Raising Youth Work’s Next Leaders

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Stroup: Wants to build “pipeline” to leadership at nonprofits.

[Update: This article as published provides outdated figures about certification. Humanics says 442 students received certification during the 2008-09 academic year, and it expects to certify more than 500 students this academic year.]

Phoenix—When Kristina Oniszko began her studies at Arizona State University, she had no plans to go into youth work. But over the summer, the 22-year-old landed her first full-time job out of college at a youth-serving agency where she will work as program coordinator.

For Oniszko and a growing number of college students, the path toward a career on the administrative side of nonprofits is being discovered through college courses offered at dozens of colleges through American Humanics – a national organization whose primary purpose is to prepare students to run or help run nonprofit agencies.

Oniszko, who initially majored in journalism and education, credits American Humanics with helping her find a rewarding line of work.

“Without American Humanics, I can say I’d be completely lost,” Oniszko said in April at the I.G. Homes branch of the Boys & Girls Club of Metropolitan Phoenix on this city’s west side, where she interned, doing data entry and working the front desk.

Four months after her initial interview with Youth Today and after graduating from ASU, she was preparing to start a full-time job as program coordinator at Helping Hands Housing Services, an agency that aims to help low-income families “break the cycle of poverty” by providing affordable housing and youth services, such as mentoring and after-school programs.

With more than five dozen campus affiliates throughout the nation, American Humanics is expected to play an increasingly important role in building a pipeline of new blood to take over youth-serving agencies as Baby Boomers fade out, experts say.

While some colleges offer degrees and certificates in youth work and nonprofit administration (such as the Youth Work Learning Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), as do a growing number of community colleges (see “Local Schools Give Youth More Class”), American Humanics offers its programming nationwide.

“No one is really preparing the next generation of nonprofit leaders on such a large scale,” said Elizabeth Lawson, development associate at the Washington-based National Council of Nonprofits. “They’re a very unique program, and I think they’re going to become even more vital and necessary over the next decade or so, as this next generation starts moving into the nonprofit workforce.”

Humanics is carrying out its mission largely through its Next Generation Nonprofit Leaders program (commonly called NextGen), which is funded with a $5 million, five-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation set to continue through 2012.

Over the past five years, Humanics has awarded 1,351 certificates – 442 during the 2008-2009 academic year. This academic year, the organization expects to certify more than 500 students. The number of participating colleges has grown in recent years, but lately the number has shrunk.

Kala Stroup, president of American Humanics, concedes that Humanics is not as essential to entering the nonprofit sector as, say, a school of nursing is for those entering that profession, although one Boys & Girls Club director calls it “a med school for nonprofits.”

“We want to establish some type of professional practices with the nonprofit organizations that will lead to this building a pipeline into the leaders,” Stroup said. “We’re trying to establish that value-added practice with nonprofits so they can see this is a good way to build their professional ranks.”

Oniszko: “I’d be completely lost” without the help of American Humanics.

 

How it Works

American Humanics was incorporated in 1949, the brainchild of H. Roe Bartle, a former Boy Scout executive and Kansas City, Mo., mayor who started it to cultivate a more informed and professional crop of leaders at youth organizations.

“By 1960,” says an American Humanics history paper, “AH graduates could be found employed in youth organizations such as BSA [Boy Scouts of America], 4-H and the YMCA; as well as probation offices, youth ministry, children’s homes, social services and hospitals.” Whereas the college courses were initially taught by Scout leaders, the program evolved to include instructors from other fields. By 1995, it was in about a dozen colleges.

American Humanics works something like an accreditation committee for the coursework and also is a quasi-certifying agency for nonprofit workers. Students take the American Humanics courses at their own colleges; receive their degrees from the colleges and their certifications from American Humanics.

Colleges pay an $8,000 membership fee to become Humanics affiliates. The benefits include technical support in developing the curriculum, half-price discounts for students to attend Humanics’ annual management institute, and access to Humanics’ network of nonprofit partners who serve as prospective employers.

Universities must provide an instructor to serve as the campus director for Humanics programming, which requires at least 20 hours a week.

Students who enroll in the American Humanics courses learn 17 “core competencies.” (See box.) As long as they cover those competencies, universities that offer Humanics certification or one of its majors have broad flexibility in designing the courses. Some universities require students to pay special registration fees for Humanics courses.

Stan Altman, a professor in the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College in New York, where he heads the Humanics program, said flexibility is one of the program’s strengths. At the same time, he said the Humanics courses are among the most challenging he’s taught since he began teaching in 1967.

Altman, who teaches the nonprofit internship class, designs lessons that are as close to real-world as possible. For instance, he has students analyze budgets and decide which programs should go or stay based on reduced funding. He has students write reports on their Humanics internships in order to better integrate their work experience into their coursework.

“The real challenge is to integrate this [real work] process so that the student not only gains knowledge and understanding of the field they are entering,” Altman said, “but so they feel empowered and can succeed in whatever situation they find themselves in.”

More Growth

Despite its expansion, the group’s profile has remained low, and some supporters say it could use a little elevation.

Sara Faircloth, a Humanics program director at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Ga., had never heard of the program during three decades of nonprofit work – including several as a United Way administrator – until 2002, when a professor for whom she was a graduate assistant asked her to look into the organization.

“I was shocked that something like that existed because, being a United Way person, you get to know lots of different agencies,” Faircloth said.

Faircloth discovered Humanics right after it had gone through a seven-year expansion funded by the Kellogg Foundation.

The expansion – spearheaded by Phyllis Wallace, executive director of Humanics’ Management/Leadership Institute – helped the organization grow to 86 colleges and universities by 2002; the number has since shrunk to 64.

Despite the loss of some of its university affiliates, Wallace still considers the overall growth of Humanics a success.

“As fast as we were growing, we anticipated there would be some universities that would have to disassociate due to circumstances beyond their control,” Wallace said. She cited a variety of factors, such as changes in school administration, economics and finding a “champion” at each school for keeping it there.

What Students Get Out of It

One school where Humanics has stayed, since 2001, is Howard University in Washington, D.C. Howard is one of several historically black colleges and universities that American Humanics sought to take on as affiliates in an effort to achieve one of its goals: Make the leadership of nonprofits more diverse.

Among the future leaders Humanics has groomed is 2008 Howard graduate Melissa Johnson, who recently finished overseeing a summer camp she created in Washington that combined athletics and academics. Johnson said her nonprofit studies in the Humanics program “laid the foundation” for her to take the program from the idea stage to reality.

Asked for examples of how Humanics helped her develop the program, she cited various materials on volunteer management, staff recruitment and “behavioral interviews” from Humanics’ Management Institute, which is an annual seminar the organization stages for its members.

Johnson said the materials helped her formulate questions for potential staffers, such as how a staff member would engage a student who is not engaged in the program activities, and “red flags” to watch out for, such as interviewees who always place the blame on others for failures at previous jobs.

Robert Long, a retired senior program manager at the Kellogg Foundation who oversaw Kellogg’s expansion grant to Humanics, said the organization performed well with its first Kellogg grant and is likely to do well with the Next Generation Leaders grant.

“There would be no reason not to be confident, based on what they did with the first grant,” Long said.

Seeing the Value at Work

Some of Humanics’ biggest supporters are its alumni, who say they seek out Humanics graduates when filling positions at the agencies they run.

Cal Stanley, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oakland and a 1979 Humanics alumni from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., said that although the clubs do a lot of internal staff training, he occasionally turns to Humanics for new hires, including for “key positions.”

He has hired four Humanics graduates to run programs and calls Humanics “kind of a med school for nonprofits.”

Erika Albert, a 2003 Humanics graduate who is now development director at YMCA of Monroe County in Bloomington, Ind., said she keeps all the books from her Humanics courses on a shelf in her office. She rattles off some titles: “Conducting a Successful Fundraising Campaign, Volunteer Management. These are different resources I’ll keep throughout my career.”

Albert recalls the rigor of her Humanics classes at Indiana University. In her fund-raising class, for example, students had to create a plan for an annual fundraising campaign. “You would have to base your plan on research that’s been done in the sector on successful annual campaign strategies,” Albert said.

While alumni are among Humanics’ biggest supporters, those who work for the program are also some of its biggest critics.

Some say the organization is dysfunctional at the national level, complaining, for instance, of last-minute changes in workshops at the annual institute that force guest speakers to shorten their presentations and share the platform, contrary to their expectations. Others say the organization lacks an effective marketing strategy.

As with many youth-serving organizations, Humanics’ best pitch seems to be in its actual work. Consider the growth in the number of Humanics students within the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), a full-time residential program that is based at selected college campuses, from which teams of members carry out community service projects. NCCC became a Humanics affiliate two years ago, after corps officials saw similarities between its mission and Humanics’ core competencies.

When NCCC joined in 2007, only 12 of the corps’ 1,000 or so members (1.2 percent) made a commitment to earn a Humanics certificate after completing their 10-month corps service, according to Nicholas Zefran, director of member services for NCCC.

This year that number grew to 47, and Zefran expects it to grow to 60 or 70 next year. They take the Humanics courses online, on their own, after they complete their NCCC service.

“They see the value in it. Otherwise, they would not be willing to pay the money,” Zefran said.

Perhaps the best indicator of the value of the education lies in whether students go on to earn a living by pursuing their passion for making a difference.

“As we all know, going into the nonprofit field does not mean we will not make money,” Oniszko said. “What it means is that we must work extra hard to get to where we want to be. Whether that be more education, more experience, or more networking, the money is out there, and we can still fulfill our dreams of serving the community without being broke.”

Jamaal Abdul-Alim covers College & Careers through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. jamaal@youthtoday.org.