Venture Philanthropy Partners: Investing in Social Change.


June 2014

Mon, 2014-06-30


"The real joy in life comes from giving. It comes from service. It comes
from doing things for other people. That is what is so powerful about this.
Nothing will make you happier than giving."
- Marc Benioff, CEO, Salesforce
2014 University of Southern California Commencement Speech

From Carol’s Desk: Piloting Collaboration

This month, VPP president and CEO Carol Thompson Cole reflects on the successes and learnings of youthCONNECT's pilot for place-based collaboration.

youthCONNECT partners took a risk last fall when they went into the LAYC Career Academy Public Charter School together. At both the program and evaluation level, partners are experimenting with how best to provide students with the wrap-around services, supports and opportunities they need to successfully transition to adulthood.

Take a look at some of our learnings here.


Where Are They Now?

A look at Asian American LEAD beyond the VPP investment.

VPP invested in Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) in 2002, having identified a small but growing organization that was supporting an underserved population through leadership development and community building. Twelve years later, AALEAD has grown to serve more than 300 students in DC, Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va. through its after-school, summer and mentoring programs. The organization has recently refined its outcomes and goals in the areas of educational empowerment, identity, and leadership development.

We sat down with AALEAD's Executive Director Surjeet Ahluwalia to learn what drives her work and what legacies of VPP's investment carry on today.

Venture Philanthropy Partners: As an Asian American, what does it mean for you to lead AALEAD?

AALEADSurjeet Ahluwalia:
This work is a culmination of a lot of different experiences for me. It is a job that really speaks to me on a personal level.

My father is from India, and my mother is white American, and I grew up in a very homogenous part of New Jersey. My identity was important to me, but since I lived in the same town from age 2 until college, I didn’t get too many questions about it. Then when I went to college, I had to start answering questions from Indian Americans expecting me to have a certain set of experiences, and I had non-Indians not understanding where I fit.

For me, AALEAD is an amazing blend of so many aspects close to me: my professional work serving low-income children and families, and my personal identity, which I continue to explore and experience in new ways. The experiences of our youth are experiences that I can relate to personally as well.

When VPP invested in AALEAD in 2002, it was a very young organization that wanted to expand, and wanted to do so in a smart way. Catch us up on where AALEAD is today.

VPP’s investment allowed us to serve youth in DC from elementary to high school as well as grow into Montgomery County. By the end of the investment in 2006, we were providing after-school programming at four new middle schools and two high schools in Montgomery County. Now we are in five middle schools and three high schools. We’ve been able to expand in Montgomery County in the last few years and have just launched in Fairfax County.

During its investment, VPP was able to help institutionalize certain practices at AALEAD that carry forward until today. The professionalization of AALEAD’s financing, fundraising and management structure was and continues to be an important part of what VPP contributed.

I also want to emphasize our performance management culture because that is something that VPP really focused on, and we have been able to make significant strides around it. We have continued to strengthen and tighten our program model around these three outcomes: educational empowerment, identity and leadership. These can be hard outcomes to target and assess; for example, what activities impact someone’s identity development? But we’re building that evidence-base and we continue to strengthen our use of data.

It’s an exciting time knowing that better measuring our program’s effectiveness is helping us further the basic premise of AALEAD: to enrich the lives of low-income and underserved Asian American youth in the region.

Where have you recently seen AALEAD as a transformative force?

AALEADEvery youth part of our program has their own great story of how AALEAD has impacted them.

One student who is at one of our high school programs and has been with us through middle school came here from Indonesia. He was very, very quiet and shy. I remember him when I started at AALEAD: he would sit in the back of the classroom, would barely talk and barely look at you. He had learned some English back at home, but he didn’t feel comfortable with vocabulary, with communicating. He was very aware that he was different.

At AALEAD, he began to find that safe space. He told us about his first coordinator who said to him, ‘Hey. You belong with us. You’re part of this and I have confidence in you.’ And with that, his confidence began to grow.

Now he has just blown us away. He’s been a leader in a lot of different activities; he was part of our Digital Connectors summer program where our youth became versed in technology and then went out to teach those skills to the community. He was up on stage showing people how to create email addresses and PowerPoint presentations. He became a counselor for middle school youth in a summer program. He was part of the East Coast Asian American Student Union, a conference of college level Asian Americans running programming, as a High School Youth Ambassador. He has gone from being this shy kid in the back of the classroom to a leader at AALEAD and outside of AALEAD.

Stories like his are the best part of this job.


Graduation Season

It's graduation season, and together with our investment partners, we are celebrating the accomplishments of students throughout the region. Meet them and hear their stories:


Asia saw nearby Howard University students go to class and mill around the neighborhood – they all looked so happy! In a family where college was not discussed in depth and without a plan, Asia worried that maybe college wouldn’t happen after all.

Senior year soon arrived at Duke Ellington High School for the Arts—and with it, the College Summit class. Through guest speakers, college tours and parent workshops, Asia learned not about available colleges, financial aid opportunities and application processes. She also “got her head straight” about college, and expanded skill sets including interviewing; networking techniques; planning, organizing, and execution proficiency; financial awareness; and self-advocacy. Applications flowed to colleges all over the country, and acceptances soon followed.

Asia is currently gravitating towards North Carolina Central University, and plans to major in Mass Communications, with a concentration in Radio & TV Broadcasting. That college education will become the foundation for achieving her ultimate dream: owning her own community-based, positivity-focused radio station; a place where all people have a voice.

College Summit gave her that plan she so needed, as well as time to focus on her college and career goals. The program taught her that to achieve success, you must “take [life] into your own hands and do something with it.” Certainly, the Howard University students she once so admired would be proud of their former neighbor’s college journey.


alumna Lyndsey graduated with high honors from Virginia Polytechnic University. She majored in sociology with an emphasis in criminal justice and minored in psychology & leadership. She was a U.S. military scholarship recipient (covering her tuition and fees for the last two years) and is currently ranked 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

She served as the president of her chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., an organization that brings awareness to schools about the importance of community service with the hope of uplifting and motivating the African American community. Lyndsey was honored with numerous awards and distinctions while at Virginia Polytechnic University, including the 2014 Outstanding Sorority President of the Year award and the honor of serving as a president and treasurer for the Black Student Alliance.



Maiya started the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection program in her eighth grade year while at G. James Gholson Middle School. Maiya is a true example of a model student. For instance, during her senior year she remained on honor roll all four quarters. Due to her hard work ethic and tenacity, she used this drive to pursue a post-secondary education. She received acceptance to one of her top choice schools, Morgan State University and plans to attend in fall 2014 with the intentions of majoring in Business Management. With this degree, Maiya plans to own her own interior design business.

Maiya has stressed the importance of all of the different skills she has gained through the Hillside program. For example, she has learned to build upon her communication skills through working with her Youth Advocates and retaining the information taught through the Hillside’s enrichment program days. The Youth Advocates, she says, have played a pivotal role in her transition and refer to the HW-SC staff as “school parents.” Although she is aware that she is now considered alumni of the program, she is more than willing to give back in any capacity to show her gratitude for the program.


alumna NeShae graduated from Temple University with a Major in African American Studies. She will return to her roots at KIPP DC and begin her teacher training with KIPP DC’s Capital Teaching Residency program in July 2014. She is excited to give back to the network that has given her so much and hopes to inspire the next generation of college-bound KIPPsters.





Earlier this year, the Latin American Youth Center had a GED graduation for 16 youth, including Nicolle.

"The first time I ever heard about LAYC, I was nine months pregnant. I didn't know who I was or what I wanted to be in life," shared Nicolle Johnson, 20, to a room full of proud family members, friends, teachers, and mentors attending her GED graduation ceremony in late February. Nicolle, who delivered one of two graduation speeches, was one of seven young people who passed the GED exam through LAYC's Workforce program. Nicolle also completed the customer service certification from the National Retail Federation (NRF).

But getting to the stage and celebrating her accomplishments was all but easy. Just three months after giving birth, Nicolle was juggling being a young mother, while trying to go back to school to give her son a good life. Motivated by the promise and fresh start she saw in her baby's face, Nicolle, who loves art, found the pathway she needed at LAYC to get her GED, learn job skills, and receive the encouragement and supports she needed.

In her speech, Nicolle discussed the supports she received at LAYC from the time she first came to the center to her graduation day the names of the LAYC staff that helped her along the way are peppered throughout. To them she said, "I would like to thank you for being the enthusiastic, motivational, and determined people you are. Without your understanding and resourcefulness, I would not have been able to accomplish getting my GED and my NRF certification. Now, I can pursue my dream job."


With two law school graduates as parents, Niya always knew college would be part of her life. However, she had limited scope in what “college” really meant. She had heard of the Ivy’s, of Howard University; but knew little else. College Summit opened her eyes to the multitude of higher education options available to her, as well as taught her how to succeed in school and beyond.

Niya’s College Summit story began in the summer before senior year at Duke Ellington High School of the Arts. She had been selected by the school to attend a College Summit Summer Workshop at University of Maryland Baltimore County. The workshop involves four intense days of personal exploration, self-advocacy training, financial aid and application workshops, and the writing of a personal statement. Niya soon saw that college could be so much more than a vague thought – it could become a reality.


Quentin was honored as this year’s salutatorian at KIPP DC College Prep. He was a member of the National Honor Society and was consistently ranked at the top of his class. He also played wide receiver for the KIPP DC College Prep football team. He was selected as a Posse Scholar and will be attending Bucknell University in the fall on a full ride.


Xavier, this year’s valedictorian at KIPP DC College Prep, served as the president of the National Honor Society. In addition to his hard work in the classroom, he worked up to 30 hours a week at Target to help support his family. He is one of eight students in D.C. to be selected for the highly competitive Trachtenberg Scholarship. He will attend George Washington University on a full ride.




Xiomara was not having a good experience in high school. Her attendance was poor and she was experiencing a lot of family turmoil at home. She decided to participate in the Urban Alliance High School Internship Program so she could get a fresh start. She was not sure what she wanted to do after high school before she became an intern. Xiomara has spent the duration of her senior year interning at the Alexandria Free Clinic and attending weekly professional development workshops with Urban Alliance. With support from her Program Coordinator and job site Mentor, she has developed a post-high school plan and will begin classes at Northern Virginia Community College in the fall.


Honors and Awards

T’ana is the winner of the 2014 College Summit Peer Leadership Award. T’ana was a volunteer in the guidance office as a junior and has always shown leadership. T’ana has also taken an active role in coordinating the Peer Leaders at Wise. She has always led with a smile on her face; she disseminates important information to all 16 Peer Leaders, who then share this information with the entire senior class. T’ana often goes to 9th-11th grade classrooms as a guest speaker to share her high school journey. T’ana is a dynamic, intelligent, and energetic young lady. She has a remarkable attitude with an outstanding amount of focus and drive. She has also received a full-academic scholarship to attend Morgan State University in the fall. Wise High School has been fortunate to have T’ana as a student and College Summit is honored to present her with the 2014 Peer Leadership Award.

Jahmai is the recipient of the second place Peer Leadership Award from College Summit. As a Peer Leader, Jahmai of Largo High School has coached her senior classmates into being excited and engaged about going to college. Jahmai is actively involved in school culture and spirit by participating in the Biotechnology Program, serving as President of the Academy of Finance and Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), the Lieutenant Governor of the Division I Key Club, the Committee Chair for Key Club Members, and the Millionaire Club, among others. In addition, she has managed to do all of this and maintain a solid 3.00 GPA, and has received several accolades for her academic success. They include, the Harvard Book Scholarship Award, National Honor Society, 1st Place for the FBLA Regional Conference, receiving the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Scholarship, and 3rd Place in the Biotechnology Science Fair. Jahmai is self-motivated, a quick learner, and very dependable. Winning the College Summit 2014 Peer Leadership Award is the icing on the cake for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore-bound Jahmai.

Ten Latin American Youth Center youth received post-secondary scholarships from New Futures. For the full list, visit New Futures Scholarship Recipients


More Jobs for Prince George's County

Residents and local businesses anticipate benefits from the recent agreement between Prince George's County, Md., and MGM National Harbor.

The agreement sets employment goals for both the construction and operation of the casino resort, encouraging hiring and contracting from Prince George’s County. It also sets out MGM’s commitment to invest in the county.

MGM is expected to employ county residents for at least 40 percent of its projected 3,800 jobs. It also plans to invest $1 million in the community before construction is complete, and $400,000 annually after the casino opens to organizations including the Community Foundation for Prince George’s County.

“We have reached a deal with MGM that ensures this facility will have a transformative impact on our residents, businesses and communities,” said County Executive Rushern L. Baker III. “The goals for local hiring and contracting in this agreement are both ambitious and fair.”

This is good news for organizations such as VPP investment partner Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection (HW-SC), which is helping students who are at risk of leaving high school gain job skills and graduate. HW-SC sets successful students up with jobs at local businesses, including Wegmans and National Harbor.


New Report Outlines Challenges and Opportunities Faced by Latino Youth in Montgomery County, Md.

The Community Foundation report focuses on how to ensure young people in the county graduate and lead successful futures.

The Community Foundation and Identity, Inc. came together to interview Latino youth in Montgomery County, Md., to better understand why there are more than 25,000 young people in the county who are disconnected from school and/or the labor market.

Its recommendations include developing an action plan to lower the Latino dropout rate and close the achievement gap according to key indicators, improving workforce development efforts, and building avenues to help strengthen the civic engagement of the whole Latino community.

The recommendations the report offers “rely on committed collaboration across the public and private sectors.” In the same way, VPP is testing techniques for better cross-sector collaboration through its youthCONNECT model.

Read the report here: Connecting Youth to Opportunity: How Latino Youth Perspectives Can Inform a Blueprint for Improving Opportunity in Montgomery County, Maryland 


New Faces at VPP

We welcome a new face to the team and say goodbye to old friends.

We are excited to welcome Heather Koslov to the team as Associate for Development and Investor Relations. Heather comes to us from the Greenberg Theatre where she managed the theatre’s special events and Front of House operations. She brings extensive donor engagement, event management and fundraising experience from her work with numerous DC nonprofit organizations, including Sitar Arts Center, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. Heather has a M.A. in Arts Management from American University and a B.A. in theater and dance from the University of Texas at Austin.

We have also said goodbye to two colleagues and friends. Aaron Bobik, former Investment Practice Group Program Associate, will be going on to work at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School. Michael Everhart, former Associate for Investor Development, will be joining the Episcopal High School development team. We are proud to see Aaron and Michael continue their passion for making education accessible to all.


Links We Love

Our friend Nathaniel Cole, executive director of VPP partner Urban Alliance's DC arm, was interviewed in the New York Times: Giving Back to Teenagers.

A blog post from the Youth Transition Funders Group, which seeks to ensure all youth make a successful transition to adulthood, spotlighted VPP's youthCONNECT initiative: The Tide is Turning in DC.

This special report from Grad Nation seeks to understand the experiences of young people who leave high school before graduation: Don't Call Them Dropouts.

The Social Innovation Fund has opened up its Pay For Success Grants Competition, which will provide up to $11.2 million grants to organizations providing innovative community-based solutions for low-income communities.

Congratulations to the DC Promise Neighborhoods Initiative for appointing Mary Brown as its new executive director.

An open letter to the DC nonprofit community.

Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP) makes the future brighter for youth living in the National Capital Region by tackling the largest barriers to their success and forging partnerships that bring the expertise, passion and reach necessary to achieve life-changing results. Over the past 13 years, VPP has raised $90 million to help children and youth of low-income families in the National Capital Region access quality education, health care and career training – setting them on the right path to learn, graduate, and become successful, healthy adults. This funding, coupled with our management expertise and support in strengthening staff leadership, has increased the capacity of local nonprofits to help them serve an additional 15,000 children and youth across the region each year.
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