YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo: An Exceptional Aspire Partnership

Every organization strives to develop programming that delivers optimal outcomes for the people they serve. Thanks to their partnership with Aspire Toledo, YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo has a better understanding of their ability to meet the needs of the children they serve. By using Aspire Toledo resources as a guide, the Y has been able to demonstrate their programs’ effectiveness and overcome any barriers to continuous improvement.

Brad Toft had just signed on as the YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo’s President and CEO when Aspire Toledo was initially developing the five outcomes that have served as Aspire’s overarching principles. He immediately recognized that these outcomes aligned perfectly with the Y’s overall mission, and a solid partnership was quickly established between the two organizations. The team at the Y saw that a data-driven approach, would help the Y assess their strengths — and address any weaknesses.

Using Aspire Tools for Better Pre-K Outcomes

In looking at Aspire Toledo’s five outcomes, an opportunity immediately presented itself to apply Aspire Toledo’s resources to their pre-kindergarten programming. The Y could look at the tools at their disposal and how they could be enhanced.

“Initially,” he says, “our curriculum had existed on paper binders spread throughout the city. There was no quality control. We upgraded to an online system, where information could be accessed via an iPad. This gave us a centralized database that’s enabled our staff to work more closely with teachers.”

In addition, this software has an online validation tool that assesses staff member’s abilities in comparison with a master curriculum expert. The staff member views a hypothetical case and answers questions related to that case. In order to pass, the individual must achieve an 80% or higher. Every Y staffer passed, with an average score or 91%, providing proof positive that the Y’s approach was indeed valid.

The Y’s Youth Opportunities Program: Excellence in Action

The Youth Opportunities Program (YOP) offers year-round after-school programming for disadvantaged Lucas County residents age 16 to 21. This program helps young people achieve their fullest potential by offering everything from tutoring and supportive services to work experience and leadership development. The YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo has long touted the YOP as an exemplary program; in conjunction with Aspire Toledo, they’ve learned just how exception it truly is.

Much like Aspire Toledo, the YOP has benefitted greatly from integrating Lean Six Sigma methods into their program evaluation. By using the services of two Black Belts, on loan from The Andersons, Y staffers were able to define their focus area, identify any obstacles and ensure that intended outcomes were being met. In addition, they found that the YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo outperformed every other Y in terms of member engagement.

Clearly Defined Objectives for Clearly Better Outcomes

What ultimately makes a partnership between Aspire Toledo effective is that it gives organizations like the YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo a set of clear objectives that serve as guides throughout the program evaluation process. According to Brad Toft, “the evaluations help us understand what we’re measuring and how effectively we’re measuring it. Aspire Toledo’s model is based on continuous improvement, and its goals match perfectly with the Y’s objectives as they relate to preschool goals and member engagement.”

Katie Enright, Aspire Toledo’s Executive Director, agrees. “Aspire Toledo is dedicated to the idea that service organizations need to be built on a solid platform of success,” she says. “Our Program Assessment Tool gives programs like YOP a better understanding of the specific steps they can take to improve their service offerings.”

The YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo intends to apply Aspire Toledo tools as they assess their next set of services: 3rd grade reading. The Y serves more kids than anyone in the area, and they have the infrastructure necessary to implement the recommendations that come from working with us. At Aspire Toledo, we are confident that the YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo will once again demonstrate impressive results in this new endeavor, and that they will remain a valued partner for a long time to come.





Parent Engagement for Nonprofit Organizations: Better Input for Better Outcomes.

Time and again at Aspire Toledo, we hear the same refrain: If parents aren’t engaged in a program, the program simply cannot achieve its intended outcomes. Teachers, administrators and students tell us that parent engagement is integral to the success of any youth-based program. That’s why Aspire Toledo has made Parent Engagement a key secondary indicator in our Program Assessment Tool.

Parents and caregivers are always an essential part of a child’s life. Every child who comes into your program brings their home life along with them. If the messages children hear at home do not coincide with the messages you’re trying to convey, chances are your efforts will leave the children’s minds when they leave your program.

But what does effective Parent Engagement really look like? And how can Parent Engagement be integrated into your nonprofit organization’s program?

Definition of Parent Engagement

The idea of Parent Engagement seems straightforward enough; parents become active partners in the program, reinforcing the ideas being presented and encouraging their children to incorporate the program’s teachings into their daily lives. But within that overall concept, there are three distinct levels in which parents can take part.

The most basic level is Parent Involvement, in which parents feel that they are invited to participate in a program beyond simply dropping their children off and picking them up again. At the Parent Engagement level, parents are generally more heavily invested in the success of the program. They are more likely to be an active part of the program and offer more feedback throughout the process.

As Marian Brannon, Strengthening Families Coordinator for Lucas County, puts it, “The difference between Parent Engagement and Parent Involvement is sort of like a sausage and egg breakfast sandwich—the chicken is involved, but the pig is engaged.”

Ultimately, parents may actually move into more of a Parent Leadership role, in which they participate in the decision-making process and share a true stake in the success of the program. Not every parent will emerge as a leader, and those who do may only do so as a result of active encouragement on the part of the organization.

Five Steps to Encouraging Parent Engagement

The pyramid seen above only tells part of the story—true Parent Engagement happens in an environment that is designed to support it. The best way to foster that environment is to begin planning for it from Day 1. Ideally, an organization starts thinking about the roles parents can play during the initial planning of the program, while the grants are still being written and the program is still in its earliest development stages.

If you are trying to boost Parent Engagement within an existing program, the good news is that it’s never too late—but as we stated above, it’s always crucial.

Here are a few practical tips that can help boost Parent Engagement:

  1. Talk to the parents. Simply asking parents what they’re looking for in a program can go a long way. Parents are often not accustomed to having an opportunity to express their opinions. And by contacting parents to discuss every aspect of their lives—beyond just the specifics of the program—can create a sense of trust that leads to increased engagement.
  2. Create a welcoming atmosphere. The physical environment is very important, and it includes creating a space for parents to feel they belong. The relationships you build are just as important. Train your staff to engage parents with a positive outlook—and live by the mantra “Relationships over rules.”
  3. Speak the parents’ language. This is both a literal and a metaphorical tip. Does your audience speak Spanish or Arabic? Bring translators into the process at the outset—not as an afterthought. In addition, understand where parents are coming from and create materials they can immediately understand.
  4. Assume good intentions. If a parent is late for an appointment, start your interaction with the idea that she made an honest effort to get there on time. If the parent is reluctant to commit her time, assume it has more to do with her busy schedule rather than any lack of interest in her child.
  5. Look for passionate parents. Any parent who expresses an extra interest in your program—even those whose interest may seem negative—can be encouraged to take on a greater role within the program. Encourage their passions while at the same time directing them toward the places within the program where they can do the most good.

Parent Engagement: Part of the Aspire Toledo Model

Parent Engagement is an essential component of the Aspire Toledo model, in which we seek to create a cradle-to-career support structure for children and families in Lucas County that will prepare them for success in life. To learn more about Aspire Toledo’s work throughout the community, sign up for our newsletter today.

 The information provided in this post come from an Aspire Toledo Network panel discussion presented on August 30, 2017. Participants included Michelle Klinger, Executive Director of Partners in Education; Sandra Johnson, Lucas County Early Head Start Family and Community Engagement Coordinator; Marian Brannon, Strengthening Families Coordinator for Lucas County; Amy Allen, Toledo Public Schools Transformation Leader; and Kelly Kaiser, Baby University.