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Andy Muñoz of City Year and Glenn Zaccara of T-Mobile talk about how their organizations link OST programs, businesses, and communities to support quality programming for youth.

How are City Year and T-Mobile collaborating to support youth?

Andy Muñoz: City Year's after school work is very important to our commitment to community, and we have grown to serve over 8,600 kids and 150 after school programs. In delivering these services, we are always looking for partners that we can work with and learn from. T-Mobile presented itself as deeply committed to community and interested in contributing to the quality of after school programming.

Glenn Zaccara: T-Mobile recently started our first national community outreach program with a focus on employee volunteerism. We decided to focus on helping kids from single-parent families and in high-need urban areas by providing access to positive people, places, and programs. We chose to collaborate with City Year because they are the “feet on the street”–their “corps members,”who are young adult volunteers, work with kids on a daily basis, often during the after school time frame. Together with City Year, we have developed an employee volunteer program in which 150 to 300 T-Mobile employees perform a full day of community service work at a local school or a community center. We held eight events like this throughout the summer and plan to do more next year as we grow the program. Although our vision is to engage in a variety of projects inside and outside the school or community center building, we decided to focus on creating “T-Mobile Huddle-Up Zones.” These are dedicated rooms in each school or center where after school programming can take place. They provide an environment for kids to both have fun and learn. As one of City Year's national leadership sponsors, we are also providing about $5 million over 3 years in other forms of support, both cash and in-kind, including cell phones and free service to City Year corps members and full-time staff.

What are the benefits to a business and a youth-serving organization of collaborating to support after school programs?

GZ: We see positive impacts on several levels: for individual employees; for overall employee motivation, recruitment, and retention; and for the business. First, many of our employees are single parents, and they told us that one of their biggest concerns is what their children are doing after school while their parents are at work. Are they engaged in positive, supportive environments? Are they learning? Second, the largest benefit I would point to is connecting our employees with the communities where they live and work. This is a proven way to create a sense of pride and engagement in a workplace, which in turn really makes a difference in employee perceptions of a company being a “best place to work.” Third, from a business standpoint, we become good corporate citizens and a positive addition to the community, in addition to the wireless service that we provide.

AM: The T-Mobile community service events are strongly developmental in many ways. From the standpoint of the community, the events build teamwork and empowerment. From the standpoint of the school or community organization, new projects and improvements become possible. For example, at a recent event at a Boys & Girls Club in Denver, the T-Mobile employees were so high-energy that the club received an almost total renovation, from paint to cleaning out closets. The club had been waiting 16 years to accomplish these tasks.

How do you use evaluation in this initiative, and what are you hoping to learn?

GZ: At the end of every event, we survey our employees about their experience, including their satisfaction with everything from the registration process to the opportunity to connect with colleagues to the overall quality of the experience. The initial returns on those surveys are enormously positive. For questions on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the best, our median scores are around 3.6. We also ask two open-ended questions: “How did this event make you feel about your job?” and “How did this event make you feel about T-Mobile?” An enormous number of responses use the word “pride.” Employees say, “This event made me proud to work for T-Mobile,” or “This event made me proud of T-Mobile for the work that they're doing in the community.”

AM: At City Year, we also use evaluation in other ways—for instance, looking at the effects for kids or for communities. We recently developed a long-term evaluation plan, the first year of which will focus on three case studies of sites where we are piloting our after school work with T-Mobile. We are interested in assessing key developmental factors for the children we serve: How often do they attend? How can we use these after school activities to build stronger skills? In what ways do these stronger skills then get the kids ready for future success, both in school and in the working world? Our goal is to define our desired outcomes and move toward finding instruments to measure them for future phases of the evaluation.

We plan to share lessons learned from the evaluation across our national network, in order to share after school best practices and inform quality on a large scale. As another part of this effort, T-Mobile is equipping all of our corps members with cell phones, Blackberries, and wireless service, so that if they learn something new or have a question about a best practice, they can connect immediately with corps members in other sites across the country.

Do you have any recommendations for other businesses and organizations interested in doing this kind of collaborative work?

GZ: One of the most important things for T-Mobile was to engage the kids whom we were hoping to impact, by soliciting initial input and ongoing feedback. Two months prior to an event, we went to the event locations and gathered kids' input on what they liked to do after school and what elements they would like to see in a dedicated after school space. We also asked each site to create a “youth advisory council,” who provided feedback and worked with our employees during the event. This was particularly important for kids in the early teenage years, who tend to start dropping out of after school programs. We wanted to provide a “cool” place to be, and the “T-Mobile Huddle-Up Zone” connects very much with T-Mobile's overall identity as a “fun, young, hip brand.”

Another critical factor is the need for a good cultural fit between the for-profit and the nonprofit organizations. For example, City Year focuses on national service and youth service, and we are taking our culture of customer service and turning that into a culture of community service.

AM: The cultural match with the community is also important. What makes our joint work powerful is the authentic investment that both City Year and T-Mobile make in the community. What we have here is a conscious attempt to learn in a way that not only builds the company and the nonprofit but sustains the community in a powerful way over the long term and contributes to the sharing of best practices for higher quality programs.

Suzanne Bouffard, Research Analyst, HFRP

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