Burned Out? Take $100K and Call Us in the Morning

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BY AMY BRACKEN

 

New York City, youth worker Barry Joseph of Global Kids uses a New Voices fellowship to design a web-based human rights project linking New York's disenfranchised youth with youth around the world.

In Pawtucket, R.I., Youth Guidance Center Executive Director Bob Wooler used his Rhode Island Foundation fellowship to travel the country, visiting innovative education and studio arts programs to figure out how to set up his own education-through-art project for youth.

In Tennessee, Pamela Winters-Colbert wants a mentor, even after five years as executive director of Girls Inc. of Chattanooga - so she applied for and won a Peter F. Drucker Foundation fellowship to boost her own leadership skills.

Opportunities like this appear to be growing in youth work. While no firm count is available, fellowships for youth workers and others in human services - from rookies to long-time managers - seem to be increasing in size and number, with fellow alumni networks ballooning as well. There's a little for everybody: those in the public, nonprofit or for-profit sector; those looking for training, help in starting a new project, new insights on the field, or a break from work; and those trying to start a new career or shift their career paths.

The growing popularity of such fellowships is exemplified by New York's Echoing Green fellowship: For the class of 2000-01, the 12-year-old program received over 600 applications for 10 spots, up from just over 300 applications for the approximately 25 spots two years ago. Those selected for the two-year program receive a $60,000 stipend, plus benefits.

And new programs are cropping up, such as the Ford Foundation's $19 million (over six years) Leadership for a Changing World, which begins accepting nominations this January. Providing $100,000 over two years for each fellow's program work, as well as $30,000 for supporting activities, the program's goal is "to recognize, strengthen and support leaders, and to highlight the importance of leadership in improving people's lives."

Fellowship programs expect different things from their fellows and provide different supports. The following are several philosophies behind fellowships for which youth workers are eligible:

Go Fish

One of the most commonly cited purposes for mid-career fellowships is "burnout prevention" - a fuzzy term that includes professional support, revisiting the "big picture" (reviewing the reasons for being in youth work), and getting some rest.

"There's really a number of nonprofit leaders who are burned out," says Jennifer Jobrack, communications officer at Chicago Community Trust's Community Service Fellowship Program, which annually provides two fellowships in the Chicago area for $100,000 each - covering salary, benefits, travel and other expenses for up to 18 months.

At the Rhode Island Foundation, fellowship program director David Karoff tells fellows to "think of the foundation in this case as being their fairy godmother." The Nonprofit Fellowships seek to give exceptional Rhode Island leaders time off from their jobs for personal development; the foundation wants them to pursue their own interests. "The thought," says Karoff, "was that CEOs of corporations can afford to do these things," and so should modestly paid nonprofit executives.

"The beauty of the fellowship is it's a blank slate," says Wooler, the fellow who traveled to cities such as Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago to explore arts programs.

The Bannerman Foundation's three-month-plus sabbatical for experienced minority activists wants them "to really be as separate as they can" from their regular jobs, says program coordinator Madeleine Adamson. Fellows (who have ranged in age from 29 to 77, but are generally in their mid-40s) often use their $15,000 stipend to travel internationally, to meet with other activists - or to get away from activism. "Some people go fishing. And that's fine," Adamson says.

The idea is that fishing, traveling for pleasure or writing a novel (as one fellow did) will rejuvenate leaders and make them more productive.

Others fellowships try to fight burnout more directly: The Echoing Green Foundation's Public Service Fellowship (which gives away about $1.36 million a year from anonymous donors) helps early-to-mid-career nonprofit leaders deal with isolation and burnout through conferences where they discuss job problems, and through support networks of alumni based on geographic and career proximity.

Deliver Results

Some fellowships want more visible results. Because their objective is to train the fellows to better serve their specific organizations or communities, they form a direct connection with each fellow's employer.

The one-and-a-half-year-old Denali Initiative, a fellowship program sponsored by the Pittsburgh-based Manchester Craftsmen's Guild (run by Pennsylvania State Board of Education member and former MacArthur fellow William Strickland), helps fellows develop local social enterprise projects. Denali has received funding from the Ewing Marion Kauffman, W. K. Kellogg and Ford foundations. Each fellow relies on local organizations to come up with $75,000 over three years to help with the project development.

In Denali's 1999-2002 class, Nancy Carstedt, executive director of Chicago Children's Choir, received funds to set up a charter school and choir academy. Another social enterprise project is the development of Heartland Greenhouse, designed by Dennis Vanderpool, executive director of Associated Youth Services, in Kansas City, Kans.

The greenhouse will be a larger version of the one that now functions as a learning center at the Kansas City As School alternative school, run by Youth Services. In the new greenhouse, Vanderpool hopes to hire and train 35 community members and young people in horticulture, while funding other Youth Services programs through produce sales.

Not only does Denali expect its fellows to continue employment at their organizations while in the fellowship (as do several burnout-related fellowships, such as that of the Rhode Island Foundation), but the social enterprise projects that fellows develop must reflect their organizations' missions. At Vanderpool's agency, for example, graduates of the alternative school will be able to work and train at the Heartland Greenhouse he is developing.

For some fellowships, the connection between the fellow and his organization is monetary. The Institute for Educational Leadership's (IEL) Education Policy Fellowship Program (expected to have 215 fellows in its upcoming class) requires that organizations sponsor their mid-career professionals.

Many programs, such as Drucker Foundation's Frances Hesselbein Community Innovation Fellows Leadership Development program, don't even partially remove fellows from their jobs. The no-frills Drucker program (named after and funded in part by the foundation's founding president, a former CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA) pays no stipend; it provides workshops and conferences, and places fellows in mentor partnerships. Drucker expects its fellows, mostly for- and nonprofit agency leaders, to apply what they learn to their current positions.

But can programs that maintain links between fellows and their organizations during the fellowship stop fellows from taking their new knowledge and running to other jobs when the program ends?

Stay Put

IEL has a strategy. Though armed with the skills to switch jobs if they choose, IEL alumni are specifically equipped to work within their respective locales. Started in 1964 as a D.C.-based, federally focused program (called the Washington Internship and Education program), IEL became "inter-government-focused." It spread to locations across the country, where participants learn the laws and ways of their local and state (as well as the federal) governments. The fellowship training includes lectures, conferences and studies of young people's issues in their home states. Federal and national leadership issues are discussed at two national conferences.

The Academy for Educational Development's (AED) New Voices Fellowship Program (funded by the Ford Foundation) requires a different kind of involvement from the fellow's organization. The employee and employer apply as partners and both benefit monetarily. The $50,000 grant covers the fellow's salary and benefits, as well as professional development and technical assistance for the organization.

After surviving the two-and-a-half month AED screening process, Barry Joseph, 31, became Global Kids' Internet and human rights specialist. What most distinguishes Joseph's fellowship from a job is that he's part of an emerging network of nonprofit leaders. "It's an amazing privilege to work with such [an] incredible array of people," Joseph says of his 29 peer fellows, most of whom recently completed undergraduate or master's programs.

Moving On

Yet another fellowship philosophy is apparent in the Cadillac of mid-career fellowships, the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Children and Family Fellowship. Though designed for mid-career professionals (with at least 10 years' experience), the program is not meant to improve the fellows' performance at their current jobs. "We hope that [fellows are] at a critical juncture in their careers," says fellowship program Director Donna Stark. Most Casey fellows are "people who are ready to move on in their careers."

Rather than tie their projects to the missions of their current employers, Casey's full-time (for 11 months) fellows develop or clarify their own missions. The program is, to a degree, custom-tailored to individual fellows. In addition to Casey's already-developed curriculum, fellows develop learning plans to boost expertise in their areas of interest. That plan may include developing a directed reading list, scheduling one-on-one meetings with political leaders on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, and attending workshops. One fellow took a typing class, and one visited Cuyahoga County's child welfare system in Ohio. Based on his or her interest, each fellow is placed for up to 12 weeks at an organization that has an exemplary program to study, such as Georgia's Youth Futures Authority initiative in Savannah.

The W. K. Kellogg Foundation's National Leadership Program also offered such features as the individual learning plan. But after almost 20 years, the ever-changing national and its companion international fellowship programs have been axed.

The popular Kellogg program lives on in the minds of fellowship designers because of its enigmatic role in the fellowship world: Established in 1980, it was one of the first and certainly the most influential in the country, but its termination at a time when mid-career U.S. fellowships appears to be growing in number and size makes it an exception to the trend.

Funds left over from the termination of the fellowship have been absorbed into the foundation's general budget. Ali Webb, communications manager at the foundation, calls the fellowship's termination merely another stage in the evolution of the foundation's leadership theme. The termination of the program was decided during a "scan process," which concluded that leadership cannot be treated as a separate program, but must be dealt with in the context of each of the foundation's four goal areas: health, youth and education, food systems and rural development, and philanthropy and volunteerism.

When asked what this means in practical terms, Webb replied, "We're trying to figure that out." She predicts that in 20 years, leadership programs will look more like the Kellogg model, however it turns out.

Marsha Renwanz, executive director of Grantmakers for Children, Youth, and Families, was a Kellogg fellow from 1988-91. She studied the media in relation to children and youth, and traveled to Venezuela, southern Africa, the Soviet Union, the American southwest and even the Himalayas. Renwanz describes her fellowship as a "fabulous opportunity," and one that "had very definite positive effects on my career plans."

In fact, observers would be hard pressed to find dissatisfaction with the fellowships that exist today - except for the difficulty of winning one.