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The Future


10 Jan

More than $8 to $9.50/hour

When I started Champion Access the goal was to improve economic mobility by creating access to better jobs for people of color who grew up in zip codes with undeservedly low glass ceilings. The Champion Access program was an extra layer of support in the form of training that would catalyze the transition of our graduates from a minimum wage job in the fast food industry into a managerial position in the fast food industry. The difference in annual earnings is upwards of $20,000. And it wasn’t only to be beneficial for our participants – it was to be beneficial to our partnering restaurants also: better trained staff, improved morale, and reduced turnover. Ambitious, but doable I thought.  This would be a huge feat.

After running three programs, I’ve seen the majority of our graduates earn promotions (and retain their jobs), but not to the level that I had anticipated.  Graduates are excited to have gone through the program, to have earned a promotion, to be recognized by their managers… but the majority are still ultimately stuck in roughly the same situation as they were before Champion Access. Gulp.

That’s a tough pill to swallow. Granted, we are still in the early stages working to figure out our mechanism to achieving the Champion Access mission and we were transparent about this from day one. Our programs were “pilots” – each subsequent pilot program was refined based on lessons learned from previous pilots. After refining three times, we would take stock of our overall results. If they weren’t where we wanted them to be, we needed to re-think, strategize, and prioritize. Right now the Champion Access GPS is “recalculating.”

Rethinking feedback

During 2011 I received a ton of feedback from nonprofit and social enterprise professionals. There were a few recurring comments/questions:

1. There aren’t many non-poverty wage positions in the food industry (especially the fast food industry) are there?

2. Is helping a crew member transition into a managerial position displacing the current manager who comes from a similar background?

3. Is soft-skills training marketable? Won’t someone from a low-income background still be perceived as a person from a low-income background, and therefore inferior from a management perspective, as someone who is more… “polished”? Perhaps this is an opportunity to tie in a technical skill to your program…

4. How do you know that the individuals you are selecting wouldn’t move up on their own?

5. This is an important mission.

Here is briefly how I would answer these questions:

Re #1: It is true that there are far more low-wage positions in the food industry than salaried positions, but there are high rates of turnover at all level, so there are always opportunities available. In addition, the food industry is one of the fastest growing industries in NYC post-recession [insert relevant percentages, etc.].

Re #2: This is tough, but not always. Most managers at fast food have a higher level of education and training (and presumably a more “desirable” zip code growing up) than Champion Access graduates. [Obfuscation was my old standby for this difficult question]

Re #3: Nearly all employers, owners, and managers identify the ability communicate effectively and lead a team as the foremost skill that a manager at a fast food restaurant needs to possess. The technical stuff “they can be trained in.” [reference NY Times articles, academic papers, etc.]

Re #4: Because we look at a workers history and we only select people to be in our program who have a [1 - 2 year] work history without ever earning above [$8.50/hour] or holding a supervisory position.

Re #5: I agree.

Here is briefly how I would answer these questions today:

1. That’s correct. There are not. There is industry growth and positions opening up, but, yes, the ratio of low-wage to sustainable wage jobs in  fast food is in the ballpark of 10:1. I might even reference Julio Cammarota’s research paper on mobility in fast food.

2. Similar to above and I’d add that displaced person is in a better position to find other sustainable jobs in the food industry and beyond.

3. As important as soft-skills training is, this isn’t something that you learn overnight and requires exposure in environments where these sorts of skills can be cultivated. I don’t think that soft-skills training alone is marketable. Technical skills coupled with soft-skills learning can mitigate this challenge. Being a manager provides some context for these skills to be developed.

4. Same answer as above.

5. I still agree.

The Future - 2012 is a year of possibility for Champion Access

We know our destination and we are working on figuring out the path while maintaining correspondences with current graduates. One thought that the board and I have been discussing is creating an opportunity to develop a franchise restaurant that is owned and operated by Champion Access and it’s participants. This mitigates marginal hourly earning by allowing participants to accumulate assets while learning to be an owner/operator of a food concept (by BEING an owner/operator). Using a franchises brand would mitigate industry risk and make the operation more fluid from a logistical perspective.

If you have thoughts, suggestions, and/or ideas, I’d love to hear from you.

We know our destination and we are working on figuring out the path while maintaining correspondences with current graduates. One thought that the board and I have been discussing is creating an opportunity to develop a franchise restaurant that is owned and operated by Champion Access and it’s participants. This mitigates marginal hourly earning by allowing participants to accumulate assets while learning to be an owner/operator of a food concept (by BEING an owner/operator). Using a franchises brand would mitigate industry risk and make the operation more fluid from a logistical perspective.

If you have thoughts, suggestions, and/or ideas, I’d love to hear from you.

Top Tens: An Update from Champion Access


01 Oct

A short and sweet update from Champion Access to accommodate your hectic lives…

Program 3 has been an incredible step in the right direction. Here are the top five reasons why:

  1. The introduction of “technical skills” into our training program (reading budgets, calculating food and labor costs, making sales projections, scheduling labor hours). Thank you educator extraordinaire, Kora Wilson and numbers guru, John Rigos for helping make this happen!
  2. The point system.. This is a thorn in the side for our participants… but it has created solid accountability and performance… (we adapted our system from the Year Up model).
  3. TONS of feedback. Each participant in Champion Access gets two detailed feedback reports each week during program. One from CA staff and one from their managers where they work.  (hat tip to Survey Monkey to making this a relatively seamless process).
  4. On the job training… each participant that makes it through the 6-week classroom portion of our training gets to run their store for a week as General Manger. This required some serious logistical planning, but has been proving to be a HUGELY impactful piece of our evolving program model.
  5. Turnover… we are building a system to measure our impact on this important (yet unattended to) metric in the food industry…

What in the world of media/journalism/writing have we been digging over the last few months? Here’s the top ten…

  1. Making it in the US: More than Just Hard Work. Staggering juxtaposition of income growth/career trajectories between whites and people of color over the last 25 years.
  2. Work-Life Balance Benefits Low-Wage Workers, Employers. This is a dialogue we are having with employers… change won’t happen overnight, but the introduction of this data helps.
  3. Bloomberg to Use Own Funds in Plan to Aid Minority Youth. Great intentions… if anyone has insight or new info about implementation, I would love to hear from you…
  4. Losing Our Way. Bob Herbert’s last piece written for the NY Times… a great farewell piece as he transitions into his new role as an advocate for opportunities for working America.
  5. When the rules are fair, but the game isn’t. A piece about race, education, and achievement in America.
  6. Leonard Lopate show – Behind the Counter Business Tips – from 2007 with Jerry Newman, author of “My secret life on the McJob.” Super solid insights regarding life “on the line” in the food service industry.
  7. Evaluation for Normal People. Nice insights for young nonprofits trying to demystify program evaluation… and more importantly, to figure out how to make it practical.
  8. Can Job Training Reduce Unemployment? A balanced look at the future of job training… Soundbite: “A 2009 study found that participants in programs that targeted growth industries saw their earnings rise by 18% over those of a control group in the first two years, and even more than that in later years.”
  9. More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner-City, by William Julias Wilson. Racism isn’t an either/or between structure and culture… a compelling and honest piece of writing.
  10. Co-founder of Carlyle group, Bill Conway, to donate up to 1 billion for organizations that are especially interested in helping the poor and long-term jobless.  The follow up article can be found here.

Five social orgs that have been in my internet history in the past month:

  1. The “men in blue” (The Doe Fund). Commendable work. Difficult work.
  2. Lift. Great mission, great website.
  3. Juma. See #2.
  4. Opportunity Nation. Champion Access is excited to be among such a strong group of partners.
  5. Arbor Brothers. We made it to the semi-finals in their grant cycle and wish this important new  foundation that helps get startup nonprofits over the hump the best…

The “New Heroes” Make a Difference


11 Aug

Most people in their lifetime have had at least one hero that they’ve looked up to, whether it be a role model, family figure, or someone they strive to be like.  But what honestly makes a hero? Are they defined by their courage, morals, and self-sacrifices? Can anyone become a hero?

I never actually gave this much thought until I heard about the remarkable stories of 14 individuals who take on a new breed of entrepreneurship.  These 14 social entrepreneurs make up the “New Heroes,” a  PBS four-hour series that explores the depths of courage, compassion, and leadership these individuals have undergone to transform change all over the world.  They have successfully used their business skills to help alleviate poverty, illness, unemployment and other social problems. Through their innovative techniques and powerful compassion for their cause, these brave men and women have brought education, opportunity, and hope to impoverished areas across the globe. Each person has a different story, cause, and approach but together they have the determination to improve the lives of millions.

So, who are the heroes behind all of this magic? Let’s introduce the players and their impact:

Kailash Satyarthi has rescued thousands of enslaved children in India by mounting raids on factories.  Although dangerous, he has successfully freed thousands of children and established the Global March Against Child Labor and the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude.

Mimi Silbert formed the Delancey Street Foundation which has been named the most successful rehabilitation project in the United States.

Moses Zulu opened Children’s Town in Zambia that offers a home for orphaned children with AIDS and other diseases.

Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy and David Green worked together to form the Aravind Eye Hospital and Aurolab in many areas across the globe, performing surgical miracles for those in remote areas.

Nick Moon and Martin Fisher also worked together to develop new technologies in Africa that create jobs and wealth for many impoverished individuals.

Fabio Rosa has created two programs in Brazil that evoke community development through self-sustainable tactics.

In Peru, Albina Ruiz developed a solid waste management system that generates employment as well as cleaner communities.

Maria Teresa Leal founded Coopa-Roca, a sewing corporation that also provides employment opportunities for woman to work from home.

Muhammad Yunus founded the Grameen Bank, which loans money to millions of poor families in Bangladesh without any collateral.

Dina Abdel Wahab established the Baby Academy in Egypt basing its curriculum on a nurturing and educational atmosphere that aids  in children’s development.

In India, Inderjit Khurana fought to end child poverty by creating a platform of education that allows them to grow, work productively, and gain opportunities in their community.

The final hero of the segment is  Sompop Jantraka who put his life at risk to save young poor women who get sold into prostitution.  By forming the Daughters Education Program, he was able to offer young girls alternatives through education and job training that essentially prevented them from being trafficked into that dangerous and illegal industry.

Each individual has had a impact on the part of the community that they have touched.  They all had a vision for revolutionary change, and they put their lives on the line to stand up for a cause they believed in.  Their courage, dedication, and compassion combined with their empowering solutions to end social problems makes them a true hero. They are your everyday people that went on a journey to create lasting impacts on our world. They are the New Heroes of today.

To learn more about these individuals, be sure to check out the website.

What do McDonald’s, Subway, and BK have in common?


10 Aug

What do McDonald’s, Subway, and BK have in common?  Their Harlem outposts received unofficial “secret shopper” evaluations from our Champion Access participants.

On Monday, we launched our 3rd training program focused on management and financial math. Yesterday our focus was “The Basics of Evaluating Hospitality.” Participants hit the streets in small groups to evaluate White Castle, Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway, and Starbucks. We armed everyone with $3 dollars and asked them to pay close attention to the staff behaviors that affected their overall experience.

After braving the pouring rain, participants came back to the classroom with insightful and humorous observations. “I walked up to the man at Subway to order my food. I said, ‘Hello, how are you?’ He just stared back at me without answering,” Nafi recounted, with a smile of astonishment.

These are the sort of learning activities we are creating at Champion Access to improve self-awareness and uncover the details of what good service looks like. Who said job training and professional development can’t be fun? To see what else Champion Access has in store for participants, check out our Facebook page where we’ll be posting interviews and photos throughout the training.

Program 3 – off and running…


09 Aug

It is my pleasure to announce that our latest program is off and running… this 5-week, 30+ hour management training program will give 9 participants two very specific sets of hard and soft skills:

Hard Skills: mathematical expertise required to operate a restaurant (we call it Store Level Economics).

Soft Skills: Management, Leadership, and Life Skills

Today, participants will be given a small stipend to serve as unofficial “secret shoppers” and evaluate several food concepts near our program facility in Harlem… Very exciting…

Stay tuned for more updates, pictures, and videos…

Shaquanda and Christina getting to know each other

Champions of the Fundraiser


04 Aug

Yesterday marked the final day for Champion Access’s fundraiser to support a new 30 hour, 5 week program that will benefit talented underemployed workers.  Over the course of two weeks, they have successfully surpassed the allotted goal of $5,000.  In a single week, they were just shy this amount, having already raised $4,905.  Thanks to the generous donations from 118 individuals, Champion Access was able to raise a total of $8,745 for this cause.

Of the money raised, 65% of the profit will go directly to participant stipends to compensate the number of hours individuals forgo to be involved in this program, 15% will go to program supplies such as pens, binders, etc., and 20% will allocate team stipends for the nominal costs of the program by the staff.

This training program will provide workers in the food industry with the resources, skills, and support they need to advance in their field.  Their hard work and potential will be recognized, rewarded, and used to cultivate change.  With the economic distress that most individuals face, Champion Access will provide a stable backbone that will impact a 40%  increase and wage for talented underemployed adults.  By granting opportunities for individuals to make a livable wage in the City, they are also moving towards undoing generational poverty.

This program will certainly have a lasting impact on many individuals, and it will generate a brighter hope for their future.  Congratulations to the Champion Access staff for the hard word they underwent in putting together this worthy fundraiser.  Not only did everyone in the office get involved, but each person gave it their all to help raise money.  The Aurify Team along with the generous donors worked together to support this cause that will benefit and positively affect the entire City.

One Man’s Dream Can Make a Difference


02 Aug

What incites me most when reading about different nonprofits, social enterprises, or charitable events are the entrepreneurs behind it all. Their story, their dedication towards a cause, and their effort to institute a solution are the three components that generate a worthy piece to share.  One of these examples is based on a nonprofit organization established by one man in Brooklyn that I had the pleasure of learning about earlier this week.

When Divine Bradley was 17 years old, he had a dream like most others his age.  Living in a troubled, low-income environment with no role models or guidance, Divine Bradley knew he wanted a change.  After a series of unfortunate events that occurred in his life and having moved into a safer area, it was Bradley’s time to make a difference.  His dream was to develop an organization or safe house where kids his age could come to for guidance and education.  This dream soon became reality when he first opened his home to drifting young people around the Brooklyn area in 2002.  Later that year, he encouraged others in his neighborhood to raise money to rent out their community center as a base of their organization.  In just two weeks, Bradley and his team raised about $25,000 and launched a nonprofit, Team Revolution.

Currently, Team Revolution is a youth-run organization that has impacted over 500 individuals, with numbers rising each day.   From their after school programs to their community service projects and self-development curriculum, Team Revolution has created an empowering environment for young people.  They take pride in creating a brighter future for individuals who stem from disadvantaged communities.

The success of Divine Bradley and Team Revolution has certainly shown throughout the years.  Bradley even created the Fellowship Academy, which is a school-based program that teaches young people how to make a difference in their community.  He also won a Golden Brick award in 2007 for Community Building.  This was a great accomplishment for Bradley because his recognition for Team Revolution was now world-wide.

What’s remarkable about this organization is how one man’s dream can actually make a difference in the world.  Having started this program in one home and growing to exponential depths, Divine Bradley’s dedication has always been consistent.  Not only did he give back to his community, but he is also allowing others to follow his lead by giving them the opportunities they deserve to succeed.

501c3 status? Check.


02 Aug

Champion Access is officially recognized as tax-exempt under section 501c3 of the Internal Revenue Code. Our EIN is: 80-0636164.

Inside the “Staples for Students” Campaign


28 Jul

Recently I had to run an errand at the nearby Staples when I came across their fundraiser sign, “Staples for Students.” I’m sure many have heard about this program before, but I have never actually given it much thought until now.  I decided to take a deeper look into this cause and find out what it’s all about.

This year is the fourth annual Staples for Students campaign that Staples has hosted.  They teamed up with DoSomething.org, one of the largest organizations that inspire young individuals to get involved with local charitable events. Together they are mobilizing young people to take initiative in starting their own local drives to collect school supplies.  They even created a step-by-step directional that teens can follow.  From spreading the word through flyers, finding out what’s needed in local communities and dropping off supplies at nearby stores, Staples for Students has created a simple and empowering way to donate.  Staples stores are also encouraging customers to donate $1 upon checkout to assist with the campaign. In the past years, the success of Staples for Students reached a national level as individuals all over the world donated over a million dollars worth of school supplies for those in need.

This charitable program has already had a powerful impact on the 13 million students that return to school without necessary supplies.  In this economy, families are struggling to make ends meet and school items might not be affordable. Thankfully this program is reaching out to low-income families and giving children the essential supplies they need and deserve. Not only does this program aid in donations, but it also unites young individuals who have taken their passion, concern and time to give back to their community.

To get involved, donate any school supplies you have to a local Staples store.  Each person can make a difference!

Helping Self-Employeed Workers, One Entrepreneur at a Time


26 Jul

I recently came across an article on Bloomsburg Business Week listing several of “America’s Most Promising Social Entrepreneur’s.”  Looking through several newly run organizations, I decided to highlight a beneficial New York based company that started up in 2009.

According to the Government Accountability Office, roughly one-third of American workers are self-employed.  From self-employed workers to temps, part-timers, contractors and even nannies, the Freelancers Union was created to provide stable options for these individuals.  Through health care benefits, community platforms and government advocacy, this organization has certainly improved the lives of many.

What captivated me most about this organization was it’s founder, Sara Horowitz.  She is truly an astonishing and successful women, who is also well-known for her entrepreneurial efforts in creating this company. She has been in this type of business for awhile and was even selected by Schwab Foundation as one of the 100 Global Leaders of Tomorrow at the 2002 Economic Forum.  Last year, she was also featured in Crain’s New York Business, “25 People to Watch.”  At 47, Sara Horowitz has already built up a nonprofit organization with over 140,000 members with a estimated revenue of $96 million for the 2011 year. The success of the Freelancers Union is astronomical, and it’s certainly something I want us all to acknowledge.

To learn more about her and the Freelancers Union, check out there website here.

Champion Access is a non-profit organization giving low income adults in New York City the opportunity to build personal and professional skills.