Fighting Poverty with Passion
I wanted to write about something my team did a couple weeks ago.
unCommon Construction’s staff is really small – there’s only four of us – and yet it is so rare that we all work together on something. Part of that has to do with the nature of the organization; besides the Executive Director who does everything, I am the only employee that works on “office” tasks like fundraising and social media management, etc. The other two staff members work exclusively on construction and on the Apprenticeship Program, developing curriculum and filling in the construction gaps to prepare for each Saturday build day. In fact, our paths only cross twice a week, on Thursdays for our weekly team meeting, and on Saturdays during the build day when we’re all running around managing our specific roles.
Specialization is important, but so is collaboration.
That’s why the rare occasions that we all work together on something are special and healthy for the organization. For one, it promotes transparency between the branches of our organization, and it creates a more accurate and full perspective on what the organization actually does. For instance, I know Spencer and Destinee’ build a house during the week, but not necessarily how much time or effort they put into developing and preparing the curriculum they teach on Thursdays. Likewise, perhaps they know that I write grant proposals, but not necessarily what types of questions the foundation asks. So the more opportunities we have to add the perspectives we hold to each other’s work, the better.
A few weeks ago at our Thursday team meeting, we all worked together to map out who the population served by uCC apprenticeships are. This was a question that had come up a few times in grant proposals I was writing, and I had found myself struggling to answer it. Besides the fact that all Apprentices are at least 16 years old and attend one of our partner schools, why are these particular students Apprentices and not others who go to the same school, and why are they the best fit to be served by the experience?
I realized that besides having a good answer for grants, it was important for unCommon Construction to have a good answer for themselves. Why are we working with the young people we work with, and what about them makes an Apprenticeship an effective intervention in their lives? If we all had difficulty answering this question, we’d have some serious rethinking to do.
So at our meeting, the team designed this chart to map out the characteristics that uCC Apprentices exhibit. The outer circle are aspects that all Apprentices have, and and then each Apprentice would fall somewhere in the other three circles (ovals?). Then as a test to make sure that this was accurate, we took the time to place every Apprentice who had gone through the program somewhere on the chart, discussing why they fit there.
As it turned out, most of the Apprentices fell into the highlighted area – not all, but a large majority. Which makes sense, I suppose. By going through that exercise, it helped inform the team of how to better serve each Apprentice. One student might need more opportunities to practice leadership, while a different student might need to be reminded how the activities they are doing on build day relate to the learning they do during the week at school.
But the best part of the activity was that we did it together as a team. It wasn’t a top-down lecture from the Executive Director to the build staff and AmeriCorps, but a truly collaborative activity where everyone’s voice was welcome and heard equally. I hope our team has more opportunities to work together like this, and that more similarly-organized nonprofits do this kind of thing too, for the sake of their team’s health and to make sure the populations they serve are the right ones.