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New Door gives low-income youths a chance to join the workforce

Sun, 30 Sep 2012 16:27:00
Article by:
Julie McCoy

San Francisco-based New Door Ventures helps at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 21 find work and obtain life skills.

Some of the youth who come to New Door Ventures have dropped out of high school, committed a crime or have been involved with drugs. Others have been living in poverty, have been homeless, or they have been from foster home to foster home. New Door Ventures helps these youths turn their lives around by providing them with not only jobs but the tools they need to succeed in life.

“There is a growing problem in America with disconnected youth, which is the population we serve,” explained New Door CEO Tess Reynolds. “It’s a $6-7 trillion cost to society if we were not to do anything.”

New Door Ventures, at 3075 21st St., owns two businesses at which it provides youths with employment: Ashbury Images, which makes several hundred thousand shirts a year for nonprofits as well as businesses; and Pedal Revolution, a bicycle repair shop that is ideal for youth who want to work with their hands.

“They’re getting a lot of coaching in terms of job skills, how to get along in the workforce,” explained Ashbury Images general manager Richard Lawless. “It’s all about getting them in the spirit of the work.”

Lawless added, “We pretty much run like any other business. We create a budget on an annual basis.”

In addition to the businesses it owns, New Door Ventures has partnerships with about 30 other businesses in San Francisco that also provide the youth with employment.

“They provide the job and the supervision,” Reynolds explained. “We are the trainer and the payroll provider. We do all the casework. We do all of the HR oversight.”

Some of these other businesses include Mission Pie and the Law Offices of Triano & Byrne.

“It’s nice to give back,” commented Martin Triano, a partner in the Law Offices of Triano & Byrne, who recalled how other people took a chance on him and invested in him when he was younger.

“The staff (at New Door Ventures) is incredibly dedicated and making a difference in these people’s lives,” Triano pointed out. “It is so easy to make a difference.”

Triano further noted, “New Door has got a great program. We’ve had several young people come in and be great. A lot of it depends on, what do they have the aptitude and energy for?” Triano’s law firm needs help scanning documents and has had the youth from New Door Ventures do that. “A lot of students have been great in helping us tackle that,” he observed.

Some of the youth have shown interest and capability beyond scanning, and Triano’s law firm has allowed them more work, he observed.

Triano said that his office manager has enjoyed working with the youths. “She takes them under her wing,” he said. “She’s been there and can identify with them.”

While working, New Door Ventures youth earn the minimum wage in San Francisco, or $10.24 per hour. They also receive performance reviews. If they do well, they can get a raise or more hours, Reynolds said.

“These are all real jobs with real responsibilities as opposed to just a job shadowing program,” Reynolds noted. “Without New Door, very few of them would have a chance. They work very, very hard. We deal with the reality of where they’re at.”

Reynolds indicated that New Door Ventures has a high success rate, with 87 percent of graduates going on to their next jobs or further education or both.

Ciara Wade, program director at New Door Ventures, supervises the youth development team, which consists of 12 people. She supports the development team regarding grants and reports.  She also oversees all client services, including workshops.

“Working with young people is very rewarding,” Wade said. “Seeing young people empowered — to take control of their lives — is moving.”

“What they need more than anything is that positive adult support,” Wade added.

Wade, who has worked New Door Ventures for seven years, said: “It’s a really positive and supportive environment for employees. That makes it possible to do the work.”

Wade started off as a case manager and has worked her way up to program director. “I’ve had so many opportunities to grow professionally,” she said.

New Door Ventures generated nearly $7.8 million in 2011, according to Reynolds. The organization receives funding primarily from individuals and foundations. It also receives a small amount of money from the city. “We get very little public money compared to most nonprofits of our size,” Reynolds noted.

Reynolds, who has been CEO of New Door Ventures since 2003, has more than doubled the organization’s revenue and tripled the number of paid internships, according to its website.

“We’ve clarified our mission and strategy, and put in place a team and culture that is high-performing and highly relational at the same time,” Reynolds commented. “That’s hard to achieve, and credit goes to our entire staff and board.

“On the tangibles, we’ve had double-digit growth in both revenues and clients served for each of the past three years. New Door’s revenues in 2011 were $7.8 million, or 62 percent higher than the prior year, and we had 133 paid internships for youth or 45 percent higher than the prior year.”

In 2011, New Door Ventures launched Threshold, a campaign to support the organization’s vision of providing 2000 jobs for disconnected youth by 2020. The vision calls for investing in a larger building to serve more youths and to further improve the organization’s programming.

This past May, Edna McConnell Clark — with more than $800 million in assets and one of the top U.S. foundations focusing on youth development — selected New Door Ventures as one of 15 nonprofits nationwide to participate in its PropelNext venture. This has enabled New Door Ventures to refine its program model and take its work to the next level.

New Door also received the Bank of America Neighborhood Builder Award in November 2010. Each year, Bank of America honors two top nonprofits in each region with the Neighborhood Builder Award, which is the top award in its Neighborhood Excellence Program.

The award comes with $200,000 in cash and the chance for the CEO and an emerging leader to participate in world-class leadership development training.

New Door also received a Tipping Point Community award in November 2010. Each year, Tipping Point Community awards three local nonprofits that have made significant contributions to making poverty preventable in the Bay Area.

“All three awards are special because they are given by world-class organizations on the basis of tangible, measureable social outcomes [and not just popularity],” Reynolds explained.

Prior to joining New Door Ventures, Reynolds had been in the tech industry. She helped create the Harvard Graphics software package, the first presentation graphics program to include text, graphs and charts in one program and the precursor to Microsoft PowerPoint.

Reynolds — who was in the tech industry when it was still young — spent 10 years working for different companies and another 10 years working as an independent consultant for such companies as Adobe and HP. She was ready to make a change from products to people.

“I’m just really excited about the lives we change every day rather than creating products to buy,” she said. “I wanted to shift from building products to building people.”

The rewards of running New Door Ventures are “working with a team of great talent, creativity and compassion and commitment,” Reynolds said.

Meanwhile the challenges are: “Our youth have faced some unimaginable tough situations, and it takes a lot of hard work and trust on both sides to help them become work-ready,” Reynolds explained. “Also, every year, we have to fundraise to serve every single youth. We don’t have an endowment.”

Reynolds, who is originally from the Philippines, came to the U.S. at age 22. She had siblings already in the U.S. and had visited before. “My family was half here and half in the Philippines,” she said. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Ateneo de Manila University, and a master’s in business administration from Santa Clara University.

New Door Ventures was founded in 1981 by Michael Christensen, who came to San Francisco to help the poor and be one community with them. He purchased a house in the Panhandle area of San Francisco and he and his wife lived there and offered emergency food and shelter. When the house first opened, it was called the Oak Street House because it was on Oak Street.

The name was later changed to reflect more about what the organization does today. It opens new doors for at-risk youth by providing them with jobs and the skills they need to succeed in life.

For more information about New Door Ventures, visit www.newdoor.org, or call 415-920-9200.


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