotes community service as a lifelong pursuit through opportunities for youth, family and extended-
family involvement in community-building and other civic activities.

As the strategic planning committee began to consider how LifeSTARTS could make an even greater impact in and around the
communities it serves, we thought it made sense to begin by looking at the organization’s accomplishments to date for lessons.
As we discussed these accomplishments, we concluded that LifeSTARTS has a set of organizational core competencies that
stand apart from other nonprofits. Strong social ties, an ability to reach the “unreachable” youth, an emphasis on developing
networks of emerging community leaders, an ability to transform school culture, and an emphasis on intergenerational
collaboration constitute our core competencies and they have produced terrific results.

Next, we examined these core competencies and accompanying accomplishments in light of those things that stood out as being
the “drivers” of success. That is, we tried our best to identify the roots of that success—the tangible and intangible factors that
“got us where we are today.” The reason for this step was to help the committee identify, in advance, the “ingredients” that we
believed contributed most to LifeSTARTS’ ability to bring about positive changes in the community we serve. These
“ingredients” would help to inform the discussion as the committee moved along the planning process.

We identified several things as being among the most important ingredients in our success to date. First and foremost, the
inspirational and dedicated leadership of our founder, Curtis Watkins, stood out as being the single most important driving
force behind our success. Mr. Watkins’s vision, management, and leadership have helped to carry LifeSTARTS over the years.
The community has come to trust and to respect Mr. Watkins and it is that trust and respect that serves as the foundation for
LifeSTARTS’ growth and expansion since 1996. Second, we identified a process, that when combined, drives the organization’s
performance at the staff level. During our interviews we came to describe the process as “Listen, Address, Celebrate.” This
process describes the “LifeSTARTS Way” and it drives the organization’s success in so many key areas. Third, we recognized
that our greatest accomplishments have been in redirecting the life paths of 10 - 25 year-old youth whose demographic
characteristics (e.g. neighborhood, family income, race) and personal histories (experiences of community and/or family
violence, poor academic opportunities, and juvenile justice system involvement) put them at risk of being marginalized from the
all the opportunity our great society has to offer. We see these young people as “at promise.”

After reviewing the most significant accomplishments and identifying the ingredients that contributed to that success, the
committee took a close look at the various pieces that constitute LifeSTARTS as we know it. We focused on the most visible
pieces—the Board, senior staff, volunteers, and funders. The purpose of this exercise was not to assess the strengths and
weaknesses of each individual part (that would come later). Instead, it was to analyze how each part fit with the whole. We
wanted to know how the Board functions in relation to the senior leadership team. How do the volunteers relate to senior staff
and vice versa?

The Committee then conducted an extensive external and internal review, and used the findings from those reviews, together
with the information gathered in previous tasks, to develop a limited number of strategic scenarios that would serve to enhance
the organization’s impact in the community. Those scenarios ranged from doing nothing to providing new services to new

Finally, the Committee thoroughly reviewed each scenario, discussing and debating the implications of each. After weighing the
pros and cons of each scenario, the Committee ultimately decided that the best way for the organization to enhance its impact
in the community is to embark on an expansion initiative that will span three phases and focus most heavily on creating new
“life starts” for our City’s most disadvantaged middle school youth.

Now, the details.
The Strategic Plan
After an extensive strategic planning process that spanned nearly a year, LifeSTARTS has come to a clear realization that the
most effective way to honor the mission of the organization, and to bring about the kinds of broad-based change we wish to
see, is for us to adopt what we refer to us a strategy of saturation. According to the dictionary, to “saturate” something is to
soak, fill or load something to capacity. Well, that is a fitting description of the strategy we will pursue over the next three years.
All future decisions will be made with an eye toward understanding how each decision either helps or hinders our desire to
provide an abundance of programming and services that specifically target middle school-age youth living in the Ballou and
Woodson public school clusters.

We believe that by concentrating our services on this particular segment of youth in this specific geographic area, we will be able
to systematically lay the foundation for personal and community transformation throughout Ward 7 and Ward 8. All of this is
based on a set of assumptions.

Our first assumption is that it is possible for us separate the constituents we serve into at least four distinct segments:
elementary school students, middle school students, high school students, and young adults. Each segment exists in different
places, has different needs, and may prefer to have their needs met in entirely different ways. The committee spent considerable
time discussing how to determine which segment was of most strategic importance to our theory of personal transformation
and change. We concluded that middle school youth are the key to our theory and we chose to place that group at the top of
our priority list, followed by high school students, elementary students, and young adults.

We also assume that we can separate our programs and services into the following three categories: in-school services (youth
advisors), out-of-school time services (mentoring and tutoring), and community programming (such as our marriage and family
partnerships workshops). We strongly believe that LifeSTARTS succeeds when we are able to offer services in all three
categories simultaneously. Youth and their families benefit when these wrap-around services are available.

A third assumption is that there is a target area (market) that can benefit most from the programs and services we offer. In the
District of Columbia, that target market includes low-income middle and high school children and their families in Ward 7 and
Ward 8. Since we intend to saturate large portions of this target market, but cannot do so effectively throughout all of the East
of the River community, this plan identifies sub-communities within Ward 7 and Ward 8 as the “ideal” constituent for us at this
juncture in our history. We have identified those sub-communities by school cluster and we have chosen to focus on a single
cluster within each of our target wards: the Woodson High School cluster (Ward 7) and the Ballou High School cluster (Ward
8). What is more, the vast majority of the three years covered by this plan will be focused primarily on bringing our services to
the middle-school-age children and their families within those clusters.

So, putting these assumptions to work, our strategy then is to saturate a target community or neighborhood with the full array
of bundled programs and services at our disposal. This means, perhaps more importantly, that we will NOT seek to expand
geographically until we have achieved saturation in our target neighborhood(s).

Although we lay out the specific details and an implementation plan behind this strategy in the pages that follow, here’s a
snapshot of the strategy, phase by phase.

        Phase 1: Market Penetration and Service Expansion for Existing Middle School Customers in DC

              o    Phase 1A (Years 1 -2): Market Penetration/Offer More of the Same Services to Existing Customers

                   For our current DC services and site locations – in particular, the Ward 7 & 8 middle schools we serve --
                   LifeSTARTS will fundraise to bring youth-staff ratios, consultant services, equipment needs, etc. up to their
                   optimal levels. Although our current services are of adequate quality, operational assessments at each site
                   indicate that our current programs run too lean, particularly in the critical area of youth advisor to youth ratio
                   which at present runs 15-20:1. We would like to see this ratio move closer to 10:1 at our youth-serving
              o    Phase 1B (Year 1): Service Expansion/New Services to Existing Customers: This phase of the plan is
                   the most modest since it involves only the addition of an afterschool “Junior Youth Advisors” program at
                       Johnson Junior High and the reallocation of our Relationship, Marriage and Parenting Services so that they
                       are more specifically focused on our DC middle schools.

       Phase 2: (Years 2 -3): Market Development & Expansion/Existing Services to New Middle School Customers:
        This phase is the heart of the strategic plan in that it involves a dramatic level of expansion into the four remaining
        middle schools (Hart Middle School & PR Harris middle schools in Ward 8 and Sousa and Ron Brown middle schools in
        Ward 7) in the Ballou and H. D. Woodson High School clusters. Each of these schools will receive a full in-school team,
        as well as afterschool “Junior Youth Advisor” programming that is customized to fit into and coordinate with the
        landscape of current after-school programs that already exist in those schools. In addition, this phase calls for the
        replication of our afterschool Literacy Loop intergenerational tutoring program at Ballou. Thus, we will have built small,
        yet powerful, presences in both high schools at the top of our target clusters.

       Phase 3 (optional for Year 3): Market Development & Expansion/Existing Services to New High School
        Customers: As our work in the identified Ward 7 & 8 middle schools continues, our program and evaluation staff will
        keep a close eye on the youth we have worked with closely as they move on to high school. Should our data, as well as
        school staff and the students themselves, indicate that our youth continue to need our in-school support through the
        early years of high school, we will seek to place in-school teams into Woodson and Ballou, themselves.

                                                                  LifeStarts Youth & Family Services

                                                                                      Strategy Map
                                  Mission: To provide mentoring, life skills, coaching, support and advocacy for youth and their families in the communities we
                                    serve. Our actions are built upon the conviction that transformation begins with the heart. It is our purpose to encourage
                                              individuals to create and cultivate a positive change in their lives and inspire others to do the same.

                               Strong Social Ties       Ability to Reach the       Developing Networks of               Ability to Transform       Emphasis on Intergenerational
                                                          “Unreachables          Emerging Community Leaders               School Culture                  Collaboration

        Portfolio                                 In-School Services               Out-of-School Time Services             Community Programming
                                                        (ISS)                                (OSTS)                                (CP)

                                                                Public School System                  Distressed Communities
                                         Elementary School         Middle School                High School            Young Adults (Not in School)

        Markets                      Prince George’s County, M.D.                             Washington, D.C.

    Bladensburg      Largo H.S.
                                                                       Kelley-Miller MS                                                        Johnson MS
                     Phase 1
                                           Woodson H.S.                                                               Ballou H.S.
                                             (Ward 7)                  Sousa MS                                        (Ward 8)                Hart MS
                     Phase 2

                     Phase 3
                                                                                                                                               PR Harris MS
                                                                       Ron Brown MS

iNeighborhood 10: Ten Strategies for a Stronger Washington, Washington, D.C., 2003; Alice Rivlin and others, Revitalizing Washington’s
Neighborhoods: A Vision Takes Shape, Brookings Greater Washington Research Program, 2003.

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