Thursday, November 19, 2009


The audio below is a voice mail thank you from a Breakthrough Fresh Market participant who had no food in the house. This is why we do what we do.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Telling a story with sand art

This is an amazing video of Kseniya Simonova, a Ukrainian artist, portraying Germany’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine during WWII through sand art. Absolutely amazing!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Harlem Children's Zone Conference

This week, Bill Curry (Breakthrough's COO) and I traveled to NYC to attend a conference put on by the Harlem Children's Zone. The HCZ came to our attention during Obama's campaign when he heralded it as an example of how organizations should be approaching community transformation. Basically they have created a pipeline of best practice programs that follow children from before birth through college. They start with what they call Baby College, a program for expectant parents, through Harlem Gems, their early childhood education program and into Promise Academy, their school. Their goal is to make sure all of their students go on to college. They hire one staff member for every 20 students they help place in college to ensure that the students make it through college to graduation.

The idea is to discover what works and bring it to scale. Obama wants to locate 20 organizations that will replicate the HCZ approach in what he has called "Promise Neighborhoods" throughout the country. Their approach is strikingly similar to what we are trying to do at Breakthrough. We went to the conference because we want to learn from what they are doing.

Key takeaways for me were the emphasis on measuring impact, the high expectations they place on their staff, and the combination of passion and excellence that marks everything they do. The people in our community deserve our best and I came back with more resolve than ever to continue to grow Breakthrough in excellence and bring it to scale until it becomes the norm in our community for children to go to college and return to the community.

I think Breakthrough has an important contribution to the Promise Neighborhood conversation in that on top of creating this pipeline, which Breakthrough is already doing on a micro level through our preschool and after school programs, we have introduced a model for relationships. I think this is missing at the HCZ or it is happening informally. Here is a link to the Breakthrough video in which Bill Curry discusses the Network Model. Beyond building skills, Breakthrough connects people to opportunity through the creation of intentional supportive relationships that link people to schools, jobs and other opportunities.

1,400 people attended the conference which was sold out with a waiting list of 400, many of whom came anyway and joined in without registering. It was inspiring to be around so many bright people who are passionate about finding solutions to the demise of impoverished urban communities. I returned with a renewed sense of urgency to do all that I can to impact our community.

Precious, the movie

Last weekend I went with a group of friends to see the movie, Precious. It's very raw, mostly due to language and the image of Precious being so horribly abused by her parents. When things get real ugly Precious switches into a fantasy world which saves us from having to watch. It is deeply moving. By the end I wanted to go out and start alternative schools and half way houses for people like Precious.

When she tries to escape her abusive situation she goes to a church. The choir is inside practicing but the doors are locked. She goes to her teacher instead. It is a sad commentary on the church, which I don't know is really accurate (in my experience it is mostly church-going people who are running caring ministries), but it is a real challenge for us in the church to step up our game in caring for hurting people.

The movie is a great discussion starter. Precious needs a lot of help, a support network, and she will need it for a long time. As in the film I find it amazing what a little kindness means to people who have lived with so much cruelty. May we all learn to be better lovers. And yes, I agree with the reviewers, Mo'Nique deserves an Oscar for this one!