Dr. Maureen Fonseca, CEO of the Woodside-based Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation (SASF), has taken up this unenviable task.
Leading the organization since last September, Fonseca has grappled with issues of funding sustainability, program expansion and commitment to mentorship for both staff and students.
“SASF provides a support system to give kids what they need,” Fonseca said. “We are looking at the whole child, we can give them the edge they need.”
SASF currently serves 25,000 children at 110 schools annually, including its summer programs. They have roughly 200 full-time staff members, as well as part-time staff who help with programming.
Part of their success, Fonseca said, comes from the type of people they recruit. SASF tends to hire people from the community and offer them opportunities to grow within the organization. Some part-time staff eventually become site directors, she said.
“We’re looking for people who have real heart, who are looking to make a real difference,” she said. “We help develop them, but they have to care about kids. They have to understand this is a bigger mission.”
Fonseca alluded to the organization’s “strategic plan,” which focuses heavily on mentorship. She believes in an “upside-down pyramid” model that puts employees as a main priority.
But Fonseca said the organization is also focused on the students they serve. While the organization provides a lot of programming for health, wellness and artistic expression, it’s also focused on academics, she said.
“We give kids a chance to discover their potential,” she said. “Our kids are bright. Often, they just need more time.”
SASF is ramping up the variety of activities and programs it offers students, who face a variety of challenges. Just in the next few weeks, the nonprofit will be hosting a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Fair at York College, a chess tournament, a performing arts showcase, soccer tournaments and middle school family feast.
In the summer, Fonseca said, youth programs are still running because they offer engaging activities for many students who would other just be at home. SASF serves 112 sites and some 9,000 children in the summer.
They’re now working on a middle school college access program that brings 7th graders on college tours. On June 3 and June 10, SASF will partner with the Department of Education and CUNY colleges on workshops, conferences and other events. Fonseca said she expects 1,500 participants, 300 from each borough.
“We give them tools to take the next step,” she said. “They build up confidence.”
On top of programming, Fonseca said she’s working on improving the organization’s development capacity. Most of their budget comes from public sources, including city, state and federal funding.
SASF received nearly $37 million in public funding in 2016, including $25.5 million from the city Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD). Just three years ago, their public funding was only at $20 million.
In the same period, their private funding has increased from $572,000 in 2014 to $764,000 in 2016.
Fonseca, who has a deep background in education and management, said she wants to diversify funding streams and build an “endowment of sustainability.” That includes getting private funding from corporations, foundations and individuals.
“You always have to be ahead of the curve,” she said.
Moving forward, Fonseca said she wants to “think deeper and ahead” to find programs that will benefit local youth and communities. Once the organization has diverse and secure funding streams, she wants SASF to serve more schools and students.
“Beyond the mission of giving our kids these great experiences and passions, I want to be able to target different levels of students,” she said.
For example, many talented students at the top of their class often become bored in school. A core curriculum is created to ensure all kids are at grade level, but if a students is already bright, they tend to get distracted and sometime even get into trouble.
While there are some programs out there that already challenge those gifted students, Fonseca said she’s interested in creating a pilot program for her students.
Another idea is a program that helps students with social and emotional learning. This type of program would challenge kids to ask what makes a good citizen and a good leader.
Fonseca said she would like to start small, track metrics and data, have students self-evaluate, and then think about how to expand the program.
“That’s an interesting and fun idea that I think the time has come,” she said. “I think it can be a game-changer for us.”