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L2S: Who Serves Who?
Lead to Serve (L2S) is a non-profit organization in Tucson, Arizona that aims to create service learning opportunities for middle school and high school students. L2S is part of a national network of 36 other L2S organizations in other cities across the U.S and is affiliated with the L2S national headquarters in Oakland, California (where the first L2S was started). The mission of L2S is to engage youth in developing a positive, healthy, and safe community from the inside out. The Tucson chapter of L2S has been around for 19 years and has engaged over 2300 students in that time doing 64 projects in Tucson. These include fixing damaged playground equipment, tutoring elementary school children in spelling, leading after school activities for kids, painting over graffiti, engaging in dialogue with residents of an assisted living home, preparing food for homeless families, restoring homes for senior citizens, etc.
Participants and Staff
The participants in L2S are recruited by their school counselors and often sent as a team to work on a project. Each project has a team leader (college student from the University of Arizona) who guides the students through the pre project education, project completion, and post project reflection. The team leaders have to make a 1-year commitment to L2S and participate in a 2-week training. They then receive 3 credits of internship each semester for this role. In the past, being selected as a team leader has been quite competitive. In addition to the team leaders, L2S has 6 staff members-1 executive director (Sherry), 1 program coordinator who oversees the team leaders (Jeff), 1 program coordinator who sets up project logistics (Megan), 1 program coordinator who does outreach and partnerships with schools for participants (Eddie), 1 part-time accountant who also oversees project supplies (Rita), and 1 volunteer web designer (Sandra). Sherry directly supervises everyone on the team. The team meets weekly to discuss marketing strategies, new partnerships, project ideas, and any issues that need to be addressed. Aside from the staff, L2S has a 5-person board of directors. They are very hands off and tend to go with whatever Sherry thinks is best since she has been executive director for 12 years, longer than any staff or board member. The only thing the board does is an annual donor drive to raise money for the organization. Other than that, they meet twice a year to approve the strategic plan and budget.
Funding and Budgets
L2S receives most of its funding from local grants-through the city and county. These are used to fund specific projects, thus many of the projects the participants engage in are outlined by the grant. The other money they receive equates to about 20% of the budget. This is comprised of individual and corporate donations. This year's budget is as follows:
$304,000 Local grants
$76,000 Corporate and individual donations/sponsorships
$280,000 Staff Salaries
$16,000 Project supplies
$84,000 Operating expenses
For the past 2 years, the grants L2S has received have been for projects that may not be a great fit for middle school and high school students. For instance, although they asked for $32,000 for a mural project that would cover graffiti in the area, the grant agency awarded $28,000 for tutoring high school seniors in math, a challenging project given that the participants who would be the tutors are middle school and high school students themselves. In addition, the stress of balancing funding streams and project selection has fallen onto the already stretched staff. Two of the program coordinators, Megan and Eddie, in addition to their roles, are engaging in some service to ensure that these projects get done and the funding can come in. This is greatly frustrating the team leaders because the participants they are working with usually end up having very little to do for the project or have insignificant tasks. The university is doing its 5-year review of the team leader program to see if they should renew the partnership. Without the partnership, L2S would have to restructure entirely or potentially close its operation. Because of all of these factors, L2S is a strained place to work. Staff are stretched too thin, morale is low, and employees are being asked to cut back on their salaries and benefits just so the organization can make ends meet. The national headquarters are providing little support, so the team feels like they are on their own to keep the doors open and the program prospering. The coordinators, though, feel like this is too much to ask of them and they are not happy with Sherry's decisions to keep accepting funding for projects that the staff often needs to enact. The board supports Sherry's decisions as she has made clear to them and the staff that accepting this money ensures everyone has a job until they can figure out a more sustainable solution.