Be Robin Hood

I blogged earlier 2011 is going to be an amazing year. Matt and I are getting married, I am committed to making the most out of living in New York, my sister will lead her OWN swim team during conference and the national championships, and hopefully the Patriots continue their latest string of successes with a Super Bowl win. But most importantly, in 2011, I will get to be Robin Hood.

Last week I blogged about some exciting career news that I had to share. And now I can finally announce that, as of today, I am a proud member of the Robin Hood Foundation. An opportunity presented itself for me to leave my previous position and join this amazing organization. And while this position will undoubtably come with many challenges, longer hours than I am used to and a lot of work, I believe that it will be worth it. For the past two years, I have been thirsting for a bigger challenge, a more meaningful mission, and to be part of an organization that is proud of its work. After spending one day in their office, I know I have found all of these things.

I have blogged about Robin Hood before, but for those of you that are unfamiliar with it, Robin Hood is a charitable organization that fights poverty in New York City. Currently, 1.8 million New Yorkers are living in poverty. Together, they could populate the fifth largest city in the United States–larger than Boston, Atlanta and San Francisco combined. These people struggle with the rising costs of food and housing, and fewer opportunities for adequate health care, quality education and secure employment exist.

Robin Hood is changing the fates and saving the lives of these people by applying investment principles to charitable giving. They find, fund and create the most effective programs and schools serving families in New York City’s poorest neighborhoods.

Robin Hood follows an extensive due diligence process to ensure that every dollar invested generates results. Before investing in a program, Robin Hood reviews its strategy, scrutinizes its financial statements, evaluates its management teams, and conducts multiple visits.

And the support doesn’t stop there. Robin Hood protects and leverages its charitable investments with top-notch management and technical assistance. Their in-house management experts help programs with their strategic and financial planning, recruiting and legal concerns, organizational issues and capital needs…with whatever they require. And if they don’t have the expertise in-house, they get it elsewhere. They have access to the top people and firms in New York to get the job done pro bono.

And because Robin Hood’s board of directors pays all administrative, fundraising and evaluation costs, 100% of donations goes directly to organizations helping impoverished New Yorkers build better lives.

So… for those of you wondering what it is like to work at Robin Hood… I can now tell you. I started my first day with an all staff meeting that felt more like a really interesting college seminar on business analytics coupled with a high school pep rally. The obvious intelligence in the room was almost as much as the pride and honor the employees felt for their organization and for each other. The meeting culminated with the presentation of a cake depicting a scene from the movie Robin Hood, which was created, by who other than Buddy, the Cake Boss.

Not a bad way to start the year.

The Lottery

When I was younger, I never really thought about where I was going to enroll in school. In the earlier years, I went to the nursery school that Abby had attended in our neighborhood. It was run out of someone’s basement, which seems a little weird, but we didn’t think anything of it at the time. Kindergarten at that point in time wasn’t something that our public school system offered so I attended a program (that I later taught at) that was run out of an old barn that had been converted into a small 4 room school. From 1st grade to 12th grade, I attended our local public schools. My education was something that I took for granted.

While it was certainly something that was important to my parents and eventually to me, it wasn’t something that we worried about. I knew that I was going to get a solid education at school, have amazing teachers and extremely supportive parents. To be frank, going to college was always in the cards for me. That was how I was brought up and what I wanted in life.

When I got home from work today, I watched the movie, The Lottery. I had heard about this movie a while ago, and even received the DVD at a charity event I attended last Spring, but I am embarrassed to say that I never got around to watching it. The movie follows four families from Harlem as they go through the lottery process to get their children into one of the Success Academy Charter Schools.

I first learned about these schools when I moved to New York. I didn’t have a job, so my friend graciously hired me to help teach some of her cooking classes for her newly formed company, Cupcake Kids (now named Taste Buds). She had organized 10-15 field trips for the Kindergarten classes from the Success Academy schools. Every morning for a couple of weeks, we would teach 25-27 5 and 6-year-olds, all dressed in navy and orange uniforms, how to make pizza. We talked about the different ingredients, explained how yeast gives off gases (like a bump) that expands the dough, sang a song about making pizza and eventually ate delicious and healthy food that we made together.

During the time that I spent with these kids, I learned that their grade was not referred to as Kindergarten; they were called the class of 2025; the year that they would graduate from college. Their individual classes weren’t named after their rooms or their teachers’ last names; they were named after the colleges that their teachers attended. So every day, in would walk the classes of Brown, University of Virginia and Princeton. These kids know, like I did, that they are going to graduate from college.

Harlem Success Academy 3rd graders took their first standardized state test in 2009. The results are staggering:

  • 100% of Harlem Success 3rd graders passed the math exam, with 71% achieving the top score of “4,” ranking the school #1 out of all public charters in the state.
  • 95% of Harlem Success 3rd graders passed the English Language Arts exam, with nearly a quarter achieving the top score of “4,” ranking the school #2 out of all public charters in the state. Harlem Success Academy ranks #32 out of 3500 public schools in New York.
  • No public school in the state scored higher than Harlem Success on the math exam. Harlem Success outperformed its school district by nearly 25 percentage points in English Language Arts.
  • The percentage of students “advanced proficient” in math surpasses even the affluent Upper East Side of Manhattan by nearly 35%.

In short, this school’s approach is working. While charter schools do raise a lot of concerns, often over teacher unions and conflicts with failing public schools, it is hard to overlook their achievements. I would strongly encourage people to watch this movie. While Waiting for Superman is receiving a lot of support and media attention, this movie delivers a message that is just as strong. We need to rethink our educational systems; we can not accept failure because we are afraid to change.

 

Pizza Party

One of the great things about working at Cupcake Kids is learning fun new recipes. The most popular party that Jessi offers is the “Make Your Own Pizza Party.” I have to say that I became quite the expert in pizza making. Back in November/December of 2008, Jessi worked with a Charter School in Harlem to host field trips for their countless Kindergarten classes. So for 3-4 weeks straight, I would entertain groups of extremely well-dress eager chefs. We would talk about how yeast makes dough rise be releasing gas (like a burp), how honey makes the dough sweet, and how whole wheat flour is a little bit healthier than all-purpose. It was certainly a very tiring time, doing back-to-back classes for a few weeks straight, but I am now a proficient pizza maker. And last night, I put those skills to use.

I decided to make some pizza dough and use up some of the homemade marinara sauce I made Sunday for the baked ziti Matt and I enjoyed during Man Men.

Please enjoy the recipe, as written by Cupcake Kids! I highly recommend trying this at home!

Pizza Recipe-1

The pizza turned out alright, but I must admit, every time I have made it at home, it isn’t as good as the end product at Cupcake Kids. There must be a secret ingredient that the kids put in when I am not looking… oh wait, I think that is called slobber, boogies, and 5-year-old love!