Arnold Learns Youth Work

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When the people who ran Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Inner City Games programs in more than a dozen cities hooked up on conference calls in the late 1990s, veteran youth worker Donna Frisby-Greenwood stood out as if she had worn a house dress to the prom.

While several directors boasted about serving up to 10,000 kids at big sports events that were the hallmark of Inner City Games (ICG), Frisby-Greenwood recalls, “I’d get on the phone and say we had 100 kids participate this year” in her Philadelphia ICG. “You’d hear people snicker. But they didn’t get what we were doing.”

Rather than run big events, Philadelphia had shifted to comprehensive after-school services that provided academic and life-skills lessons to the same kids every day. The program reached fewer youth than the other ICGs, but “we were seeing them daily,” Frisby-Greenwood says. “We were helping them with their lives.”

A few other directors were moving in the same direction. Schwarzenegger eventually saw why, to the point where he ordered an overhaul of his youth sports initiative: By this fall, all 15 ICG affiliates were to be providing comprehensive after-school programs that included academics and cultural enrichment, and to have in place more thorough evaluation methods to measure their impact.

As Schwarzenegger runs for governor of California, the operation and evolution of ICG offer insight into his philosophy for youth-serving organizations and his management style. They also illustrate changes in the after-school field itself, and the perpetual challenge of a national headquarters trying to replicate a program model in different communities.

While ICG began as a loose affiliation of local agencies with broad autonomy to run periodic sports events, it is growing into a systematic program of daily services with more requirements, accountability and standardization. It is even changing its name, to After-School All-Stars. And its new CEO, former Red Cross executive Frank Donaghue, is working to iron out the challenge of balancing the insistence on national standards with the need for local flexibility in youth programs.

Sports and Hollywood

ICG was born in the Hollenbeck Youth Center, a multi-service agency in East Los Angeles run by local native Danny Hernandez. Hernandez says he created the games in 1991 to help steer the community’s youth from gangs and drugs. Hernandez had recruited Schwarzenegger, whose youth-related activities included advocating for the Special Olympics, to serve as a sort of “icon” to the kids at the center.

After the Los Angeles riots in 1992, Schwarzenegger increased his visibility for the center and helped Hernandez expand the games citywide. Late that year they created the Inner City Games Foundation to raise funds and plant seed money for ICGs in other cities.

Initially, the foundation and its affiliates were driven largely by people from sports and entertainment – Schwarzenegger’s world. They included foundation executive director Bonnie Reiss, a Hollywood entertainment attorney and environmental activist, and Olympic gold medalist Bob Beamon, who started the Miami ICG. In fact, ICGs initially opened only in cities that had a Planet Hollywood restaurant or were slated to get one, Hernandez says. Schwarzenegger, a partner in the chain, used the restaurants for flashy kick-off events that featured celebrities and helped to raise money and visibility.

“Most of those who stepped up in those early years,” Hernandez recalls, “were Hollywood or sports figures who were born and raised in the inner cities, or had real strong connections to the inner cities. They really wanted to roll up their sleeves and give something back.”

The organization also reflected Schwarzenegger’s preference for what some might call a Republican managerial style. Reiss recently told The Los Angeles Times that when she suggested that the Santa Monica-based foundation retain tight control over the affiliates, he said, “That’s your Democratic way of thinking. Who are we in Los Angeles to tell Miami or New York or Atlanta how best to run their programs?”

The foundation provides about $200,000 annually to each affiliate to help carry out a fundamental mission: sports activities, hardly a surprise for the brainchild of a former Mr. Universe who chaired the President’s Council on Physical Fitness under the first President Bush. (The affiliates must also raise local money and form partnerships with local governments, schools, businesses and nonprofits.)

“Everything was pretty much patterned after the Olympics,” recalls Joe Biggers, former executive director of Greater San Diego ICG.

When Jodi Knofsky, a former Hollywood talent manager, began serving on the board of South Florida ICG (Miami) in 1995, the organization would essentially put on “that big two-week Olympic-styled activity,” she says, “and spend the rest of the year planning the next one.”

By the time she became executive director in 1997, she says, “our board members and leadership and partners … had started talking about developing a program with the potential to impact youth in a more meaningful way.”

Other ICG leaders were also questioning the effectiveness of casual, event-driven youth work.

‘Sports Wasn’t Enough’

New York ICG was one of those groups that drew 10,000 kids to big sports events. Executive Director Arlene Weltman certainly valued games – she was the city’s former sports commissioner – but recalls that “when it was done, we sat down and said, ‘We’re not sure we changed one kid’s life.’ ”

New York was among the sites that began expanding beyond sports around 1998-99. New York ICG started academic-based after-school programs at public housing centers four days a week. Orlando, Miami and Houston operated computer camps.

And in Philadelphia, Frisby-Greenwood took over.

She had never seen a Schwarzenegger movie, but Schwarzenegger had seen her speak on television about the need to develop leadership in urban communities. His office called; he was seeking someone to replace his outgoing CEO, Reiss, and Frisby-Greenwood seemed to have the credentials: Among other things, she had founded Children First, an educational and leadership development initiative for minority youth, and had headed the Los Angeles-based Rock the Vote.

She had also recently moved to Philadelphia and had little desire to move back west. Instead, she became executive director of the Philadelphia affiliate.

“They had done one [sports] event and run a summer camp,” she recalls. She told ICG, “If you just want to do events, I’m not your person. If you want to do comprehensive programs, I’m your person.”

It was one of the many ways the foundation was getting the message to shift focus. From the White House down to neighborhoods, people were talking about the need to expand after-school programs for youth and make them more than just fun and games – to focus more on measurable results, such as academic achievement and reductions in risky behavior. Police chiefs said effective after-school programs reduce youth crime. More government funding was going to comprehensive after-school programs, led by President Clinton’s 21st Century Com-munity Learn-ing Centers initiative.

“It became pretty clear the government was going that way, it became pretty clear that private foundations were going that way,” says foundation board member Todd Wagner. “I don’t want to swim upstream.”

When Wagner joined the board in 2000, he brought lots of money and a strong business perspective: The Dallas-based entrepreneur had co-founded, which was sold to Yahoo! in 1999 for $5.7 billion.

Wagner says he realizes that nonprofit work is “really hard” and that nonprofits can’t run exactly like businesses. But he believed ICF could be run more systematically, and should be held to accountability and performance measurements just as for-profits are.

“I saw a lot of measurements that measured what I call soft data,” he says of ICF programs. “The kids are off the streets, the kids appear to be happy, the kids appear to be motivated. Those are all wonderful things, but at the end of the day, aren’t we trying to make it so these kids can get a job some day?”

He was among the board members who felt that demonstrating impacts on such things as reading and math scores was key to winning more long-term financial support from businesses and foundations – and to ICG’s long-term survival.

At the annual meeting of ICG directors in late 2000, Schwarzenegger told everyone that “sports wasn’t enough,” says Donaghue, who became CEO of the foundation this summer.

The new mandate: By the fall of 2003, all ICGs would be providing comprehensive after-school services involving recreation, academics and culture. The programs should be teamed with schools (as several already were). And although there had been some attempts to evaluate some of the affiliates’ efforts, they would have to institute more uniform and comprehensive evaluations.

Otherwise, they wouldn’t get their grants.

A growing number of board members felt that the name had to change as well. “It was a lot more than games,” Wagner says of ICG’s activities. “We needed people to stop saying, ‘We thought it was just about sports.’ ”

As of this fall, the name is After-School All-Stars. (Hernandez continues to run an Inner City Games operation out of his
youth center, believing that a sports-focused program is still valuable.)

Growth and Roadblocks

After-School All-Stars looks a lot different than ICG did 11 years ago. While Schwarzenegger started the foundation by shaking a few hundred thousand dollars out of Hollywood, by 2001, its assets (according to its federal tax returns) stood at $17.3 million.
The changes have brought new services, and new struggles.

The programs offer an eclectic range of out-of-school activities in schools, parks and public housing to youth ages 7 to 17.
In New York, once home to the 10,000-kid sports event, All-Stars runs an after-school program for 100 youths at a middle school, along with a summer camp. The three-hour daily sessions include supper.

In Philadelphia, a six-week summer camp teaches creative writing and has the kids pick a career – such as airline pilot or sanitation worker – and manage a household budget with the Excel computer program. In Orlando, kids play flag football, learn salsa dancing and make dolls. In Miami, children come in for one hour before school (mostly for breakfast and study hall) and two hours after.

But financial, political and geographic differences among cities has made it difficult to carry out some of the requirements.

In Miami, for instance, ICG and the schools work together using federal Community Learning Centers money to serve about 1,300 youth year-round on a $3 million budget. But in San Diego, former executive director Biggers says, “We couldn’t get into” the public schools. Administrators wanted the programs to be staffed by teachers, which ICG couldn’t afford. So the program is based primarily at subsidized housing sites.

Miami has a different problem: Most of the schools in which ICG operates don’t have gyms, Knofsky says, and “in some sites it’s not safe to go outside” to play. So forget sports; recreation consists of such activities as board games and computers.

And several sites have struggled to find the partner or the money to set up the extensive evaluations that the foundation wants.
Underlying these struggles is a common organizational dilemma: Some local directors feel that headquarters didn’t realize what it takes to carry out the mandates on the local level, and made decisions without consulting them.

“These people [at the foundation] are not used to running small nonprofit organizations,” Frisby-Greenwood says. “The national office would say these things, but they wouldn’t give people a plan on how to make it happen.

“The national office needs to not just tell [local affiliates] what to do, but show them how to do it, give them the blueprint. You can’t just tell people you’ve got to do an evaluation and not give them money to get an evaluation done.”

The directors praise Schwarzenegger’s interest in listening to and learning from them, but echo Biggers when he says, “You can talk to Arnold once you get him.” Several directors felt their input was not getting to the foundation’s famous chairman through the organizational chain.

“Arnold respects people who will just come and tell him the way it is,” says Lisa McCoy, the executive director in Orlando. When he’s visited her program, she says, she has stressed the difficulty of training and supervising staff, ensuring child safety and adapting programs at different sites to accommodate the kids’ different ethnic backgrounds.

Time to Tweak

The changing focus led to a change at the top. When the contract of CEO Harley Frankel (the former director of Head Start) expired last year, Reiss stepped in as interim director while the foundation searched for new blood. It came from the American Red Cross: In June the foundation tapped Donaghue, who was in Philadelphia running the Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Red Cross after having served as an executive at the national office.

In his initial visits to sites and discussions with directors, Donaghue saw that “in some places, Arnold’s vision of a comprehensive program has moved more quickly than in others.” Several directors said they needed more time to meet the new requirements. Thanks to his 20 years at the Red Cross, Donaghue says, he understands that “there’s always the struggle between local autonomy and meeting certain standards” set by a national office.

He recently told Schwarzenegger that “we need to tweak where we ought to be” in some of the cities. “Arnold’s comment to me was that maybe we’ve been too aggressive in having everybody conform to that vision too quickly. Some of these cities may need more time.”

They’re getting it, although it’s not clear precisely what the new timeline might be.

The affiliates have gotten a big boost from the Todd Wagner Foundation, which has provided a computer-based life skills, educational and technology program, called Miracles, as well as a database, the Student Measurement System, to track grades and other information about the youth. That database will help evaluate program impact.

The other priorities for the affiliates, Donaghue says, are strengthening their boards of directors and putting themselves on more solid financial ground through fund raising and partnerships.

Donaghue’s arrival has given some directors hope that the foundation and its affiliates will work more closely in blending Schwarzenegger’s vision of youth work with the reality of carrying out programs.

“It’s really nice to just have somebody who really understands where we’re coming from,” says McCoy in Orlando. “Someone who can just tell Arnold, ‘Hey this is the real deal.’ ”


Frank Donaghue, CEO
After-School All-Stars
1460 4th St., Suite 300
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 458-4411

Danny Hernandez
L.A. Inner-City Games
c/o Hollenbeck Youth Center
2015 E. First St.
Los Angeles, CA 90033
(323) 881-6570

Todd Wagner, CEO
Todd Wagner Foundation
3008 Taylor
Dallas, TX 75226
(214) 752-9119