February 4, 2017 marks the 10th Anniversary of “Hard Start Day.” Hard Start Day was the day in 2007 when THINK Together opened more than 120 new afterschool program sites across 18 school districts on a single day. It was during this period that THINK Together hired more than 1,000 people in a hundred days beginning early December, 2006. Nearly sixty of our current team members were hired during that crazy, hard, exhilarating period that launched THINK Together as we know it today.
The state, in its implementation of the Proposition 49 initiative, set up a crazy gauntlet of timelines. ASES grant applications were released October 1, 2006 and were due back mid-November. In order to get a full year’s worth of funding, organizations had to open a demonstration site in each school district in December. Given the holiday break, that meant less than a month later. Then, in order to receive a full year’s worth of funding, each district had to open all of their program sites (a “hard start”) by February 4th. The grants were not even going to be officially awarded until March and districts (and THINK Together) wouldn’t see any money until May.
We saw this as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to scale the organization and the impact we could have on kids and we seized it. We built a plan. With the help of our Board of Directors, we borrowed $6 million from Comerica Bank, and rock ’n’ rolled. We hired 16 contract recruiters who, in turn, hired more than 1,000 people over the next 100 days. We created MOU’s with school districts saying we would take the risk of opening a program that may or may not get funded (we only ate one MOU – East Whittier – which we later picked back up) and made it work.
Success is where preparation meets opportunity. We had worked for ten years refining a program model that we felt was replicable and scalable. We also saw this as an opportunity to improve the field. One of the problems we saw with program quality across the state was lack of a support structure. Most afterschool programs had a lot of young staff. Most of them contracted with intermediary organizations for training and technical assistance. When staff turned over, as they inevitably do in this space, it is hard to access third party support for training. We also felt that program support with lesson plans and other content, as well as the data and reporting pieces could be centralized and done better and more cost effectively. So, by scaling up, we were able to build this kind of support structure in-house, which made our program quality better and more consistent so that it better served our students and communities.
This strategy worked. At the same time, we were very surprised that no other organization scaled up the way we did during this period. From there THINK Together was able to more than double in size again as school districts were attracted to the structure, consistency and level of support that TT could provide. In addition, we’ve been able to provide more supports and services to schools and students to fill in gaps in their support systems. In those 10 years we’ve grown from serving 4,000 students to more than 130,000 annually!
I want to thank everybody that pulled together and contributed to the success of this scale up strategy, with special gratitude to the steadfast team who lived through Hard Start Day or joined shortly thereafter and has chosen to continue on our journey. These folks now work in every one of our regions and have positions at every level of our organization: Diana Alsup, Dena Apodaca, Letitia Aquino, Mary Barth, Zulie Birr, Adriana Boyer-Allen, Jose Candelas, Erica Cardoso, Ed Carlson, Jocelyn Casco, Dorothy Castruita, Tonita Colbert, Diego Diaz, Brenda Dufer, Josh Felix, Mike Frobenius, Sylvia Garcia, Lawrence Gustafson, Crystal Gutierrez, Veronica Guzman, Ada Guzman, Claudia Guzman Espinoza, Sibecca Hardy, Joan Hemrick, Irlanda Hipolito, Phyllis Hoff, Adriana Kingston, Ramona Kocharian, Sherman Kwan, Monalisa Lee-Johnson, Shanda Luckett, Ruth Malagon, Anna Martinez, Sally Martinez, Cindy Martinez Henriquez, Jennifer Mendez, Knisha Nash, Patricia Ortiz, Veronica Pena, Aydde Pichardo, Loree Propheter, Humberto Quintana, Veronica Rocha, Sylvia Rojas, Sonia Romo, Evangelina Ruiz-Acuna, Harlyn Santos, Shelly Sennikoff, Lizette Sifuentes, Teresa Tucker, Patricia Urquilla, Teresa Vargas, Veronica Velasco, and Mireya Velazquez.
Ours is one of the more amazing stories of scaling impact for social or educational enterprises anywhere in the U.S. We want to keep the story alive so that we can understand the lessons learned from this experience and draw inspiration so that we can scale other impactful interventions as opportunities present themselves so that we can move ever closer to our vision of Equity and Excellence in Education for All Kids.
It takes a village. Thank you for being part of our village!