Wednesday, April 20, 2011

From Garages to Pasta Factories

Recently, I was lucky enough to hear Alan C. Lowe of the new Dallas-based George W. Bush Library speak.  Alan was a great speaker and it was so interesting to hear about his journey.  He has worked in starting up many of the Presidential Libraries across the country.
The Bush Library papers and other items are currently housed in a storage space out in Lewisville and will make their way to SMU in the next couple of years.  Alan raved about how nice the Lewisville facility was in comparison to some of the other libraries he had helped start up.  He told us that the Reagan Library started in a pasta factory and the other Bush library in College Station began in a combo chinese restaurant and bowling alley.  Of course we all roared when he told us that he found President Clinton a used car dealership!
Anyway, this got me thinking about how so many charities get started and where they began.  I asked some of the smartest women I know – my friends in my Leaders Circle.  We are all CEO’s of non-profit agencies in Dallas and most of us have been meeting almost monthly for more than 8 years through the Center for Non-Profit Management’s program.
Here is what they said:
Tanya McDonald of the Dallas AfterSchool Network:
DASN began in Janet’s living room.  That's where we had our first meeting of afterschool providers.  After the organization was officially launched, Janet, Terri, and I were the three full-time volunteers and we worked from our respective homes for about a year.  We didn't even have a DASN phone # so people would call for DASN and they'd dial our homes.  That was weird when a child or spouse would answer.  After a year we were invited to share space at a Comerica Bank with another charity.  It was free and that was great, but it was just one big room for two different agencies.  Definitely a little odd.   Needless to say, our current home is simply incredible.  
Linda L. Schoelkopf of Junior Achievement of Dallas, Inc.:
I’m not sure how we started here in Dallas…but I do know that nationally we were founded by the same men (yes, men) who started 4-H, who were worried about those farm kids coming to the city without knowing how the “real world” worked – in a manufacturing plant…
Thea Temple of The Writer’s Garret:
We began on Jack and my living room floor. It was prior to Windows on computers or jpegs or any of that, so when we made flyers, we cut stuff out from magazines and pasted them on and xeroxed them; we also got a stamp that had movable type for our return address, checks going to the bank, etc. We met weekly for a critique group, then started an outreach program for seniors in elderly living homes, visited schools trying to get a writers-in-the-schools program going, and then finally partnered with the MAC to co-sponsor a reading series (they had the $$, and we had the expertise). Jack was so connected to the literary world in Dallas that it was easy to get writers involved with our programs and organization, but hard to get anyone connected with wealth or corporations interested. We've made a lot of headway since then, of course, but not nearly enough!

And Dolores Sosa Green of Trinity River Mission sent me this:
As promised, attached is a picture of the little house where TRM first began. Although it looks like its ready to fall apart, it definitely held many kids and their families together and inspired them to dream big.

How great is that?
Our other Leader’s Circle Member, Harriet Boorhem of Promise House, Inc., must have been too busy helping teens to report back, but I know that she – and every other founder or CEO – has a story of how and why their agency began.
Community Partners of Dallas was started 22 years ago by some women who wanted to help abused and neglected children.  They were former Junior League of Dallas’ members, so they knew they needed to do a lot of research to figure out the best way to help the kids.  These remarkable women decided that the best way to help the kids was through the caseworkers of Child Protective Services and an idea was born – and that idea has helped more than 100,000 children, just through our Rainbow Room program alone.  But back in the beginning our founders had no place to store the clothes, and shoes, and hygiene products that the kids needed.  The garages and trunks of cars all over town were full of stuff for our kids.  Finally, the State of Texas saw how much these volunteers were doing to help the kids, as well as their employees (the caseworkers), and gave our founders a small bit of space in the CPS building.  The Container Store came to the rescue with shelving and Junior League of Dallas’ Provisional Members painted a rainbow on the wall – that’s how the name of our largest program, The Rainbow Room, was found!
I can go on and on about the evolution of CPD – lots of moves, lots of storage units, lots of donors allowing us to use donated space for storage – but it would be too much to write today.
 Just know that if you are a small agency now, you will have growing pains.  You will end up storing stuff in your garage.  You will share office space with boxes of stuffed animals.  But it is worth it.
And thanks to The Meadows Foundation, CPD is not in the market for a used car dealership.  Yet.

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