Newsmakers for September 2009

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Rachel Willis


It’s been a summer of transition at Kids Voting USA, which provides youth with education about civic issues and the importance of voting, and holds a simulated election each year. That work is done at the local level by a network of affiliates in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

In May, the organization forged a business partnership with the Kansas Press Association (KPA), which had already been its partner for the Kids Voting Kansas affiliate. KPA, which is based in Topeka, will now oversee the day-to-day operations of the national organization.

The move presumably will add some stability to KVUSA, which was founded in 1988 in Tempe, Ariz. Management of the organization bounced to Silver Spring, Md., when Kids Voting DC’s Jack Barse was hired as CEO.

Now, KPA’s Rachel Willis will serve as the executive director. Willis ran the state affiliate for KPA. Board leadership also has shifted to the Midwest. Diana Carlin, a professor of communications at the University of Kansas, succeeds Geoff Gonella, founder of the prominent D.C. lobbying firm Cornerstone Government Affairs. Contact: (785) 271-6350,

New York nonprofit Children’s Aid Society (CAS), which provides a range of

Richard Buery, Jr.

programs for 150,000 New York City youth each year, has hired Richard Buery Jr., a veteran of the youth development field, to be its next CEO.

Buery will take command of CAS in October as its third leader since 1980. He replaces C. Warren Moses, who has overseen the organization since Philip Coltoff retired in 2005. Moses has worked at CAS for 40 years and will retire in September.

Buery is the co-founder and executive director of Groundwork Inc., a Brooklyn nonprofit that helps children who live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty achieve educational and professional success. It is his third startup.

While an undergraduate at Harvard University, Buery co-founded the Mission Hill Summer Program, and more recently, he co-founded and served as executive director of iMentor, a technology education and mentoring program that began in New York and is in the process of a national expansion.

Like scores of other New York-based charities, Children’s Aid Society has struggled financially recently. CAS posted $13 million in deficits for both 2007 and 2008, and since then has been plagued by state budget cuts and a drop in philanthropic dollars that followed Wall Street’s collapse.

It suffered a major setback in late 2008 when the Picower Foundation closed its doors. The foundation, involved in the Bernie Madoff scam, gave Children’s Aid Society $3 million over the past 10 years, most recently to help replicate its pregnancy prevention and early childhood obesity prevention programs. Contact: (212) 949-4800,

Sheila Zelenski is the new vice president in charge of member relations and knowledge management for the Milwaukee-based Alliance for Children and Families. Zelenski joined the organization, which counts some 350 members with 53,000 full-time employees among its flock, from the American Society for Quality, another Milwaukee-based nonprofit, where she was director of member services. Contact: (414) 359-1040,

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that provides legal assistance to immigrant children in the United States who do not live with family members, has hired a director of national legal services: Abigail Price, who was the global adviser on the prevention of abuse and exploitation for the New York-based International Rescue Committee.

KIND was formed in 2008 by actress Angelina Jolie, and is led by Executive Director Wendy Young. The organization has partnered with nearly 40 large law firms that have agreed to provide pro bono services. Contact: (202) 824-8680,

The Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) and its founder, Geoffrey Canada, have received myriad accolades throughout the years for its effort to start working with youth at birth and stay in their lives until they head off to college. Now, the Obama administration has decided to use Canada’s model as the basis for a 20-city program called Promise Neighborhoods.

President Barack Obama has set aside $10 million for planning grants in 2010 to the cities, which will eventually have to rely on a wide range of organizations and funding streams to make something like HCZ’s model happen. Canada relies on more than just great ideas; his $70 million annual budget comes mostly from private funding, made possible by his powerful connections and, at least in part, by the fact that he operates in Manhattan (all recent indicators to the contrary, there are still a lot of donor dollars to pull there). Contact: (212) 360-3255,

Rush Russell, the former chief operating officer of the New York-based National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, heads down the Turnpike to serve as executive director of Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey in New Brunswick.

Russell moves away from CASA just months after a major shake-up at the research organization, which is housed at Columbia University. In May, CASA merged with Join Together, a well-known disseminator of research in the field of substance abuse and drug treatment.

CASA is now overseen by David Rosenbloom, who was president of Join Together. CASA’s former leader, Joe Califano, former U.S. secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, is listed on its website as “Founder and Chairman.”

Prevent Child Abuse NJ, which focuses mostly on training and technical assistance, was started in 1979, and serves as one of the 38 state affiliates of Prevent Child Abuse America. Contact: Prevent Child Abuse NJ (732) 246-8060,; CASA (212) 841-5200,

Everybody Wins USA elected Matthew Broder, vice president of communications firm Pitney Bowes, to be chairman of the board. Everybody Wins, which is based in Boston, provides literacy and mentoring programs for low-income elementary school students by taking volunteers into the classroom.

The organization hired a new executive director, Richard Greif, late last year. Contact: (617) 517-9747,

In Youth Today news, Publisher Bill Treanor has been appointed to serve on the seven-member board of the DC Children & Youth Investment Trust Corp. The trust, which was established in 1999, is the major youth-serving intermediary for Washington, D.C., and is headed by Millicent Williams. Its funding comes from a combination of corporations, city agencies and national foundations, including The Atlantic Philanthropies and The Wallace Foundation. Contact: (202) 347-4441,

After only a few months on the job, the CEO of the National Mentoring Partnership (MENTOR), Dan Schneider, left the organization over the summer to work for the Senate Republican leadership.

Schneider’s sudden departure was another blow for what increasingly appears to be an organization in trouble. He had served since 2007 as acting assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, before joining the mentoring partnership in March.

Later that month, Schneider mentioned in an e-mail to Youth Today “how fortunate I am to be a part of an organization I believe in so much.”

Schneider is credited with leading the effort to match 100,000 children with mentors through ACF’s Mentoring Children of Prisoners initiative, for which MENTOR certifies mentoring groups to receive vouchers.

His arrival was heralded as a new beginning for the decade-old organization, which in recent years has struggled to maintain its network of state partnerships; there were 22 in 20 states last year, compared with 32 in 25 states in 2006. And it has been operating at a deficit, dipping into its endowment for operating funds.

Executive Vice President Tonya Wiley is serving as the interim chairman while Board Chairman Willem Kooyker (pronounced Quaker) heads the search for a permanent CEO, said Ellen Christman, spokeswoman for the Alexandria, Va.-based partnership. Contact: (703) 224-2200,


Add the Battle Creek, Mich.-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation (assets: $6.3 billion as of May) to the group of youth-focused grant makers looking to entice some of their staff members into leaving. Kellogg, which is led by CEO Sterling Speirn, offered voluntary retirement packages to 68 of its 167 employees, or 40 percent of its staff. The foundation has lost $1.7 billion in assets since August 2008.

Two of Kellogg’s peers in national youth grant-making – the New York-based Ford Foundation and the Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – offered buyouts to scores of their employees over the summer (see “Newsmakers,” July-August). Contact Kellogg: (269) 968-1611,

The Los Angeles-based California Endowment (assets: $4.6 billion as of February 2008), which is led by CEO Robert Ross, has brought on two people to head its 10-year health initiative. Dr. Anthony Iton is senior vice president in charge of Building Healthy Communities: California Living 2.0, and Charles Fields is the senior program officer for the initiative.

Charles Fields

Iton joined the endowment from the Alameda County Public Health Department, where he had been the county health officer since 2003. Fields made the move to California from Seattle, where he was a program officer with the Marguerite Casey Foundation ($743 million in assets at the end of 2007), which funds projects aimed at helping develop a network of working families who can advocate on behalf of themselves and others. Fields managed a $29 million portfolio that included grant making in the areas of economic development, civic engagement and family support.

The 2.0 initiative will target distressed and unhealthy communities, with the goal of helping their children eat better and be more physically active. Contact: (800) 449-4149,


Regina Benjamin

President Obama nominated Regina Benjamin to be the next U.S. surgeon general. The selection has some advocates hopeful that the office will return to prominence and shine a light on some critical youth health issues.

Benjamin took her medical and business degrees back to Bayou La Batre, Ala., just 30 miles from her hometown of Mobile, and started the Rural Health Clinic, a nonprofit that provides everything from primary care services to lab work and minor surgery in an area where some patients need to make payments in oysters and shrimp.

Last year, Benjamin’s work in Bayou La Batre garnered her a coveted spot in the MacArthur Fellows Program – popularly known as a “genius award” – from the MacArthur Foundation, a distinction that comes with $500,000 over five years to be spent at the recipient’s discretion.

“We need a strong advocate, which I think we now have, that understands the barriers that face so many children and youth in getting access to quality health care,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, co-founder and president of the New York-based Children’s Health Fund.

Obama’s selection of Benjamin is reminiscent of George W. Bush’s selection for surgeon general, Richard Carmona, in that the legitimacy of both candidates comes from on-the-ground experience. Carmona was a 17-year member of the Arizona special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team before becoming a trauma surgeon and a professor of surgery at the University of Arizona.

Now the question is: Will the Obama leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services – which houses the Office of the Surgeon General – utilize Benjamin? Or will she be sidelined the way Carmona seems to have been under Bush?

President Bill Clinton’s appointee David Satcher released 14 official reports from 1998 to 2002. Several of them focused largely on youth, including timely looks at children’s mental health and youth violence. Over the same amount of time, from 2002 to 2006, Carmona produced two studies: one on secondhand smoke and another on osteoporosis.

Satcher put out more reports in his two years under Bush’s administration than did the president’s own appointee. Contact: (301) 443-4000,

Obama’s choice for undersecretary of education, Martha Kanter, has been confirmed. Since 2003, Kanter had been chancellor of Foothill-De Anza Community College District, which is based in Los Altos Hills, Calif., and serves approximately 44,000 students each year.

Kanter served on the executive board of the League for Innovation in the Community College and is the vice president of the CEO Board of the Community College League of California.

Earlier this summer, Kevin Jennings was confirmed as assistant deputy secretary of education for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, which is very much an office in flux. In his budget for 2010, Obama proposed to eliminate the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities state formula grants program, which is funded at $295 million, and so far, the House and Senate have agreed with Obama.

Jennings founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network in 1990. The network helps communities bring together teachers, families and students to end biases against LGBT populations in school systems.

Two other Education Department nominees were confirmed this summer: Deputy Secretary Tony Miller, a veteran financial manager and corporate strategist who helped improve the budgets and metrics of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Calif., public schools; and Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, the superintendent of Pomona Unified School District in California, a district with over 33,000 students and more than 40 schools. Contact: (800) 872-5327,