Wednesday, May 8, 2013

America SCORES National Poetry SLAM!

For a little over a year and a half, I've been eating, sleeping, and breathing America SCORES. I often wonder how many times per day I write the words "America SCORES" as I write grants or login to things with my email address. As I sit at home on Saturday night, my boyfriend Eddie is sporting the America SCORES National Poetry SLAM! t-shirt to sleep. Dax knows it's time for a walk when one of us grabs the America SCORES sweatshirt. The organization is always on my mind - and I wonder how many times I've written it in this blog thus far. This is all to preface what I really want to write about - the America SCORES National Poetry SLAM!. We're just about wrapping up feedback from the committee, the tasks force member, the chaperones, the executive directors - but none of that matters to me because I'd like to see any other combination of three people accomplish what we did that weekend - and not kill each other like I'm surprised we didn't. It was one hell of a weekend!

I spend about six months out of the year planning this extraordinary event - and it's the best part of my job. As a national organization, we only get three days out of the year to remotely perform direct-service and to really see the self-esteem and confidence shine as a result of this power of poetry - something we so often brag about but rarely actually experience. I mean, I've made many a visit to a classroom or soccer field - but it's simply not the same when the kids don't know who you are and you know so little about them. For three days, we get to know each child, their temperaments, their humor and watch the shy get comfortable and the distrustful attitudes melt away. The experience was similar to MYEEP's Counselor in Training retreat - but, elementary school students don't have that weird tendency to racially segregate the way high schoolers do. They are purely innocent, oddly obedient, and extremely grateful - and that just makes the entire experience even more fulfilling.

Being my second National Poetry SLAM!, I was excited to actually know what I was doing and to make very real and intentional improvements. I will admit that there is a lot I didn't know about the NYC charity benefit - but either way I knew I could plan one hell of an event! For example, I went to a workshop that was about what you should be doing the day after an event - which if you asked me April 17th, 2012 - I would have said SLEEP. It was here I learned one of our many 2012 mistakes - the honoree selection and cultivation should start 8-10 months before an event, not 4 months and I began to really understand the expectations of the role: to raise money (at least in the eyes of New York City-zens). In 2012, our honoree actually ended up costing us money - but that is a story for another time. Among the improvements to the honoree selection process was the timely gathering and effective management of an event committee and actual engagement of the honoree to our program. With the help of one of my favorite board members, we selected our guests of honors early. This gave me a few months to deepen their understanding of our program, take them out to see the program, and support them in fundraising efforts. This led to a new partnership with the NY Cosmos who made this awesome video and promoted the event.

What most people don't realize about the National Poetry SLAM! is that it is both a program event (to reward our best kids) and a fundraising event (to raise a pretty hefty chunk of our operating budget). That means, that we're not only spending 6 months designing marketing materials, selling sponsorships and tickets, writing press releases, and getting silent auction items - we are also buying plane tickets, ground transportation, reserving hotel rooms, training chaperones, getting parent RSVPs and planning meals. And by we, I mean our team of 3 with the help from a task force and committee. It also means that the weekend before the event, I could be (and was) sending last minute RSVPs to the venue or handling program printing disaster - or going door-to-door to kids rooms to participate in evening rehearsals, making sure there is enough orange juice or bagels in each room, and staying up til midnight making a slideshow of the weekend for the kids to watch before the show.

For the first five years, the youth experience was primarily managed by program staff in Chicago - experts in putting together a pretty seamless program with limited rehearsal time. The sixth year, I lent my services and by the seventh, we were on our own. It was Christmas week when I had a huge breakdown - I could not fathom doing everything. I needed to focus on fundraising because we were projecting a $30,000 deficit with the unfortunate loss of a pretty important board member. Being the only person present for all parts of the participant weekend experiences, I took an advisory role in supporting a task force of staff from around the country and directing an intern to manage logistics. This step back allowed me to continue working on other arms of development such as submitting grants, sending corporate proposals, and producing our annual report and national magazine.

Ticket sales and donations account for almost 20% of the fundraising revenue. In 2012, we introduced two social media campaigns which, though extremely time intensive, I love! One would count down the days to the event by featuring one of the select students each day. To sell tickets, this was was supplemented with weekly e-mail newsletters (like this one) and four press releases (1, 2, 3, and 4). The combination of these campaigns and honoree efforts increased ticket sales revenue and made up almost 25% of our anticipated fundraising deficit. The other campaign leverages the social network of our newly inspired audience and uses their photos from the evening for a weeklong fundraising challenge. Since I could anticipate these campaigns, I was able to streamline and schedule daily posts on Facebook and entered (and won) a contest for free photo booth service that would essentially operate the second campaign for me (LA Photo Party). An incredible event committee inspired a visual fundraising goal that quintupled night-of donations and doubled post-event donations overall. 

Historically, almost 80% of the funds raised from the event are sponsorships. Knowing we were losing some, finding new ones was extremely important. Over the summer, we had done a ton of research on companies who's current charities are similar to ours - and also learned that funding applications need to be done at least 6 months prior to the event. I spent a great chunk of October, filling out applications and submitting them to the black hole of rejection. I know that the application process is extremely ineffective - so I PDF'd all my proposals, checked the company list to my linked in network, and worked with board members to get these proposal seen and supported by someone within those companies. The process yielded no new sponsorships - but certainly got us in the door with several companies that we'll continue to build relationships with throughout the year. I'm pretty excited that my strategy worked - and hopeful that if not SLAM! related, we'll find some way to work with these companies that suits their needs and benefits our sites nationwide!

The night of the event was actually less stressful (perhaps coming from the crazy weekend of babysitting 30 kids!) It is wholly complicated - comprising of a VIP cocktail hour for sponsors with a silent auction, 1 hour poetry slam show, and a dessert reception "after party" (which took place on the NYSE Trade Floor.) I implemented a few learnings from the past year. 
  1. I made a huge effort to make the sponsors feel like VIPs. The cocktail hour was just for them. They had reserved seating with special gift bags. There was a minor hiccup of nonVIP guests sneaking in before their admission time - resulting in a shortage of cocktails and some discomfort with low-income parents feeling like charity amid a primarily white corporate mixer. As guests of corporate sponsors, they didn't pay to be there so I wanted to make sure they walked away feeling so great that they'd make a gift. 
  2. The Silent Auction is, for whatever reason, a hot topic. Previously, it hadn't make that much money for how much time spent planning it. This year, I decided not to spend any time planning it. Our committee did an amazing job bringing in the items - and they raised more than we thought. I did make a very intentional decision to provide a Silent Auction brochure such that, if a guest was bored at any point during that one hour (between 6pm-7pm) it was the only thing they would have in their hand. They would receive program books at 7pm.
  3. The feedback from last year was that the fact that this was a fundraiser was not clear enough. After attending CFY's charity benefit as a guest of Southwest Airlines, I saw how they really hit the emotions in the ask. (They honored a parent - but the award was given by the child of the parent, who was introduced by the child's teacher, who was introduced by the principal. Each expressing gratitude and sharing the impact of CFY from a every level.) The program wreaked of desperate pleas for donations - I'm not sure how I feel about it. The numbers were strong, but I don't know. I would have liked to weave in more tear-jerking and less asking - letting the emotional appeal speak for itself more.

A huge part of the post-event must-do was the follow up. I remember, April 16, 2012, when the doors opened at 6pm sharp - a mass influx of people bum-rushed the door - sweeping past the registration table and photo booth. For the 6-7pm cocktail hour, I was all over the place dealing with late volunteers and  technical difficulties with the photo booth. This was the first time I would meet our affiliate leadership from the 14 cities so among meeting them and sponsors, I didn't catch anyone's names or learn anything about anyone. At the end of the night, we walked away with no way to know who attended and no way to contact these new fans of our program. Months later, I volunteered at World Cares Center benefit - I was assigned a special guest and my only jobs were to make sure their attendance was announced to the Executive Director and take care of them the rest of the night. Of course, 1 hour is not enough time for one Executive Director to meet and get to know everyone - so I adapted this process and assigned our volunteers to do the announcing to affiliate Executive Directors. They, in turn, would do that care-taking and introductions to our National Executive Director. This allowed for extremely personalized follow ups and introductions - as well as accountability. For example, I could ask "Who is this in this picture" and someone would know.

Ultimately, and to my surprise, we met our fundraising goal!

If I learned anything about development over the past year and a half - it really is about relationships. Someone I met on twitter, The World Cup Project, who was interested in our September event volunteered to help us with video needs - saving us $3,000 in videographer expenses! My past interns were my key volunteers for the evening. Our current intern, applied for an internship in August of last year, got a job elsewhere, was a key volunteer for our September event, came back to volunteer - in addition to his incredible leadership and support throughout the weekend, he also got us $12,500 in PR Newswire press release distribution services that helped our releases reach almost 300 million views!

I also do a ton of learning at charity events - so you can imagine my excitement for Make A Wish's upcoming benefit at their NJ Castle. I don't go to NJ (ever) but this is soooo going to be worth it!

To be clear, this is my personal reflection of the event from the trenches. It is truly an amazing event for an organization that is doing really great work. The official event information and full video can be found at 

Also, you can support me by making a gift here:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Adventures of Dax Adobo

Haven't been up to too much besides working and saving money for the big move! But we always find the time to walk the Dax and his sidekick Tara - and waste an hour making a video about it.


Summer programs are ending one by one, bringing me a little closer to freedom! You'll be reading about my summer very soon - despite a 300% increase in work load, it still could not be as crazy as last year.

NYC in 16 days!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

University Day

The Mayor's Youth Employment and Education Program's final program wide event of the year offers it's participants an opportunity to explore college life. Each year, we've taken advantage of UC Berkeley's CAL DAY event to showcase the livelihood of the campus community. The ultimate goal was that these participants, at the ages of 14, 15, 16 whose parent's often-times don't have the time or the money to provide that extravagant college road trip that we sometimes take for granted... looking back will associate college with fun and a place they belong.

The project came together in a few quick and easy steps, taking account of the frustrations of University Day's pasts and experimenting with what I'd like to think are minor improvements.
  • We partnered with UC Berkeley's Chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a community service fraternity that needed to fulfill a youth day service requirement that very weekend. We asked one volunteer from the organization, a real live college student, to accompany each group and answer college-related questions along the way.
  • After surveying the attendees with their discipline of interest (and entering them into my best friend Microsoft Excel), we sorted and grouped them - each group sat in on a session related to that field of study.
  • While not in session, groups competed savagely (mostly chaperones, actually) in a Scavenger Hunt that allowed them to experience elements of college life that I deemed most important to me: the college newspaper, finding a part-time job, watching a sports game or playing intramural sports, living in the dorm with roommates, joining an on campus organization, studying abroad, and comparing bookstore prices with the library.
  • The Scavenger Hunt also included an element of conversation where participants were encouraged to talk to the students around them, asking questions ranging from "what is the most valuable thing you've learned from a professor" to "can we take pictures in your dorm?"
Ultimately, the trip was a huge success! Though the participant's were hot, tired, and grumpy at the end of the day - the photos definitely captured the great time they had. Below are more details, stolen from the blog I posted on


Over a hundred MYEEP participants woke up early last Saturday morning crossing the bay to spend a day-in-the-sun at the University of California, Berkeley’s 2011 Cal Day.
Fifteen teams, grouped by their discipline of interest, toured some of the fun activities the campus had to offer:

The group interested in architecture got a chance to watch students at work in the Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) lab open house to learn how computer technology is used in design and architecture and watch a laser cutter in action.

Youth interested in art visited the Archaeological Research Facility and made illustrations of multi-colored, painted rock-art designs, helping paint a rock-art mural while learning how archaeologists record rock-art paintings in the field.

Our aspiring scientists toured UC Berkeley’s state-of-the-art molecular and cell biology labs, participated in the nutrition Olympics where they actively learned about healthy eating from nutrition experts from the Atkins Center for Weight and Health. Youth interested in engineering used mind control to move robots through EEG sensors.

MYEEP’s future business men and women hung out at the Haas School of Business courtyard interviewing representatives of undergraduate business clubs. Our mathematician participants used probability can help answer some perplexing problems like the emperor’s life-or-death proposition, crazy guy on a plane, and the classic Monty Hall problem.

The groups interested in the various humanities disciplines heard about “Life as a Psychology Major” from a panel of students, toured the award-winning campus radio station, and sat in on a lecture exploring solutions to the United States and California’s budgetary crisis.
The teams also competed in a campus-wide scavenger hunt. They searched for the perfect college organizations through the rows of tables and booths that lined the bustling Sproul Plaza and explored options in campus employment and studying abroad. Some groups befriended current students as they made their way into the residence halls to imitate dorm life while others caught the Cal Woman’s Tennis match at Hellman Tennis Center.

After reviewing the fun photos from the scavenger hunt, it has been extremely tough to select the winner. All teams did an amazing job of reaching many of the stops and collecting all the items but a congratulations is in order for Group One who completed the scavenger hunt in style with their extra creative photos! It was definitely a close one!

The winning group receives a sweatshirt from UC Berkeley and will be featured in next years flier! Great job to all the teams and a huge thank you to all the volunteer chaperones and youth leaders who really made the day possible! Check out all the event photos and the winning group’s photos.

It is our hope that youth leave the University Day feeling like they belong on a college campus and want to engage in college life. MYEEP University Day is just one of two annual program-wide field trips. To learn more about our events, check out

Friday, February 4, 2011

Career Day

The Mayor's Youth Employment and Education Program's offers three program wide event of the year. The first, MYEEP in San Francisco, partners with local businesses to offer participants a glimpse into the working world. A city-wide career day - if you will. We gathered all the youth at a centralized meeting venue - to kick off the event with a program-wide feel and a "look at the magnitude of this event" type show. Then youth went off in small groups, accompanied by a chaperone and youth leader to an assigned host site based on their preference as indicated on a survey.

Now I must preface this story with the warning that the boss gave me the insane goal of reaching out to and securing 80,000 work places in San Francisco to host our kids for a two hour career talk about their work - the number was later reduced to a still ambitious 80! I can attribute the only failure of this event to my literal interpretation of achieving this goal.

Getting people to take a small group of kids into their office to talk about their job for two hours, all on the same day - it just sounds like an impossible task. I mean, what are the chances that people would want to host a career day on our terms? If one wanted to offer a career day at his/her work, he/she would plan their own so they could have it on their terms. So, it's a good thing we started early - three months early. I started with the 30 host sites we had the previous year. I received surprising phone calls of confirmation from companies I'd least expect. I sent out more recruitment materials than I can count and emails from me unfortunately goes into people's spam boxes now - if not from last summer's worksite effort.

As I began receiving surveys from the participant attendee of their career field of interest, we began to target our host site outreach. Surprisingly, the top choices were Sports and Veterinarians - which left me in a rut with no sports related or veterinary related sites to offer. Since we were very clear that youth who submit their permission slips early would receive their top choices, I did not want to disappoint. I wrote to every local sports team: our beloved World Champion Giants charged us a whopping $250 for a tour and chat with AT&T Park front office staff, the 49'ers are in Santa Clara, and the Warriors never responded... After emailing Cal's entire Athletics Department, they came to our rescue with sports medicine and physical therapists of the golden bear athletes. I searched desperately for a veterinarian which fell into my lap when I discovered from my old high school principal, Dr. H, (who stopped by JCYC after running into my parent's at a function and discovering that I worked there,) that my neighborhood veterinary hospital was family-owned by a JCYC family!

In the end, we secured 60 worksites but a new problem arose of not enough participant attendees. My boss would assure me that this is actually a great problem to have - but it did have its frustrations. First, we began allowing late permission slips so that we could fill the groups from 3-4 to our goal of 6-8 which contradicted our life lesson of respecting deadlines. Second, I was torn by forceful hand of placing youth in their lowest choices - not because their top choice was full, but because we needed to fill the host sites of their lower choices. At the last minute, we partnered with more youth groups to offer the opportunity to the youth served by Mission Graduates and JCYC's Japanese Youth Leaders. The list remained non-finalize-able to the very day before the event, and worksites kept demanding to know who and how many to expect - I was a hot mess!

The final hiccup of the entire event, with the expected exception of flakey youth, was the venue. We reserved the Elks Lodge at the Kensington Park Hotel with the belief that the room would be set up as requested - the Elks did no such thing. We scrambled to set up turning stacked chairs in a locked closet into 30 small + 2 large circles with a balloon to indicate the group number - 100 youth, 300 sandwiches, and 2 reporters from the SF Chronicle to arrive within the next 30 minutes! Fortunately, we have some amazing participants - those arriving early were eager to help and later rewarded for their moxy.

Ultimately, some groups were dispersed on account of a high ratio of no-shows - but each group left for a rousing visit to a worksite. Below, please enjoy the press release I wrote and now stole from the blog!


Hundreds of youth spent their day off from school supplementing their education gaining insight about the careers that interest them. Over fifty local businesses generously opened their doors to provide a glimpse of their work setting and allowed youth to dig their hands and minds into work representative of those careers.

Over 50 local businesses voluntarily filled the San Francisco Unified School District schedule/budget gap with career guidance, industry insights and a small sample of real-world job tasks and training.

The career day is an annual event put together by the Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program and serves the youth from several of the Japanese Community Youth Council’s programs, all focused on providing high school youth with resources for college and career success.

Following a series of projects that asked program participants to consider their career and education goals, each student completed a survey that indicates which industries they want to learn more about.

On February 4, 2011, they gathered at the Elks Lodge to discover what business would host them for a career day visit and departed in smaller groups.

Many local businesses have toyed with the idea of having some sort of career day, but they just did not know where to start. As the largest employer of youth in San Francisco, MYEEP in SF not only gives young people a chance to learn more about careers that aligned with their interests, but also allows local businesses to create their own event for a group that has already expressed interested in that industry.

Additionally, the event’s success is largely attributed to the team of volunteer chaperones. MYEEP’s partnership with several community-based organizations recruits volunteer chaperones that have a background in youth development and can assist with discussion facilitation and reflection.

Here are the organizations that participated in 2011:

Here are some quotes, poems and drawings taken from the youth reflection activity winners:

– Kaythari Phon on Bi-Rite Market & Creamery, MYEEP Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center

– Sean FitzHoward on Arguello Pet Hospital, MYEEP Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center

“What I liked most about this site was that it had many extraordinary things that you don’t see in everyday life such as different sharks, fishes, mammals, and other kinds of animals. Learning about biology will someday make me successful in this type of career.”
- Ivan Yu on
Aquarium of the Bay, SF YouthWorks

“Me gusto acariciar a los gatitos. Tambien me asombre bastante cuando mire operando a un gatito me di cuenta de algo que me hizo reflexionar bastante fue: Que ha estas personas realmente les ofrecen carino y si en el futuro me gustaria ayudarlos ya que ellos no recibien ayuda del gobierno. Gracias a MYEEP pude conocer cosas asombrosas.”

English Translation: I liked petting the kittens. I was also was really amazed when I watched them operating on a kitten. I realized something that made me think a lot: these are people who really care. Yes, in the future I would like to help them, since they don’t get help from the government. Thank you MYEEP for allowing me to encounter these marvelous things.

- Zindy Rodas on SPCA San Francisco, MYEEP Jewish Vocational Services

“When I first learned I was going to Salesforce I wasn’t exactly pumped. But when I got into the office I was amazed at how beautiful and lively the office was that alone got me interested. The presenters were AWESOME. They took seemingly boring jobs and broke them down into easily understandable language and made the jobs sound more meaningful.”
- Helen Totterdell on
Salesforce, SFYouthWorks

“I got to see how heavy the equipment actually was. I also learned that the total weight of the equipment is like 100+ pounds. Also, the truck carries 750 gallons of water and it costs like $750,000 – $1 million. I liked how the vibe was and that the firefighters were really nice and friendly.”
- Wendy Wong on
SF Fire Department, MYEEP Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center

Science for A Day

A day at a science field I feel great

Sitting on a bench writing my reflection

Science is great, wide and broad

So explore the doors that open to you

Science is no limit

You could be sitting in lab writing your research

Or check the cool behavior of mice

You could do this or the things you like

Because the science is in you.

- Soknay Lim on UCSF, MYEEP Vietnamese Youth Development Center


Read more about the event in the San Francisco Chronicle here.