Former foster children fight for lifeline at CCSF (sfgate.com 9/27/14)

 Carida Ward, 27, formerly in foster care, helps daughter Leilani, 5, lace her shoes to get her ready for school.

Carida Ward, 27, formerly in foster care, helps daughter Leilani, 5, lace her shoes to get her ready for school.

Few people make it to college after growing up like Carida Ward, whose mother sold her at age 8 to a pedophile she didn’t escape from for five years. Or like Tiffany Brown, who was put in a lockdown facility as punishment for running away from home.

But the two are excelling at City College of San Francisco because of a program that has helped hundreds of former foster children on campus for seven years — and which is now in crisis itself as college officials alienate private funders, fail to provide timely services, and treat some students with surliness. Until recently, the Guardian Scholars at City College was reknowned for its warm approach to vulnerable students.

 Elizabeth Coria, Dean of Financial Aid Programs at City College: “The (Guardian Scholars) program is not falling apart. We’re trying to fix it.”

Elizabeth Coria, Dean of Financial Aid Programs at City College: “The (Guardian Scholars) program is not falling apart. We’re trying to fix it.”

 Guardian Scholars Carida Ward, 27, left, and Tiffany Brown, 22, speak about issues they have had recently with the Guardian Scholars program.

Guardian Scholars Carida Ward, 27, left, and Tiffany Brown, 22, speak about issues they have had recently with the Guardian Scholars program.

Now it’s out of money because no one followed up with funders after its longtime coordinator left in June.

“The students here are suffering, and we’re not getting our needs met,” Ward told the student government Wednesday as she, Brown and others spoke on behalf of the 130 students in the program. They asked student leaders to join them in urging college officials to save the program.

Guardian Scholars is supposed to serve as a supportive family for college students who never had one of their own. Across the country, foster children wind up in prison more often than in college classrooms, research shows. The program aims to change that with academic counseling, vouchers for books and transportation, access to an emergency housing fund, and a coordinator who not only woos donors but lends a helpful ear to students in need. Similar programs exist on campuses across the state.

On Tuesday, City College students arrived at the Guardian Scholar office at the main campus on Phelan Avenue and found a sign saying it was closed until November. Students demanded to know why. So did funders, and the doors were reopened within hours.

 Carida Ward (center) laughs as son Monzell McDuffie, 9 (left), presents the wrong hand for a handshake with Emily Scott Pottruck, a Guardian Scholars funder, after an emotional Student Council meeting.

Carida Ward (center) laughs as son Monzell McDuffie, 9 (left), presents the wrong hand for a handshake with Emily Scott Pottruck, a Guardian Scholars funder, after an emotional Student Council meeting.

'Trying to fix it’

College officials called it a mistake. “At this point, City College is committed to trying to fund the program,” said Elizabeth Coria, dean of financial aid and student success programs. “The program is not falling apart. We’re trying to fix it.”

Ward, 27, and Brown, 22, became alarmed over the summer when students were assured that an academic counselor would be available to advise them — but no one showed up. This fall, more than 60 Guardian Scholars arrived at the bookstore and were told their vouchers had expired.

“Nobody told us about the deadline,” Brown said. “As you can see, there’s no communication.”

The vouchers had also been sliced in half, to $100 from $200.

Transportation vouchers — which many Guardian Scholars depend on to get to and from school — arrived three weeks late.

The Guardian Scholars also blocked Ward’s access to emergency housing money this month after she and her 5-year-old daughter, who had been couch-surfing, became homeless. Ward said the program’s new coordinator at first told her — within earshot of other students — that she didn’t qualify because she had received help twice in the past. The coordinator then said that at 27, Ward was too old for help, she said.

Ward promptly called Coria, the woman’s supervisor, to complain.

“Not once did I hear, 'Carida, don’t worry. Focus on school. You graduate next semester, and you’ve come so far,’” Carida said, her voice breaking with emotion.

The current troubles began in June, after the program’s longtime coordinator, Michael McPartlin, quit in frustration. He had always known where to find funding or emergency housing for a student in trouble. Students adored him. So did funders, who gave hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. No Guardian Scholar was denied services even if they were in their late 20s; McPartlin knew that foster children often take a long time to get to college. More than 100 Guardian Scholars have completed City College, with 60 transferring to a university. Of those, 30 have completed their degrees, and a few have taken a master’s.

 Student trustee and Guardian Scholar Shanell Williams, 30 (left), speaks passionately about the mismanage ment of the program.

Student trustee and Guardian Scholar Shanell Williams, 30 (left), speaks passionately about the mismanage ment of the program.

1024x1024 (4).jpg

Coordinator frustrated

McPartlin, 55, said his frustrations began long before he stepped down at the end of the spring semester, and that he had to wrestle with college officials to ensure that the funds he brought in for the Guardian Scholars would not be used for other purposes.

In his farewell letter, McPartlin said many of the conditions that threaten City College with the loss of accreditation persist even two years after that crisis began.

“I have determined that it is no longer tenable for me to remain at this college doing the work I love,” he wrote. “Grants have been lost or put at serious risk by the actions of others, random accusations made without substance, and the usual institutional 'gang culture’ predominates.”

Since McPartlin’s departure, first one new coordinator came, then another. Meanwhile, City College officials have had more on their minds than the Guardian Scholars. As McPartlin was leaving, the accrediting commission was meeting to decide whether to let City College avoid closure while continuing to work on complying with standards. (A final decision comes in January.)

But even as City College’s new administrators argued that they run the college better than previous leaders, the Guardian Scholars was falling through the cracks.

The program has just $12,339 left, but can’t spend the money because it’s left over from last year and requires permission from foundations to be used in ways other than originally specified.

Foundation officials say it’s up to the college to approach them and prove the money is in good hands. Several funders said that hasn’t happened, and that City College has been lukewarm in its approach and has missed opportunities to meet.

“Where is the sense of urgency? When we are desperate to get that check, none of us sits around and twiddles our thumbs and waits for the phone to ring,” said Emily Scott Pottruck, a longtime funder who is so concerned that she showed up at the student government meeting to listen as Ward, Brown and others explained the problems.

Over $280,000

Other funders, who have given more than $280,000 to the program in recent years, agreed. The new developments have them worried.

“I’m concerned that with Michael McPartlin’s departure, that services might be watered down. I would need to be assured that the program would not be changing,” said one foundation official who asked not to be identified. She and others expressed particular concern that Ward’s request for emergency housing was rejected.

Coria and other college officials have now met repeatedly with students and said they want to make the program work. They said they approached the John Burton Foundation and received an additional $500 in book vouchers for each Guardian Scholar. Students said they had no idea, and officials acknowledged that communication must improve.

1024x1024 (5).jpg

Finances in flux

Finances also remain in flux. With no new grant applications pending and no access to the $12,000, college officials say they will rely on the $16,000 in student fees provided by the student government each semester. But the government is operating in the red and has money troubles of its own.

“City College is committed to supporting the program until we go out there and get the donors,” Coria said. “Right now, we need to make sure the students have housing and transportation. There’s no way we’ll let it go down.”

And Ward will get emergency housing, Coria said.

“That’s a relief,” Ward said. “But I’ll still be advocating for myself and my classmates.”

Nanette Asimov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: asimov@sfchronicle.com 

Osbon Capital Management Guest Column, July 12, 2017

Meet Emily Scott, guest writer this week. Emily is a humanist, writer, philanthropist and all-around great person to know. Emily and Steve Gang of Resonance are engaged in our latest Osbon Capital project. 

To Give or Not To Give

When asked what one of the bigger personal challenges a philanthropist faces, the answer often is “saying no when asked for funding, board participation, or a time commitment.”  At The Philanthropy Workshop, where I am an alumna, we refer to this as the investment of our time, treasure, and talent.

I wrestled – and still do – with the donation question, especially when a friend is making the request.  I have made huge mistakes, have had unrealistic expectations, and have learned some of the lessons the hard way.  When I was President of our family foundation, the very first thing our new Executive Director said to me was, “I am here to say “no” for you so you don’t have to,” which provided instant relief for me, and some degree of job security for her!

As one would expect, there are multiple ways to decline a contribution request.

Here are a few insights of some wise, caring, thoughtful philanthropists:

  • “I have an allocation portfolio for my charitable giving.  Whenever a friend or family member asks for a donation to something which isn’t in my portfolio, I always give a little as I want to be supportive.  Due to my funding constraints, I rarely give the full amount that is asked.  I include an explanation, such as, “You are very important to me and I respect that this cause is important to you.  I appreciate that you believe this is a worthwhile organization and I trust you. While it is not my passion, I want to be supportive of your efforts.  I have money set aside for just this reason. I cannot give you the full amount as I want to be there for others in similar situations.  Thank you for asking me to contribute.”
  • “I now say, ‘I’d love to, but I can’t.’  It has the virtue of being true, being respectful, honoring the request, and setting a good boundary. I have found that it is as much a gift to the asker — whether it be a development person, a friend, a board member — to be clear and not squishy.  This is hard.  Some of us need to please, and this helps no one, least of all ourselves.”
  • “The donation ask is the hardest for me because we all have plenty of resources.  I have sort of a baseline contribution I will make in honor of friends.  Beyond that, when asked for something that takes me off task, I’ll generally use language such as ‘We’re fully committed’ or ‘We’re stretched pretty thin’ or ‘I can’t take this on, but I wish you the best of luck.’”
  • “I always try to remember and start with the dubiously attributed Mark Twain quote: ‘If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.’”
  • “We set aside a very small proportion of funds to accommodate unexpected requests to support ‘friends and furies.’ Since we set the rules for this process, we can always bend them, but this structure makes it easier for us to decline a request using language like ‘we are committed for this year, but tell me more so we can consider this for next year…’”
  • “I have 3 categories for my philanthropy and the third category is friends and family.  This category consumes 5-10% of my overall giving.  We lay out the budget in January and track against it so I can’t give if we are fully committed.  If a really good friend asks for $10, I give $2.  I used to fret about saying no but I’ve found that, while they may be disappointed, the friendships endure if you are authentic and responsive.”

 

In his book, Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown writes, “Remember that a clear “no” can be more graceful than a vague or noncommittal “yes.” He adds, “Being vague is not the same as being graceful, and delaying the eventual “no” will only make it that much harder – and the recipient that much more resentful.”

A note to acknowledge the other side – the ask.  Given my extensive list of passions, I could easily ask my network for a donation to a different organization every day of the year.  I have vetted each nonprofit and know that they are of value to the area of need in which they operate.  When I was told “no,” I used to think “how can you possibly say no, don’t you care about ___?”  It took me a long time to recognize that my passion is MY passion and simply may not resonate with others.  Combine that with financial constraints, donation fatigue, etc. I now have more compassion and appreciation for those who decline my request.

Hopefully, I never get used to saying “no.”  Supporting the people in my life is one of my core principles.  My showing up with curiosity, authenticity, empathy, mindful intention, and gratitude needs to be consistent.  It is what I want when the roles are reversed.

I do know that I would rather hear “no” then hear nothing.  Silence is not always golden.