Monday, August 29, 2016

Bill Gates, poverty, schools, race, and No Kid Hungry


            I thought I’d improve on my blog posts by sharing one from Bill Gates instead.  Last week he wrote about “a powerful conversation on schools, poverty and race” https://www.gatesnotes.com/Education/A-Powerful-Conversation-with-Nate-Bowling

            Gates recounts his conversation with Washington State Teacher of the Year, Nate Bowling who teaches at a school in Tacoma, WA where 70% of the students are eligible for a free or reduced price school meal, what educators are calling “the New Majority” in recognition of more than 50% of  public school students now living below the poverty line.

            Bowling received a lot of visibility when he wrote a piece called “The Conversation I’m Tired of Not Having” for which Gates includes a link. It’s blunt and provocative about racial attitudes and practices in America and also worth your time to read.  But what caught my attention was how Bowling so directly framed what’s at stake in our work, while explaining his passion for teaching: “It is a matter of life and death,” he said. “If my students are not successful in school, they end up in the prison-industrial complex.” 

Ultimately Bowling was optimistic: “All kids can learn if they have the support.”  He was speaking mostly of quality teachers but we know that necessary support includes the food and nutrition critical for kids to succeed. That’s the fundamental premise of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.  Whether we succeed or not really can be a matter of life and death.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Postcard from where the economic recovery never happened



            There’s an important new study of which you should be aware. http://tinyurl.com/zqec5bl 

I typically seek out inspiring and encouraging news to share because our work is hard and we need all the positive energy we can get to keep moving forward against long odds.  But it’s also important to know when those odds get longer and that’s what we learned last week in an analysis published by the Congressional Budget Office. 

            The study found that since the great recession those who were well off have recovered and those who were not are in even worse shape (evident in contrasting stock market growth with the number of Americans on SNAP not going down materially.)

            Wealthy families and average families both had more wealth than when before the recession hit, but the wealthy saw theirs bounce back at a much faster rate.  In 2007 8% of American families had debt averaging $20,000. By 2013, 12% had debt averaging $32,000. Now the wealthiest 10% of Americans hold three-quarters of the nation’s wealth, as opposed to the two-thirds they held in 1989.

            Imagine not only being poor in the richest country on earth, but being left out of the recovery our government worked so hard to achieve. For some.  It’s not fate, accident, or bad luck. Policies and political choices create such a dynamic. The hunger we fight is a symptom of this deeper problem.

            Even if you listened very carefully, you would not have heard anything from either political party about this new report on growing inequity.  Instead, giving voice to that falls to us and others.  It’s not technically what we do day to day, but it is inescapable morally. If you’d come to the scene of a tragic accident that injured kids, called for help and learned the emergency responders were distracted doing something else, you would do the best you could whether you were trained to do so or not.  So must we. That’s a tall order given all we have going on, but it’s the only path to preventing recurring tragedy and damaged kids.

Billy

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Second Greatest Danger of Campaign 2016



The greatest danger in our presidential campaign is the divisiveness and even potential climate of violence being fostered. But the second greatest danger is that issues have been hijacked almost completely out of the campaign as the press and political community have little choice but to react to and denounce one outrage after another.

What mandate will our next president have to enact specific policies and programs if policies and programs are not being seriously discussed?  How can we discern and assess competing ideas for fixing our schools, addressing hunger and poverty, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, combatting terrorism?   The president we inaugurate in 2017 is much more likely to be effective in creating change if voters endorse such change beforehand, not merely default to who they see as the less dangerous of the two.

What a shame it would be, given the great challenges facing our nation – and especially the desperate needs of the most vulnerable and voiceless of our fellow citizens: the hungry, homeless, impoverished - for our next president to have spent years and a hundreds of millions of dollars in pursuit of the office and then get there without a clear mandate from the public to get specific things done starting on day one.

If there’s a silver lining in the dark cloud hanging over our presidential campaign it is the possibility that the growing backlash to crossing every boundary of civilized discourse and decency actually unites the country in ways that nothing else could.  Each day now sees more long-serving public servants, past and present, many of them Republican, putting nation ahead of party.  That needs to happen on both sides of the aisle, now and in the next White House.  It needs to emerge as our new national ethic. If it does, even for a short while, there are no limits to what we can accomplish.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The fleeting possibility of political unity on behalf of our nations kids


If there is any lesson from the past 6 months it’s that anything can happen in American politics and, as Morgan Freeman says at the end of the film Feast Of Love, “the unexpected is always upon us.”  So while no one can predict what the next 12 weeks will bring, one possibility is that Donald Trump will unify the country – to support Hillary Clinton -  in ways that never could have been imagined.   We are already starting to see indications – in the endorsements of Secretary Clinton by a Republican Congressman, by former CIA Director Morrell, by Hewlett Packard’s Meg Whitman.  More will soon follow.

            The opportunity for Secretary Clinton, if she can rise to the occasion, is to put partisanship aside in the same way that some Republicans are beginning to do, and to convey a vision of how she would govern with national unity as a first priority, as opposed to the partisanship that that has all but paralyzed Washington for many years  (Congress’s failure to provide Zika funding as the latest disconcerting example).

            Should such a “unity Administration” come to pass, it wouldn’t last forever, that’s just not the way of the world,  but there could be a window early on in which some big things could get done – especially on behalf of those who engender bipartisanship in the first place: America’s kids.  Such a scenario – admittedly only one of many that could unfold between now and election day including the possibility of quite the opposite -  adds urgency to our own efforts to develop, and work with others on, a bold and broad policy agenda that addresses childhood hunger and the child poverty that underlies it.  Ever the optimist….

Monday, August 1, 2016

Presidential politics and nonprofit "rules for relevance"


      In recent years presidential nominating conventions have evolved  from selecting nominees, to serving as a four day infomercial for candidates hoping for a bounce in the polls.  I attended my first convention in San Francisco in 1984 when Senator Gary Hart for whom I worked came in second to Vice President Mondale for the Democratic nomination. I remember standing on the podium behind Hart, looking out at thousands of supporters from across the country that had been part of his journey, and thinking how much talent goes untapped after campaigns end. That, combined with the devastating famine in Ethiopia just 30 days later, motivated me to start Share Our Strength.
    The post-convention period is a chance to assess candidates in the new light of a one-on-one contest; to find out who will put what is right ahead of what’s  popular, who speaks for those too vulnerable and voiceless to speak for themselves, who supports investments and even sacrifices that might be necessary to advance the prospects of the next generation.
    General election campaigns target the middle class. But the work of many of us in the nonprofit sector focuses not on the middle class but on those living in poverty. If we expect politicians to pay attention to our issues and embrace our ideas – during the campaign and during the next President’s administration - we have to follow five “rules for relevance”:
n  We must shine a spotlight on problems that are solvable and programs that work. Childhood hunger in America is a good example, as are the effective but underutilized solutions like school breakfast and summer meals.
 
n  We must hold ourselves to the highest standards of performance measurement, accountability, and transparency using clear metrics to demonstrate outcomes.  The work of the LEAP Ambassadors Community @ http://leapofreason.org/performance-imperative/about-pi/ offers excellent ideas for doing so.
n  We must say how we’ll pay for what we advocate. Congress operates under spending caps that dictate when funding is added for one program, it must be subtracted somewhere else.
n  We must demonstrate the return on investment to society tomorrow from interventions we make today.
 
n  We must be strategic: not just asking for more spending everywhere but being selective in fighting for what has the most bang for the buck.
 
Over 30 years Share Our Strength has learned that our work as a nonprofit can’t take the place of government. But it can model ideas for public policy to adopt. Nonprofits can do things government cannot do: we can take risks, be more entrepreneurial and agile, and be closer to and better positioned to learn from those we serve. But when it comes to scaling our successes, to ensuring they reach all who need them, public support is indispensable. 
 
I left my first political convention back in 1984 disappointed, exhausted, and broke. But I also left energized.  From Iowa to New Hampshire, from New Jersey to California, I’d seen firsthand the vast array of talented people who wanted to make a difference, who had skills to deploy and strengths to share.  Our learnings at Share Our Strength in the 30 years since, encapsulated in the five rules above, show how they can be engaged to create transformational and lasting political and social change. 
 
 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Bearing Witness in Appalachia: Unseen America


     Below you’ll find a piece written by one of my colleagues in the best tradition of bearing witness. Elizabeth Sell and her team have been visiting South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee to better understand poverty and hunger and how our work, especially summer meals sites, addresses it.
     With so much attention these past two weeks on the presidential nominating conventions, Elizabeth’s reflections underscore the stakes for so many struggling children and families. If our political leaders saw from their podiums what we see on the ground and in the field, the national conversation would sound very different. The need for action on behalf of our children would take on greater urgency.  Elizabeth’s letter follows:

From: Sell, Elizabeth
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2016 10:55 AM
To: All Staff


Hi Everyone,
I wanted to share some impressions from my recent trip to our summer meals pilot project in Sneedville, TN.
If you find yourself in Sneedville, it’s because you live there, or you’re lost. Tucked in a valley in the Appalachian Mountains, reaching this small town in eastern Tennessee from any direction requires negotiating a series of hair pin turns up and down mountains. There’s no interstate nearby, the closest major town is about an hour away. Only about 6,000 people call this isolated community home.
I was in Sneedville because No Kid Hungry was conducting a summer meals pilot to test the best way to operate a “meals on wheels” style delivery model. We worked with our campaign partner in Tennessee, and a local church group to arrange a delivery system that drops off summer meals for kids either at their homes, or at drop-off points where families can pick-up the food and take it home. Shaina, an Americorps member and native of Sneedville was my guide. She patiently allowed me to tag along with a videographer, interviewing families as she dropped off food for their kids. Shaina’s four-hour route takes her all over this valley ­­-- up mountains, down dirt roads that are nearly impassable during heavy rains, and across some of the most beautiful, pristine country side you’ll ever see.
It was lucky I was with Shaina. Many families refused to let us film the food delivery, I can only speculate that they were both distrustful of outsiders and didn’t want to bring attention to themselves. There are still people in this community that don’t have indoor plumbing. Others lived in homes so dilapidated that front doors don’t shut properly, windows were missing glass, a well-placed boulder acts as a step up to the door instead of a deck or stairs. Many of these homes were surrounded by pieces of the family’s past, broken down cars and televisions, rusting farm equipment. Most of the area isn’t serviced by a trash pick-up, people have to bring their refuse to the local dump. It takes a car to get your trash to the dump, and money to buy gas for that car, so many people opt to let their trash build up outside in piles or in metal cans until there’s enough to burn.
Five days a week, Shaina loads up her SUV with a breakfast and a lunch for every child on her route. Faith and Natalia are one of her first stops. Faith is in her mid-twenties, but her life has already been destroyed by drugs. It was fitting that my last day in Sneedville was the same day Congress passed legislation to combat the opioid crisis in this country. Every single one of the families I met had been affected by the destructive forces of addiction. Faith’s first two kids were taken away by the state. Her daughter Natalia is just about a year old. Faith is pregnant again. She’s clean now, and living with two other women in a tiny, one-bedroom house at the end of a long dirt road. It’s tidy and orderly inside, but blankets cover the ripped plastic in the windows where the glass should be, you can’t help but wonder what will happen to them when it gets cold. Natalia is starting to eat solid foods and the apple sauce and cereals that come in the meal delivery help Faith save a bit her SNAP dollars. The women that live in the house all pool their food together to make it last a bit longer.
Sue never expected to be a mom for a second time. When her daughter’s life crumbled under the weight of addiction, it forever changed Sue’s life too. Her one-bedroom trailer isn’t meant for three people, but Sue and her two grandchildren make do. Patrick and Scarlett share a bed in the bedroom, Sue sleeps on a recliner. They live about 5 miles from the town’s only grocery store and don’t have a car. They’ve never been to a summer meals site because the kids have no way of getting there. People drive fast on the country roads, and Sue worries about people high on drugs hitting the kids if they walked or took bikes, but that’s a moot point since they don’t have bikes anyway. Sue skips meals sometimes to make sure the kids eat, when I ask her about it she just brushes it off. “I’m old, I don’t need much to eat anyhow.” Sue is always laughing, Scarlett and Patrick inherited that from her. And, they’re both honor roll students, clearly whip smart. Scarlett pulls me down to her level and then tells me that if I want to call her Charlotte I can, and then nearly falls over laughing at her own joke.

 
Chloe is delighted when we get to her house. She’s only five, but she loves people. We saw a snakeskin she found in the woods, we were introduced to all her dogs and cats. She insisted that I take her picture from many different angles. Louise is another grandmother that found herself entering a second round of motherhood. Her son struggles with addiction, he left Chloe and her baby brother Noah to be raised by Louise and her husband. Their cabin is nestled in a quiet meadow. It emerges like a bastion of comfortable, intentional solitude when you come upon it after a drive through the woods and up and down several steep mountain sides. Louise laughs when I ask if she’d bring Chloe to a summer meals site in the future, they only drive when it’s absolutely necessary. Gas costs money.

 The program we’re piloting in Sneedville is doing exactly what it set out to do, it’s reaching kids in hard to reach places. This pilot has fed just a few of the children that rank among the millions missing out on summer meals programs because of the inefficiencies of the current program. If it doesn’t exist next year, those kids will continue to miss out. Transportation barriers are too immense to get them to summer meals programs.
The heartbreaking truth is that there are little kids just like Scarlett, Chloe and Patrick all over this nation, and they’re waiting for help. The way the current summer meals program is structured, however, we simply can’t reach them. That’s not good enough. It’s critical that we urge Congress to stand up for these kids. We need policies that let programs like the one in Sneedville become more than a pilot. We need policies that encourage innovation. But until Congress passes new summer meals legislation, help is not on the way for the millions of kids who struggle with summer hunger. Hungry kids can’t wait – join us in asking Congress to take action. Now.

Bearing Witness in Appalachia: Unseen America


            Below you’ll find a piece written by one of my colleagues in the best tradition of bearing witness. Elizabeth Sell and her team have been visiting South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee to better understand poverty and hunger and how our work, especially summer meals sites, addresses it.

            With so much attention these past two weeks on the presidential nominating conventions, Elizabeth’s reflections underscore the stakes for so many struggling children and families. If our political leaders saw from their podiums what we see on the ground and in the field, the national conversation would sound very different. The need for action on behalf of our children would take on greater urgency.

            By the time the conventions are over we’ll have heard enough speeches to last a lifetime about why one candidate is better than the other.  But we still won’t have seen or heard firsthand what the lives of Americans like Shaina, Sue, Patrick, and Scarlett, described below, are really like. At Share Our Strength, our No Kid Hungry campaign is committed to bringing you as close to those lives as possible through bearing witness.

            Elections are vitally important because often only public policy can scale ideas that work and bring their benefits to all who need and deserve them. At its best public policy knits together the many strengths we each have to share, and makes America stronger as a result. Your vote in November is a way of bearing witness as well, to the nation American can and should be.

            Elizabeth’s letter follows:

From: Sell, Elizabeth
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2016 10:55 AM
To: All Staff
Subject: Impressions From TN

Hi Everyone,

I wanted to share some impressions from my recent trip to our summer meals pilot project in Sneedville, TN.

If you find yourself in Sneedville, it’s because you live there, or you’re lost. Tucked in a valley in the Appalachian Mountains, reaching this small town in eastern Tennessee from any direction requires negotiating a series of hair pin turns up and down mountains. There’s no interstate nearby, the closest major town is about an hour away. Only about 6,000 people call this isolated community home.

I was in Sneedville because No Kid Hungry was conducting a summer meals pilot to test the best way to operate a “meals on wheels” style delivery model. We worked with our campaign partner in Tennessee, and a local church group to arrange a delivery system that drops off summer meals for kids either at their homes, or at drop-off points where families can pick-up the food and take it home. Shaina, an Americorps member and native of Sneedville was my guide. She patiently allowed me to tag along with a videographer, interviewing families as she dropped off food for their kids. Shaina’s four-hour route takes her all over this valley ­­-- up mountains, down dirt roads that are nearly impassable during heavy rains, and across some of the most beautiful, pristine country side you’ll ever see.

It was lucky I was with Shaina. Many families refused to let us film the food delivery, I can only speculate that they were both distrustful of outsiders and didn’t want to bring attention to themselves. There are still people in this community that don’t have indoor plumbing. Others lived in homes so dilapidated that front doors don’t shut properly, windows were missing glass, a well-placed boulder acts as a step up to the door instead of a deck or stairs. Many of these homes were surrounded by pieces of the family’s past, broken down cars and televisions, rusting farm equipment. Most of the area isn’t serviced by a trash pick-up, people have to bring their refuse to the local dump. It takes a car to get your trash to the dump, and money to buy gas for that car, so many people opt to let their trash build up outside in piles or in metal cans until there’s enough to burn.

Five days a week, Shaina loads up her SUV with a breakfast and a lunch for every child on her route. Faith and Natalia are one of her first stops. Faith is in her mid-twenties, but her life has already been destroyed by drugs. It was fitting that my last day in Sneedville was the same day Congress passed legislation to combat the opioid crisis in this country. Every single one of the families I met had been affected by the destructive forces of addiction. Faith’s first two kids were taken away by the state. Her daughter Natalia is just about a year old. Faith is pregnant again. She’s clean now, and living with two other women in a tiny, one-bedroom house at the end of a long dirt road. It’s tidy and orderly inside, but blankets cover the ripped plastic in the windows where the glass should be, you can’t help but wonder what will happen to them when it gets cold. Natalia is starting to eat solid foods and the apple sauce and cereals that come in the meal delivery help Faith save a bit her SNAP dollars. The women that live in the house all pool their food together to make it last a bit longer.

Sue never expected to be a mom for a second time. When her daughter’s life crumbled under the weight of addiction, it forever changed Sue’s life too. Her one-bedroom trailer isn’t meant for three people, but Sue and her two grandchildren make do. Patrick and Scarlett share a bed in the bedroom, Sue sleeps on a recliner. They live about 5 miles from the town’s only grocery store and don’t have a car. They’ve never been to a summer meals site because the kids have no way of getting there. People drive fast on the country roads, and Sue worries about people high on drugs hitting the kids if they walked or took bikes, but that’s a moot point since they don’t have bikes anyway. Sue skips meals sometimes to make sure the kids eat, when I ask her about it she just brushes it off. “I’m old, I don’t need much to eat anyhow.” Sue is always laughing, Scarlett and Patrick inherited that from her. And, they’re both honor roll students, clearly whip smart. Scarlett pulls me down to her level and then tells me that if I want to call her Charlotte I can, and then nearly falls over laughing at her own joke.

 
Chloe is delighted when we get to her house. She’s only five, but she loves people. We saw a snakeskin she found in the woods, we were introduced to all her dogs and cats. She insisted that I take her picture from many different angles. Louise is another grandmother that found herself entering a second round of motherhood. Her son struggles with addiction, he left Chloe and her baby brother Noah to be raised by Louise and her husband. Their cabin is nestled in a quiet meadow. It emerges like a bastion of comfortable, intentional solitude when you come upon it after a drive through the woods and up and down several steep mountain sides. Louise laughs when I ask if she’d bring Chloe to a summer meals site in the future, they only drive when it’s absolutely necessary. Gas costs money.

 The program we’re piloting in Sneedville is doing exactly what it set out to do, it’s reaching kids in hard to reach places. This pilot has fed just a few of the children that rank among the millions missing out on summer meals programs because of the inefficiencies of the current program. If it doesn’t exist next year, those kids will continue to miss out. Transportation barriers are too immense to get them to summer meals programs.

The heartbreaking truth is that there are little kids just like Scarlett, Chloe and Patrick all over this nation, and they’re waiting for help. The way the current summer meals program is structured, however, we simply can’t reach them. That’s not good enough. It’s critical that we urge Congress to stand up for these kids. We need policies that let programs like the one in Sneedville become more than a pilot. We need policies that encourage innovation. But until Congress passes new summer meals legislation, help is not on the way for the millions of kids who struggle with summer hunger. Hungry kids can’t wait – join us in asking Congress to take action. Now.