Aspire Toledo: A StriveTogether Sustaining Organization!

Aspire Toledo reached an important milestone recently as StriveTogether officially named Aspire Toledo a Sustaining Community, the third gateway in an overarching Theory of Action.

The announcement comes after Aspire Toledo underwent a rigorous evaluation by StriveTogether, a Cincinnati-based organization overseeing a network of partners dedicated to improving cradle-to-career outcomes for young people in their respective communities. Aspire Toledo is one of more than 70 organizations in the StriveTogether network, and now one of approximately 35 organizations to have achieved Sustaining Community status.

Aspire Toledo: The Path to Proof Point

The StriveTogether Theory of Action is based on continuous improvement among four essential pillars: a shared community vision, evidence-based decision-making, collaborative action, and investment and sustainability. Organizations must meet a series of benchmarks to move through five Gateways: Exploring, Emerging, Sustaining, Systems Change, and Proof Point.

Here’s more information about the various levels, how we achieved them, and where we’re going next!

Gateway 1: Exploring.

Partnerships are initially formed and a plan is first formalized.

Gateway 2: Emerging.

An organizational structure was in place, and a baseline is established.

Gateway 3: Sustaining.

Even more community assets can be leveraged to effect change within the core indicators. Indicators are being continually refined to increase accuracy and validity; partners are connected with student-level data. Collaborative Action Networks are identifying opportunities and barriers, enabling them to take action to improve outcomes. Resources are allocated to improve community-level outcomes, and a collective advocacy agenda is developed to change local, state, or national policy.

Gateway 4: Systems Change.

Here’s where we truly start to see exciting improvements within the community! As the structures prove themselves durable, services organizations have access to the student-level data that will empower them to leverage their capacities.

Gateway 5: Proof Point.

A community at Proof Point is one that is seeing indicators improving. This is the ultimate goal for organizations in the StriveTogether network, and Aspire Toledo is working diligently to see this become a reality.

Aspire Toledo is dedicated to providing resources that enable organizations to fulfill the outcomes our community has deemed essential to the success of any given program. We will provide further information in future blog posts, and we encourage you to check back frequently!



C4NPR Presents Cross-Cultural Communication Workshop

The Center for Nonprofit Resources Presents

Cross-Cultural Communication
August 9, 2018
9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Have you ever had a conversation with a co-worker where you were both speaking the same language but didn’t seem to understand one another? How much do you know about the background and culture of your colleagues, clients and volunteers? Have you ever unintentionally offended someone because you didn’t understand where they were coming from?

This training will help participants bridge the communication gap among coworkers, or customers who have different cultural backgrounds. An individual’s cultural background is not simply defined by the country in which they were raised, the language they speak, the color of their skin or their religion. Culture can be very different for two individuals who are of the same nationality, religion, race and speak the same language.

In this workshop you will learn:

  • Skills that will build trust among workforce teams
  • Special techniques to communicate with those that have lower English proficiency

This workshop is eligible for 6 hours in the Leadership and Human Resources track of the Certificate in Nonprofit Management.

Register for this workshop today!


Integrating Cultural Competency into Your Programming

Aspire Toledo recently held a series of community conversations designed to help area service providers better understand Cultural Competency and the best ways to integrate this vital idea into their programming. An organization that truly understands Cultural Competency is one that is able to celebrate what each ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation offers a society while still being aware of the individual differences that make each person unique.

The takeaways from the first conversation were recapped in an earlier blog post; in this post, we’ll look at strategies any organization can take to make Cultural Competency one of its key components for better outcomes.

A Cultural Competency Strategy Starts with Leadership

For Cultural Competency to truly take root within an organization, leadership must play an active role. That includes the executive director, the board and senior management. Leadership is able to set the tone for the entire organization, from advising on the particulars of programming to ensuring a diverse staff is hired.

With a more diverse staff in place, it is still essential that these people feel they have a voice within the organization. That means encouraging conversations and empowering people to ask respectful questions of one another. While those discussions can occasionally take people out of their comfort zone, it’s still a necessary catalyst for growth within an

Cultural Competency in Staff Training and Programming

Once leadership has fully bought into the idea of Cultural Competency, it can be truly implemented throughout the organization’s programming. This can be another place where some discomfort may occur, but the results are more than worth it. Encouraging staff to develop a deeper understanding of the cultural needs of their clients means encouraging them to avoid making assumptions and offering more opportunities for them to engage in meaningful ways with the people they serve. Giving everyone — including young people — a voice in programming is essential as well.

As programming is developed or fine-tuned, the main thing to remember is that Cultural Competency is about building relationships. The people on your staff should be approachable and ready to treat everyone they encounter as an equal. As far as cultural differences go, the key is to recognize those differences while at the same time focusing on the commonality that exists between us all.

Measuring Success in Cultural Competency

At our community conversations, services providers are always interested in understanding what a successful integration of Cultural Competency would look like. Once programming is staffed intentionally, with people who are excited about integrating Cultural Competency, optimized programming should be relatively easy to implement.

Ideally, everyone involved in the programming — including young people — would have an opportunity to be exposed to new experiences. Even though these experiences might take them out of their comfort zone, it is necessary to gain a greater understanding. Along the way, people taking part in our community conversation recommended that opportunities are provided for self-assessment, so participants can monitor their own growth. In addition, staff members should be open to addressing feedback as it happens. When a person feels sufficiently empowered to speak out, it’s important to make sure they feel heard.

Cultural Competency: Good Policy for Better Outcomes

Throughout our community conversations, the importance of Cultural Competency was reinforced in every group activity and every discussion. Without Cultural Competency, one panelist suggested, your organization is setting up its programming to fail. Participants, especially young people, want to feel not just included, but truly understood and celebrated for their differences. They are more likely to absorb the lessons and skills imparted by your organization if you recognize just where they’re coming from. Organizations are able to stay relevant, and programming is able to deliver better outcomes. Simply put, Cultural Competency is the right thing to do!

Aspire Toledo is dedicated to providing resources that enable organizations to fulfill the outcomes our community has deemed essential to the success of any given program. We will provide further information in future blog posts, and we encourage you to check back frequently.

Thank you to the team who planned and coordinated these community conversations. Brittany Ford, Lucas County Policy Analyst and Welcome Toledo-Lucas County (TLC) Co-Lead, chaired the sub-committee of the Aspire Network Steering Committee with committee members including Marian Brannon, Lucas County Strengthening Families Coordinator, Sarah Allan, LISC Toledo Program Officer and Welcome TLC Co-Lead, Guisselle Mendoza-McDonald, Adelante: The Latino Resource Center Executive Director, and Evelyn McKinney, United Way Community Impact Officer. The sub-committee for Cultural Competency developed the plan to address cultural competency in a two-part community conversation with input from Aspire staff and the Network Steering Committee. And a special thank you to Marian, who facilitated the community conversations, Brittany Ford for additional planning and administrative support, attendees for both sessions, and to our panel of experts for Session II:

  • Janece Wooley, YWCA Inclusion Manager
  • Crystal Harris-Darnell, YMCA Youth Opportunities Program Executive Director
  • Sarah Alfaham, Local Social Worker and Arab American-Muslim Community Organizer
  • Guisselle Mendoza-McDonald, Adelante: The Latino Resource Center Executive Director

Cultural Competency: A Step Beyond Diversity

Every service organization wants to be as inclusive as possible — to be able to serve everyone regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. And every service organization wants to provide every group with the equal treatment needed to ensure all voices are heard in their programming. Those two ideas represent a commitment to inclusion and diversity, and that commitment should always be commended.

But what if there’s a step beyond diversity? A step that truly meets people where they are. A step that celebrates the difference perspectives that every group brings to an interaction. A step that ensures not just equal treatment, but equitable treatment.

That’s Cultural Competency, and it’s one of the key outcomes Aspire Toledo measures when we assess a service organization’s programming.

Five Ways to Start Incorporating Cultural Competency

  1. Avoid making assumptions or assigning others to a culture or group. In a recent Community Conversation, people came together to discuss some of the barriers to integrating Cultural Competency. In one exercise, our facilitators asked the guests to list stereotypes that might be assumed about different religious, ethnic, racial, and gender groups. The results were enlightening, and they pointed out the need to move beyond the assumptions that get in the way of open communication.
  2. Ask respectful questions when you need information about a culture or group. The key to breaking down stereotypes? Communicate! That means asking thoughtful questions, without assumption and without accusations.
  3. Be open to answering questions about your own culture respectfully. Cultural Competency is a two-way street. No one is asking you to be a spokesperson for your culture, but you can share what you know. Maintaining a dialog can go a long way toward
  4. Remember all cultures are made up of individuals. In another exercise, participants were asked to place random objects — pens, paper clips, combs, etc. — into a large basket. That action represents inclusion. Recognizing the differences among those objects represents diversity. The facilitators then attached some of the objects to different spaces on the basket: the rim, the handle, even hanging off the side or underneath. The implication is that members of a group may function best if their individual needs are met. Those needs may be related to the cultures from which they come, and recognizing how those needs impact individuals is a big step toward Cultural Competency.
  5. Interact in a way that supports relationship building. Ultimately, Cultural Competency is based on empathy and the creation of personal relationships. By trusting that people are coming into a situation with good intentions, and by responding accordingly, we can break down the cultural walls that stand in the way of providing optimal outcomes from the people we serve.

Aspire Toledo Helps Organizations Foster Cultural Competency

In working with stakeholders throughout the community, Aspire Toledo has come to recognize Cultural Competency as a key component to successful programming. Ensuring that the people who deliver programming truly understand the people they serve helps foster a sense of belonging that leads to better outcomes. In weeks to come, we will be sharing some more ideas about Cultural Competency, including strategies designed to help service organizations integrate principles of Cultural Competency into everything they do. Watch this space for further details.


StriveTogether Convening Affirms the Aspire Toledo Model

Aspire Toledo is part of the StriveTogether network, which includes nearly 70 organizations nationwide. Recently, representatives from each of those organizations convened in Phoenix to share their experiences and offer advice about what’s working in their communities. Throughout this three-day event, the Aspire Toledo team gained new insights into what makes a StriveTogether network successful — and along the way came to understand just how solid the Aspire Toledo model truly is.

Keynote Speaker Steve Ballmer Stresses Need for Data

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was the conference’s keynote speaker, and he brought some very exciting news. His foundation, the Ballmer Foundation, has pledged $90 million dollars over the next six years to increase the capacity of StriveTogether and its participating organizations. While the details of how the money will be disbursed throughout the StriveTogether network have not yet been released, this pledge represents a major show of support for this innovative model.

In addition to announcing this major contribution, Mr. Ballmer also discussed the year he has spent studying the effectiveness of the StriveTogether model. Chief among his findings was the recognition that a successful StriveTogether organization would need two important components: a centralized data warehouse and an individual student data system — two central features of the Aspire Toledo model. Our team was quite heartened to hear our model held up as an example to other organizations within the network, and as we continue to see impressive outcomes here in the Toledo area, we anticipate more StriveTogether groups looking to us for insights that can improve their communities as well.

The Importance of Collective Impact for Aspire Toledo

In breakout sessions throughout the conference, the importance of Collective Impact was repeatedly reinforced for our Aspire Toledo representatives. One community in particular stood out, as they sought to increase the availability of high-quality pre-Kindergarten programming for area children. The community brought the stakeholders together and created a one-stop facility for parents to come develop a plan that works for their family. Demographic data — socioeconomic status, location, income, number of children, etc. — were all taken into account, so parents could take a strategic approach that would address the very specific needs of their family and their children.

At Aspire Toledo, we are taking a similar approach, using the data we gather to look for opportunities to leverage our existing resources. We took a great deal of inspiration from our colleagues across the nation, and you’ll see more examples of our efforts here on our blog.

Every Stakeholder Plays a Role in Aspire Toledo’s Success

Jeff Edmonson, the former head of StriveTogether who is now with the Ballmer Foundation, often speaks of the need for every stakeholder to dedicate themselves — as individuals and as organizations — to making a personal commitment to Collective Impact. Throughout the conference, we saw firsthand just how meaningful that commitment can be. When services organizations, schools, parents, and business and community leaders come together with a common goal, we can improve outcomes and elicit true change, child by child, neighborhood by neighborhood — and eventually across the city.

Across all three days of the conference, we were honored to see our efforts receive incredibly positive attention from other communities and from the StriveTogether leadership. Our approach to this already highly effective model — which includes innovations such as Lean Six Sigma methodology and a wide range of qualitative research — has organizations eager to learn more about Aspire Toledo and looking for ways to incorporate our methods into their organizations. It’s further evidence that Aspire Toledo is on track to deliver greater outcomes for Toledo-area children. Keep checking this blog for further updates and more exciting success stories.


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.





Ohio Four Year High School Graduation Rates

Network News: Joint Kindergarten and Graduation Network Invitation

Aspire to host several joint network conversations to gather input on quality measures on June 24, June 27 and June 30, 2016.

Following is the invitation sent to network participants:

Aspire has been working with many of you to help determine the root causes of why two-thirds of our children enter Kindergarten unprepared and why nearly one third of our youth do not graduate high school.

We have learned a lot through our conversations with all off you, and with parents and students.

Our next step is to use this input to create a tool that will help our service providers and other stakeholders determine how effective their programs are in improving those statistics. The tool, which will be called a program quality report, is intended to drive accountability and results in each of the programs, and to provide transparency to the larger community.

Using your input, we will decide how we measure the effectiveness of similar programs. For instance, after school programs might report on the improvement in reading scores of children from the start of the year until the end. If we see, therefore, that Program A has improved reading scores by 10 percent and Program B only by 5 percent, Program B will surely want to know what it can do differently to achieve Program A’s results. The objective is to provide all programs the opportunity to deliver the best outcomes, which will drive systemic change. The objective is NOT to shut down Program B because its scores were lower.

Together we must decide what benchmarks we will be using, what secondary measures will be considered — i.e. Improved ninth grade graduation rates may signal improved high school graduation rates – and what quality indicators will be considered.

We have asked Bob Harman, Black Belt and LSS expert from O-I, to facilitate these sessions to be sure we effectively gather all the information you have. Specifically, we would like you to tell us the following about your current programs and measurements:

  • What benchmarks are you using?
  • What data do you already collect?
  • Is there data you’d like to collect but cannot?
  • What are the secondary measures you believe are relevant?
  • How can we measure quality?

Please attend and make sure we understand all that we can about your programs and what you are measuring. If you cannot attend the meeting, please call Kristen Kania or send her your program measurements via email.

Thank you for your attention and response.  We look forward to seeing you at our event.