Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
For the children whose lives are changed through the services of the YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the many other out-of-school-time agencies in San Antonio, there is no question as to the value of these services. Their mentors, coaches, and tutors are powerful influences on their confidence and sense of well-being.
However, with federal funds for these programs jeopardized by the White House’s budget, program directors need more than anecdotes. The current version of the budget, as reported by The Washington Post, eliminates all $1.2 billion in federal funds for out-of-school-time (OST) programs.
Ryan Lugalia-Hollon is Executive Director of Excel Beyond the Bell SA (EBBSA), a coalition of OST providers that serves Bexar County students. Even before the announcement of the proposed budget cuts, Lugalia-Hollon sensed a rising anxiety among the 41 EBBSA affiliates.
“A lot of our leaders sensed that they would need to defend their work with data,” he said.
Kids involved in high-quality OST activities are healthier, do better in school, and less likely to be involved in crime. The programs give them access to help with homework, nutritious food, and productive activities that engage their interests.
For lawmakers and even for some private funders, however, altruistic outcomes are not enough. They want to see the return on investment laid out in dollars and cents. San Antonio Area Foundation CEO Dennis Noll shares EBBSA's goal of universal service, but often has to pitch that vision to donors.
"As a funder I need these numbers," Noll said at the annual EBBSA summit Wednesday at the Oblate School of Theology. "Stories don't bring funding to children who need funding. Data does."
A cost-benefit analysis conducted by Steve Nivin, Associate Professor at Economics St. Mary's University and chief economist of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, measured the economic return on investment for each dollar spent on OST services in San Antonio. The results are similar to other studies around the nation, which demonstrate a significant economic contribution by OST providers. Nivin presented the research at the summit.
Overall, for every dollar invested in these programs, $3.66 in benefits to the community is generated. This calculation is based on the assumption that the benefits described accrue to participating youth during and after 4.5 years of program involvement. Annual net benefits generated from the EBBSA collaborating members amounts to between $220 million and $420 million. Multiplied over 4.5 years that the average student is typically enrolled with an OST provider, the total conservatively approaches $1 billion.
“You’re impact billionaires,” Lugalia-Hollon told the several hundred service providers gathered at the summit.
That billion included increased incomes due to improved education outcomes, non-market benefits from education (such as improved health and fitness, more active community engagement), welfare savings from potential reduced use of welfare programs by participants later in life, reduction in crime costs, reduction in remedial education costs, decreased grade repetition (meaning quicker transition into the workforce), and child care savings. The study subtracted the cost of college from the total benefit. It also subtracted operational costs of the OST providers.
"These are very conservative numbers," Nivin said.
Of course, economic impact is not what drew most of the people gathered into their chosen profession.
“Collective impact is not the number, it’s the story behind it,” Kimberly Sama told the Rivard Report. Sama is the youth education and career services manager at Family Services Association of San Antonio Inc. She is also an EBBSA co-chair.
Noll echoed that statement in his comments at the summit. Getting the data to get the funding is crucial because, "behind every single dollar is a kid whose life has been changed," he said.
Many inspirational leaders, those who overcame hardship or rose from poverty, can point to one or two individuals who intervened in their life at a critical moment, Sama said. They talk of the teacher who believed in them, or the mentor who kept them on the path to success.
EBBSA responds to that story in two ways: First, they want every single student to have access to that champion. At the same time, no one individual should stand out in a child’s life as the lone person who believed in them.
“Every single person should be telling you that you will make it,” said Sama.
All 41 youth EBBSA providers share the goal of making “San Antonio … the top city in the country for youth … and to “ensure every young person has access to the programs they need to learn, grow, and thrive” according to the EBBSA mission statement. A estimated 55,000 students participate in these partnering programs.
Not only would EBBSA like to see that number grow, but they would like to see each OST provider equipped with effective tools, constructive words, and a working knowledge of what’s available to youth in their community. Lugalia-Hollon sees this as a systemic change to the way the city cares for its young people.
“People probably assume that we’re just bleeding hearts,” District Director of YMCA Youth Development and EBBSA co-chair Abby Nash told the Rivard Report, “But in order for us to fulfill the mission, we need strategy.”
Getting strategic thinkers into decision-making positions is a big part of the success of high-quality OST programs. A lot of times an analytical, operations-focused program director will be the only person who can translate a CEO’s ambitious vision into something attainable says Steven Guzman, communications manager at SAY Sí and EBBSA co-chair.
Data like what Nivin presented at the EBBSA summit elevates the cultural value and call for professionalism among OST providers. Demonstrated success makes the field more appealing to those looking to make a difference.
“It definitely raises the bar on what a youth development professional looks like,” Guzman said.
As the member organizations of EBBSA collaborate, they begin to share ideas and resources, behaving like parts of a whole, rather than competitors or even strangers. Nash wants to see that cooperative spirit strengthened between schools, families, and other institutions so that blame doesn’t seep into the cracks where various, hard-working institutions fail to communicate.
“Our kids need us to do better than what we’re doing [as a society],” Nash said.