from: NYRAG MEMO APRIL 2008: In an interview by the New York
Regional Association of Grantmakers, Barbara Greenberg
the Levitt Foundation discusses assessing youth development program outcomes
with Paula Hewitt Amram of Open Road, a Levitt grantee
NYRAG: Paula, can you give me some background on
Open Road, and tell me a little about the kind of
outcomes you are hoping to achieve?
Paula Hewitt Amram: Open Road was founded
in 1990, and is based in the Lower East Side of
Manhattan, though we work citywide. When we first
started, it was to take over a specific vacant lot
that was being used for drug dealing. That established
the way Open Road functions: working closely with
families and staying involved long-term. In 1993, we
took over a contaminated homeless encampment. It’s
now called Open Road Park. The young people who
started this project with us were then ages 11 and
13, and are now program directors. Our core mission
is to develop these relationships and through them
develop outdoor environmental projects that have
tremendous public use. Open Road Park is now a one-acre
public park with a basketball court, greenhouse,
and a turtle pond. It also serves as the home-base for all our programs.
NYRAG: And Barbara, how is this a good fit
for Levitt, and helping to further your mission?
Barbara Greenberg: The Levitt Foundation is a
relatively small foundation, giving less than $1 million per year. Our focus is young people
ages 6 to 18 in the five boroughs and on Long Island.
We encourage children and youth to learn about their
environment and improve and protect it in their
own neighborhoods. We prefer to fund programs that
are youth empowered, so kids identify and take action on issues that are important to them.
NYRAG: How do you set up your evaluation program
to see if a particular grantee is meeting those goals?
BG: We obtain evidence that the
young people have acquired knowledge, that they’ve improved
or protected their environment, and that they’ve
practiced leadership and citizenship skills. We strive to be accountable
and use each grant dollar wisely. However, we aren’t
able to justify costly outside evaluations on every
project. What we’ve done is build monitoring
and evaluation into our whole grantmaking cycle. For
instance, when we solicited a proposal from Open
Road, we asked them to describe their goals and define the measures
of success by which both of us could judge their
achievements. Once a grant was approved, our letter
of agreement restated these measures of success, and
when they make their reports to the Levitt Foundation,
they gauge their progress against these measures.
Similarly, when we site visit we see how much of
this has been achieved. In these ways, evaluation
becomes an integral part of the entire grant cycle.
PHA: I can give you an example of one of our long-term
projects that Levitt supports. It is called Prove It with Improvement, and we had
very targeted goals because the young people had
already chosen to work on specific environments. These were the same youth who had
been involved with the project before we wrote the
proposal, and they’d already designed the project in a park in the Lower East Side. They
wanted to reopen a locked gate, reopen a locked bathroom,
and improve the environment where it had been poorly
cared for. So that was one of the evaluations: asking
whether they completed these very specific goals. We
also said we’d be working with 20 young people
and at least 30 adults from the general public.
We had quantitative measures like these, plus qualitative
measures like leadership development. We take attendance
every day, and we know if the same people are coming on
a regular basis, and if they were there in 2005, 2006,
and 2007. We require that adult staff do extensive
daily writing and keep journals. These journals
are also part of our reports. In addition, many
of our staff meet directly with the Levitt Foundation during site visits and are
responsible for creating presentations.
BG: The Levitt Foundation is interested in whether
we achieved the environmental impact we wanted.
However, we also want to know whether the kids are
practicing leadership skills and building their confidence.
We expect many of these young people will become
the future stewards of their urban environment, but we also anticipate these
hands-on learning experiences will serve them well in whatever path they choose.
PHA: One of our evaluation methods is to do surveys
of the surrounding neighborhoods. We found there’s
been a change in people’s expectations during
the 15 years we’ve been working in the Lower
East Side. There is more of an expectation environmental
projects are going to be more racially and culturally diverse. Not only is there an increase in the
number of these programs, but there is also more
demand for them. The city has a program where it
grades parks, so this is another way for us to evaluate
our work. Are the parks getting a better letter
grade since we’ve been involved? Asking this
question enables us to do external as well as internal evaluation.
Paula Hewitt Amram is the Founder/Executive
Director of Open Road, which designs and creates
free, public, youth-led projects through participatory design,
including public gardens and parks, green roofs,
mapping websites, public murals, and youth-led research.
Since 1989, Ms. Amram has consulted on programs for the New York City Department of
Education, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and
environmental and youth organizations. Another NYRAG member that funds Open Road
is The Hite Foundation.
Barbara R. Greenberg, MSW, is President
of The Philanthropic Group, an organization that provides
consulting and management services for
foundations. Greenberg facilitated a decision-making process
to assist the Levitt Foundation board in reaching consensus
on a grantmaking focus. She designed its grantmaking strategy, and has managed its grantmaking
program for ten years. Ms. Greenberg has more than 25
years’ experience in the private, nonprofit, and public
sectors, in diverse roles including Executive Director of a family foundation, Manager of a national
corporate grantmaking program, and Executive Director
of a countywide nonprofit counseling center. Her
experience also includes serving as a board member with
NYRAG, Grantmakers in Aging, the American Society on Aging, and the American Littoral Society.