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What Happened at Youngstown

When the only program for kids in a low-income neighborhood shuts off its lights, what happens to those kids?

What Happened at Youngstown

Joe Mabel

YOUNGSTOWN BUILDING The main office is now dark.

What's up at Youngstown? The question started popping up in conversations across the city in July, after an e-mail announcing that the last remaining staffer at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center had been let go, his position eliminated. A pair of "turnaround specialist" consultants had been brought in, but they had no particular expertise in the arts or in antiracist youth organizing—the two pillars of Youngstown.

The building is a brick schoolhouse built in 1917, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but Youngstown was more than a building. In 1999, a decade after the school closed, the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association (DNDA) turned it into a space for youth-and-arts-focused organizations to run classes and have offices, with affordable housing for artists on the top floor. The Youngstown staffers who ran programs and cultivated relationships both with organizations and with kids did have backgrounds in arts and antiracist youth organizing. This made Youngstown more than a landlord, which was Youngstown's reason for existing in the first place. It was founded to be the cultural hub of Delridge. Delridge is what people call a tough neighborhood. It has mini-marts not grocery stores. It's not an easy place to get kids' trust. Yet kid after kid at Youngstown told me that's where they became leaders.

The place is losing money and has to get right, Tyler McKenzie told me. McKenzie is a real-estate agent (whose grandfather is Fred Astaire) and president of the board of trustees for DNDA, the company that owns Youngstown.

But it became obvious pretty quickly that the DNDA board had little idea what it lost when it suddenly canned its last on-the-scene program director, Alberto Mejia, who despite his own youth had years of experience mentoring and case-managing foster, street, and dropout youth. (He was quickly picked up to manage youth programs at EMP.)

Patty Grossman, the chief consultant now overseeing Youngstown, also viewed the situation in too-strictly financial terms. "It's actually not a wildly challenging turnaround," she said in July. "There's no less activity at Youngstown now than there ever has been, and we're focusing on getting the word out that we have these spaces for rent."

Recently, she said more rentals have been coming in. "It has been a spectacular turnaround," she said.

But that's not how the stakeholders in Youngstown see it. In September, a coalition of 112 former DNDA employees, current tenants (including the arts and youth organizations that work there every day), youth, some past DNDA board members, and people who live and work in the immediate community of Delridge signed and sent a letter to the DNDA board. Its wording was diplomatic but clear: "DNDA's ongoing challenges as a parent organization have significantly reduced the operations of the Youngstown model," the letter read.

In other words: DNDA, you don't get us and you're hurting us.

Now, three months later, the people who signed that letter haven't seen any change. "There's been really nothing," said Elizabeth Whitford, executive director of Arts Corps, the major tenant at Youngstown. Arts Corps has taken over Youngstown's after-school classes in order to keep the environment as vibrant as possible, but it's been a strain on Arts Corps, according to Whitford. "It's a huge burden on our program staff," she said. "Ultimately, [DNDA has] to own this or want this, but I'm not sure how much to invest. It feels like we have somebody offering us space, but we don't have a partner in leadership in the building. They let go the last connection to the community that people trusted, and they did not even know it. Now they just flat-out don't have those connections or that expertise."

"There was a meeting about a month ago with three board members, and I came out of it going, 'Huh?'" said Nancy Whitlock, executive director and founder of Nature Consortium, a grassroots group that connects arts and nature in forest restoration projects, classes, and the Arts in Nature Festival every year. "They say they want to work with us, they want to have transparency. I said I want to see your financials—I haven't seen them yet. They got rid of everybody who was connected to the community. It's a bunch of MAWWs in there—middle-aged white women. I'm a MAWW, too. We don't need any more of us around here. We need people who can connect."

One of the great programs at Youngstown was FEEST, the Food Education Empowerment and Sustainability Team. "We are a youth-run program out of Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, and we gather every Wednesday at 3:30 pm to kick it in the kitchen, prepare a delicious and healthy meal, and then eat all together family-style while learning about food in our communities." That description is taken from the Youngstown website and hasn't been taken down—even though FEEST left Youngstown months ago for a nearby school.

"DNDA as a convener of communities is just not working," said Roberto Ascalon, FEEST coordinator. "FEEST needs a vibrant, caring person who can build arts community, and we don't have that at Youngstown anymore, and that's why FEEST left. The board at DNDA is completely disconnected."

There's a stark difference between Youngstown as a landlord and Youngstown as a cultural center where kids are artists and co-leaders. Youngstown's former staffers would often draw in kids, suggesting they try one class or another or check out the recording studio. Kids would come in for a quick workshop then find a reason to stay for years. An Arts Corps class would lead to a Nature Consortium or Power of Hope or Youth Media Institute connection.

Tammy Do is an 18-year-old student at the Evergreen State College now, but a few years ago, when her FEEST mentor, Cristina Orbé, asked her what she wanted to do, it was the first time anyone had ever asked her that.

"I'm really sad, because the building isn't the same," Do said. "The people aren't there, and the emotions that were in the hallways aren't there anymore. There's no sense of unity and solidarity within that building now."

"I was involved with a lot of gang criminal activity before Youngstown—that place literally saved my life," said Cham Ba, 20, now in college. "I took a basic recording engineering program, and then they decided to make me a teacher for it. I think I was like 16 when they gave me that position. But I call it the golden age of Youngstown, because the hallways were just flourishing with young people trying to be active, and at this point there are barely even any Youngstown staff in there, much less young people. It's a ghost town. It feels dead."

It was "a really huge success for my life," says Fatuma Ali, 18. "The building, when I go there now, I feel like it's old."

I'm not even quoting every kid I talked to—they all said the same thing. Hollis Wong-Wear still works there every day. She's at Arts Corps. She used to work for DNDA, after having been one of those golden-age youths at Youngstown. "When I worked at DNDA, it felt like they thought what we were doing was, like, cute. Youngstown always focused on using the building as a place of social change, and that's not reflected in the larger DNDA."

One recent sunny afternoon, I made a visit to Youngstown, the historic building itself. This place was the first school in Seattle to hire an African American teacher. Its main office now is literally dark. The lights are off. The doors are locked. It's nobody's full-time job to run Youngstown Cultural Arts Center anymore. Let me add mine to the chorus of 112 voices that have already tried to say that's not good enough. Is anybody listening? recommended

 

Comments (44) RSS

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1
Organizations like these often require either a charismatic leader with a vision or a cohort of support folks to revitalize in crises like these. It really isn't something that can be forced (hence an oversupply of MAWWs). Perhaps some of the young people who benefited from Youngstown will step up and make something new and great from the ashes. Other than that, I don't know if there's a way forward.
Posted by sahara29 on December 28, 2011 at 11:46 AM · Report this
2
I had the opportunity to talk, and hang out with Alberto Mejia, he is a great friend and a brilliant leader, he was the one that introduced me to Youngstown, I fell in love with the place. So much energy,it felt like a family in there. Really sad this happened.
Posted by Gerson G on December 28, 2011 at 12:24 PM · Report this
3
Alberto was one of the many personalities who made Youngstown flourish, and it's a great tragedy and disservice to them, the city and the Delridge community that it's been allowed to wither because of organizational mismanagement.

DNDA has done great work over the years, but it seems clear that they've reached a point where they need to take a deep gut check on where their organizational strengths are, and where they should take a step back. Youngstown has had a great past, and it is entirely within the realm of possibility that it will have a great future. At this point, the ball in in the hands of DNDA's board of directors.
Posted by Citywide on December 28, 2011 at 1:44 PM · Report this
v8media 4
Well, first off, I don't think they need turnaround consultants. I know the people that ran Youngstown before Alberto, and according to them, Youngstown made money during their stay. Alberto started leading at Youngstown a couple years back and had also worked there previously, and his predecessors thought he would be a good person to take over. So, unless the numbers changed in some impressively major way before they just up and laid of all of the staff, their game plan should be to hire Alberto and a staff back on, and hope they haven't killed all of the previous momentum.

DNDA proper is losing money. Those huge parties at Youngstown? The money got siphoned out of Youngstown and into DNDA instead of helping out the community. DNDA is mismanaged and combined with that, it seems that nobody in the organization has any vision. What it comes down to is that DNDA chopped off any hope of being an organization for positive change through Youngstown, and instead turned it into an organization that rents out spaces, with no staff to even talk to or help with your event in the space. All I can figure is that DNDA somehow thought hiring the staff was unnecessary when totaling up all of the rents coming in, and didn't realize those renters were there for a reason.

I'm one of the artists living in one of the units above Youngstown. Most of the reasons I moved to the building are now gone.
Posted by v8media http://v8media.com on December 28, 2011 at 4:31 PM · Report this
5
Looks like it is not a priority to anyone but you.
Posted by lululalalulu on December 28, 2011 at 6:11 PM · Report this
6
This all sounds an awful lot like what happened at LHPAC a few years back. Perhaps it's time to take a serious look at alternatives to funding the majority of in-house programs remotely?
Posted by JLG77 on December 28, 2011 at 6:19 PM · Report this
7
DNDA...Please let go of Youngstown. Just please give it back to the people.
Posted by Massiah on December 28, 2011 at 6:50 PM · Report this
8
A goodly number of the criticisms in the article are valid; but many are incorrect.

Youngstown is no longer in danger of closing; and so will be able to resume a focus on mission. During this financial turn around I have not emphasized focus on mission, although I DO emphasize to all, including Jen, the author of this article, that the only reason to undertake a financial turnaround is to return to mission.

DNDA and Youngstown were almost overwhelmed by a host of external issues and internal mistakes.

What has been spectacular about DNDA-Youngstown’s return to financial equilibrium, if not exactly health, is that a large number of people and companies needed to buy into a plan for its survival. What they were really buying into was the reason for DNDA-Youngstown’s survival, its mission. The majority of those required to agree have been gracious and supportive.

The boat is no longer being swamped; so more Delridge kids in the future will be able to grab its lifelines. And that is also pretty spectacular. A steely focus on righting the boat is not the same as losing your way.

Patty Grossman, Acting Director, DNDA-Youngstown
Posted by Patty Grossman on December 28, 2011 at 11:50 PM · Report this
9

A goodly number of the criticisms in the article are valid; but many are incorrect.

Youngstown is no longer in danger of closing; and so will be able to resume a focus on mission. During this financial turn around I have not emphasized focus on mission, although I DO emphasize to all, including Jen, the author of this article, that the only reason to undertake a financial turnaround is to return to mission.

DNDA and Youngstown were almost overwhelmed by a host of external issues and internal mistakes.

What has been spectacular about DNDA-Youngstown’s return to financial equilibrium, if not exactly health, is that a large number of people and companies needed to buy into a plan for its survival. What they were really buying into was the reason for DNDA-Youngstown’s survival, its mission. The majority of those required to agree have been gracious and supportive.

The boat is no longer being swamped; so more Delridge kids in the future will be able to grab its lifelines. And that is also pretty spectacular. A steely focus on righting the boat is not the same as losing your way.

Patty Grossman, Acting Director, DNDA-Youngstown
Posted by Patty Grossman on December 28, 2011 at 11:53 PM · Report this
ridovem 10
@Patty, perhaps you could be more specific (&/or less obtuse). Now, "..a large number of people and companies needed to buy into a plan for its survival.." means... what? Major donors dropped out? DNDA was a victim of the Recession? What?
And "..What they were really buying into was the reason for DNDA-Youngstown’s survival, its mission." What IS its "Mission"? What WAS its "Mission"? Did that change? Is it about the money, now?.. & not the clientele?
AND, "..The majority of those required to agree have been gracious and supportive.." means WHAT, exactly? Agree to What? its "Mission"? Some MUST agree (and some don't have to)?
Please... you're a Director. Just speak simply... honestly. We're STILL waiting... and listening... and, hopeful. ^..^
Posted by ridovem http://www.myspace.com/herb_robert on December 29, 2011 at 1:06 AM · Report this
11
I live very close to Youngstown, sang there, attended events there, loved it there.
Patty Grossman, I'd like to know some of the above answers posted by ridovem. They are good ones.
Please speak to your community.
sincerely,
Janna Wachter
mezzo soprano and performance artist
Posted by Janna Wachter on December 29, 2011 at 8:52 AM · Report this
12
Have to agree with ridovem....Ms. Grossman, your response was extremely vague and non specific; it actually gave me the impression that you actually are out of touch. You certainly don't seem particularly transparent.

I don't have a horse in this issue, but I can certainly see a disconnect going on here.
Posted by gwangung on December 29, 2011 at 8:54 AM · Report this
13
I work at Youngstown and I have to say that Jen Graves hit the nail on the head with this article. The question about whether anyone is listening should be directed to the DNDA board of directors. The handwriting was on the wall a couple of years ago and many good people worked hard to raise the problems to the attention of the board to no avail. The members appear to be spectacularly disconnected from the mission of Youngstown and should be held directly responsible for the financial mismanagement that led to the dissolution of vital programming. Youngstown is still a vital asset to the community and the problems can be solved, but probably not by the board that let them happen in the first place. At the very least, tenants should have a representative on the board. Ideally, the board would revitalize its membership with people connected to the community and the mission. Steely eyed resolve to right the boat doesn't matter if there is no one on board who can navigate.
Posted by Seattle83 on December 29, 2011 at 10:58 AM · Report this
14
Does someone have a link to an online MAWW to english translator? In trying to understand what Patty Grossman posted I was forced to use the Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary. http://www.theofficelife.com/business-ja…
It is a useful tool for understanding people who, because of the deficits in their education and personal lives, cannot or chose not to say what they really mean.

I found many of the words and phrases used by Patty Grossman in the Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary, but still can't decode what she really means. I suspect it is something similar to that famous and inspiring quote from our great Vietnam adventure. "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it"; the words live on, an ever present reminder that it takes more than buzzwords and good intentions to get results. Or maybe the example illustrates that official statements sometimes tell the truth by accident.

Another reminder from the Vietnam adventure, is that just because those in charge are saying things are going well and according to plan, doesn't make it so. Their idea of what the plan is, and what success looks like, may not be shared by those on the receiving end. The possibility that the leaders are mistaken in their analysis, and clueless as to reality, should never be discounted.

Posted by bell on December 29, 2011 at 10:58 AM · Report this
15
Thanks, Bell -- you keep using your fantastic powers of comedy so I can subsidize your existence. I clearly see what Grossman means -- she means that yes, it takes money to pay staff, keep the lights on, etc. and if the organization was mismanaged, it is now clearly not mismanaged and they'll start from the top down hiring people who'll manage the place in such a way that it will stay afloat. Duh.
Posted by ha-ha-ha on December 29, 2011 at 11:30 AM · Report this
16
As a long time former employee of both Youngstown and one of its tenant youth organizations, I'd like to also affirm that Jen's analysis is on point. DNDA has done a great disservice to the community in driving away talented Youngstown leadership, including Alberto, Randy Engstrom, and a host of youth leaders and teaching artists.

One thing that's important to understand is that DNDA is larger than Youngstown. It's a low-income housing provider that used to do amazing work under its founding director, Paul Fischburg. Unfortuately, since Paul left, DNDA has been undermined by poor financial decisions, mismanagement, a lack of foresight about the housing bubble, and a lack of board leadership. As DNDA tanked, Youngstown flourished in a semi-autonomous state, bringing in grant money, partnering with artists and youth to do really visionary antiracist projects, and reaching a point where it was financially self-sufficient and youth governed. Really beautiful stuff.

Any take on Youngstown that claims it was losing money is an accounting trick, charging absurd amounts of bloated DNDA overhead and financial losses to a Youngstown financial structure that operated largely independently. DNDA has been dishonest in its recent financial dealings, misappropriated arts and youth targeted grant money, operating with no transparency, and looking to turn a financially self-sufficient community resource into cash cow to cover poor financial decisions outside the building.

A lot of folks in the community, including former employees of DNDA, Youngstown, and Youngstown's tenant organizations, are encouraging DNDA to do the ethical thing and let go of Youngstown. The leadership, financial support, and community support exists for Youngstown to operate as an independent organization. That may mean some restructuring for DNDA and a return to financial transparency and community accountability for them, but they owe that to the neighborhood.

More...
Posted by Mickie McMushie on December 29, 2011 at 1:05 PM · Report this
17


"and if the organization was mismanaged, it is now clearly not mismanaged and they'll start from the top down hiring people who'll manage the place in such a way that it will stay afloat. Duh. "

"Start from the top down hiring people in such a way"... eh? That wasn't how this read. http://westseattleblog.com/2011/07/leade…

"The Board of Directors of Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association delivered a message to its supporters on Friday announcing a change in its staffing and a refocusing of its organizational priorities, within its existing mission.

The board of directors has retained Jan Glick & Associates in an interim Executive capacity effective July 5. Jan Glick will serve as Executive Director, with associate Patty Grossman serving as interim Deputy Director. A nationally recognized nonprofit leader and consultant, Glick has devoted more than 25 years to refining a model approach to facilitate performance improvement for nonprofits and government agencies. Glick has worked with DNDA on a range of projects over ten years. His services to DNDA have included business plan development, executive search, and executive and board coaching."

I guess it takes an insider consultant to know what's wrong. Was something wrong with the business plan?

I wonder what the DNDA 990s look like?

Maybe someone from DNDA will expand on this statement posted here:

"DNDA and Youngstown were almost overwhelmed by a host of external issues and internal mistakes."

Because if that was what actually happened it should be evident in the 990 filings.
Posted by bell on December 29, 2011 at 1:45 PM · Report this
Captain Wiggette 18
Ms. Grossman: Please try to be more vague.

Posted by Captain Wiggette on December 29, 2011 at 2:09 PM · Report this
19
Lots of great responses. I think Mickie McMushie wrote more of what I had expected from the article itself. One correction I would make from the article is that DNDA is considered a nonprofit. I think just being real about what happened would greatly benefit DNDA. Asking the question about what success looks like is also important. The stakeholders in Youngstown are mostly the Community whom were not consulted when the Ship sank. Creating institutional space for more community involvement would help the DNDA as it reaches equilibrium, which I wouldn't think would be the only marker for success. DNDA had a large staff in the past with some positions that seemed extraneous. I think there were some real Accounting/Mgt. issues the Board failed to deal with. Seems like Youngstown Cultural Center is off managements radar and all that's left is rentals and people that say they engage the community.
Posted by yourneighbor on December 29, 2011 at 2:49 PM · Report this
20
Here's the most recent 990 I could find online - from 2009.
http://207.153.189.83/EINS/911741016/911…
Posted by Comment Registration Sucks on December 29, 2011 at 3:13 PM · Report this
21
Free Youngstown!
Posted by floridian on December 29, 2011 at 3:47 PM · Report this
22
As a neighbor and a member of two local CDC's, it seems like this article could be written about most organizations. I've been to Youngstown recently and to say that it's a ghost town or is dead or even allude to that is really incorrect. There has been a more diverse crowd there and the community events in the last quarter were absolutely fabulous. You can't even begin to compare Youngstown then and now. If we want to see the continued success of Youngstown, stop dogging the attempt of the current management to "right the ship" and make Youngstown a viable, financially stable community orgaization for years to come. Let's all dig deep and offer our continued support.
--Artist for Life--
Posted by Native Artist on December 29, 2011 at 4:23 PM · Report this
23
Why are Randy Engtrom and Jordan not quoted in this article, they are big fish in the city scene now but this is there baby.
Posted by Firefirefire on December 29, 2011 at 4:46 PM · Report this
TheloniousPunk 24
Ms. Grossman, as a former employee of Youngstown during it's heyday, I find your boat analogy interesting.
Extending the metaphor, we find that the experienced captain and all others who had the map were thrown overboard.
This *entire* conversation was happening 2 years ago, but the director of DNDA at the time and the board did not listen. Now, here we are, and the people who sunk the ship are the only ones left steering it.
Posted by TheloniousPunk on December 29, 2011 at 4:57 PM · Report this
25
I work at at public art-focused high school in White Center. A lot of our students participated in programs at Youngstown that we didn't have the budget or expertise to support, and many students were referred there by teachers to get mentoring for their senior projects (a graduation requirement that suffers constantly from the lack of reliable mentors knowledgable about working with teens). Many of these students have continued to pursue careers in the interests that were first nurtured at Youngstown. As our school suffers more and more from budget cuts and pressures from above to dedicate more time and money to math and literacy test scores, a group of people dedicated to youth-driven arts programs free of those pressures is even more essential. I am sad to see that the momentum behind this project has been replaced by a more piece-meal approach...
Posted by Ms. G on December 29, 2011 at 7:35 PM · Report this
26
Thank you, Jen, for another well written article. Why is it that so fucking inexcusably often the arts suffer? I hope Youngstown can re-open to its full thriving capacity despite the disconnected board of directors who ran it into the ground. All the best.
Posted by auntie grizelda on December 29, 2011 at 10:24 PM · Report this
27
As an artist/resident here (and a gray haired one at that), I agree with thecomments of V8 Media and M. McMushie. I was told the exact stuff from former staff here. No one has been able to do the job Paul Fischberg did.
Randy Engstrom and his young staff were brilliant. I could see maybe cutting back a bit on paid staff, but DNDA dumped it all.
Altho the MAWWS are doing the best job they can under the circumstances, the circumstances are wrong. They are not young or vibrant, nor do they have a clue what is going on with youth culture.
Sure there has been some cool stuff going on here, but mainly from existing tenants and renters. I do think that Youngstown should be untethered from DNDA. I also think the financial records of Youngstown and DNDA should be made public.
Posted by goldenageofdinosaurs http://www.reneedemartinphotographyanddesign.com on December 31, 2011 at 3:13 PM · Report this
28
The problem is with those folks who are currently running Youngstown, they are running it based on the corporate model of greed. DNDA management is unresponsive to any problems or concerns of the tenants. Youngstown is a problem waiting to happen. Under the current management there is no security, the building is left unlocked and unattended for hours at a time. There have been fights, OD's, and other problems that are never reported to the board. The DNDA board has no idea what really goes on over here after hours. With out a staff who cares about the community Youngstown is just an accident and lawsuit waiting to happen.
Posted by artistseattle on January 2, 2012 at 3:06 PM · Report this
29
It's sad to see an attack on those trying hard to keep Youngstown doors open. If REngstrom wanted this place to thrive, why did he quit? If AMejia wanted this place to thrive, why was occupancy down below 35% under his leadership? If the coalition of 112 wanted this place to thrive, why did they not offer a viable plan to right the ship? It's easy to lob bombs from the sidelines but unless you're willing to roll up your sleaves and put in the hard work like the current staff which has moved mountains to keep the place alive. Artistseattle, you have no idea what you're talking about saying, "based on the corporate model of greed". Get an education.
--Artist for Life--
Posted by Native Artist on January 2, 2012 at 6:54 PM · Report this
30
The institutions built by the past work of DNDA including low income housing sites, the West Seattle Food Bank & Delridge Library, the restoration of Longfellow Creek, and Youngstown are vital to the Delridge community. I am so grateful to have been a part of the creative and resilient communities inside and around Youngstown Cultural Arts Center.

What is unclear and warrants serious community weigh-in, is whether DNDA, now reduced to a consultant/interim Director, 2 overworked employees (whom I respect), and an understaffed board - should remain the steward of these vital neighborhood resources, including Youngstown.

The truth is that DNDA has experienced a steady decline in fiscal and executive leadership since the departure of the founding director in 2007. Glaring mismanagement examples include a turnover of 5 finance directors and more than 3 development directors in the span of 4 years. DNDA largely left Youngstown to its own devices upon opening it's doors in 2006. In that time Youngstown's leadership developed a nationally recognized, steady and accessible rental revenue model, and innovative youth arts and food justice programs.

DNDA's involvement in these successful Youngstown projects as the parent organization was peripheral at best and negligent in many respects. DNDA is now unsuccessfully trying to hinge a "turnaround" on Youngstown's rental revenue and past accomplishments in community engagement and as a vibrant multi-arts space.

A clear vision, mission, strategy for the once innovative DNDA has yet to be articulated. The implications of the current hurry up and wait, approach stretch beyond Youngstown into DNDA's low income housing communities whose connection to DNDA deteriorates like the unaddressed repairs to their homes. With all due respect, I am not certain how Patty gauges DNDA, financially or otherwise, as better off at present.

In the years & months leading up to the layoffs of most Youngstown and DNDA staff in April 2011,management level staff made dozens of verbal and written proposals to the board and executive director to move toward organizational stability with little receptivity to their ground level experience. In August 2011 strategic Patty's predecessor and colleague Jan Glick sent a clear message to me about the value of my experience and contributions to DNDA when I was laid off via phone the day after returning from a personal leave - without a single phone call, email or conversation during the months prior when these consultants were arranging the terms of their contracts with the DNDA board and Derek Bernie, DNDA's Exec.Director since 2007. Patty subsequently requested I come in and explain the FEEST program to her on the day I picked up last paycheck. Finally, my four years of work were reduced to a one-line notice of my layoff (along with the development manager) sent in a DNDA board listerv message from Jan, which he failed to remove me from. These are actions of self-proclaimed "leadership experts". Needless to say, I learned an immense lesson in organizational power dynamics in my final days as the lone staff member at Youngstown and as an employee of DNDA.

Patty's comments key into not only a fundamental disconnect between board and staff as to the mission of Youngstown, but a shaky survival for survival's sake mentality endemic to the non-profit sector. DNDA's roots lay in the strategic involvement and input of the Delridge community. My personal feelings and experiences aside, it's time that DNDA convenes the voices of the neighborhood to guide the future of Youngstown and DNDA - and follows the wisdom that emerges- even if that means calling it a day and seeking new leaders.

In community and appreciation for all those who build it,

Alberto Mejia II, MPA
More...
Posted by Alberto206 on January 2, 2012 at 7:30 PM · Report this
31
please see the typo paragraph 6 line 4: remove"strategic" before Patty. Should just read Patty. Apologies.

-Alberto
Posted by Alberto206 on January 2, 2012 at 7:35 PM · Report this
32
Hi everyone: I'm back from vacation today; sorry about the radio silence.

I'd like to share with everyone that I sat on this story for several months, hoping there would be progress behind the scenes. I checked in with the players repeatedly. I also requested a financial document from the consultancy where Patty Grossman works, which reportedly was written a couple of years ago and does not describe Youngstown as insolvent but rather encourages the possibility of Youngstown becoming independent of DNDA. The report was promised to me but never delivered.

This story is not a hit piece, it's a cry for help. Youngstown really does need new leadership now. After hearing all these voices, I hope that becomes clear.
Posted by Jen Graves on January 3, 2012 at 11:43 AM · Report this
33
Dear Ms. Grossman: it's not often that one proves the point of a critical overview so blatantly. Defensive, obtuse, blurbish language has garnered you less than zero in this, and proven the many fair questions in the article. You've got a willing audience, as Graves points out many times, please take advantage of the situation and be forthcoming...not simply defensive.
Posted by wseacat on January 3, 2012 at 12:08 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 34
I suspect that the challenges facing Youngstown can be shared by all involved. The Board, tenants, "at risk youth", teachers, DNDA, staff, him, her, them, they.

To suggest the leadership had no "vision" is just corporate speak. Everyone has vision, but not everyone gets the support they need to see that vision become reality. Or worse there are those actively working against a vision they don't agree with (see current US congress for details and examples).
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on January 3, 2012 at 2:51 PM · Report this
35
That whole block needs an overhaul. I hear that Southwest Family Services is homophobic place that is supposed to be "safe for kids"
Posted by wsnative on January 3, 2012 at 3:43 PM · Report this
knobtheunicorn 36
Hey, that's Cooper! My great grandpa(when it was originaly called Youngstown) down to my cousin and my older brother went there before it closed. Pigeon Hill represent!
I really hope this place pulls through. It would have been a godsend for me if it'd been around in the late 90's. A very heartfelt goodluck!
Posted by knobtheunicorn on January 3, 2012 at 5:21 PM · Report this
37
I just want to add that Youngstown is not "only" owned by DNDA. It was built as part of a low-income housing tax credit partnership, and has a majority owner that bought these credits (I believe it is NEF, Inc. a nonprofit tax credit fund). DNDA should be thought of as the "steward" and "manager" of this building until it exits its tax credit partnership, which happens 15 years after the building renovation is completed. If Youngstown was finished in 2005, that would be 2020. At that point DNDA should have the "Right of First Refusal" to take ownership 100% of Youngstown. I bring this up because DNDA needs to be accountable not only to the community first and foremost, but also to all of its investment partners. These assets represent millions of dollars of investment in the Delridge community, and are the number one reason DNDA needs to take care of them - you cannot foster mission IN buildings if you don't actually steward the buildings themselves. I am not saying one is more important than the other but, rather, that these actions go hand in hand. I read in the WSB not long ago that Patty G said that DNDA "would go away" if the community wanted it to. I felt that this was truly irresponsible, as they have made promises to both the neighborhood and to building partners and investors, and simply cannot "go away". At the least they need to formulate a transition plan for these entities to be transferred to a more stable nonprofit. But at the end of the day, this is truly sad for the Delridge community, because Youngstown represented local control and vision.

On a side note, why has the West Seattle Blog not been covering this? Shame on them!
Posted by concerned123 on January 3, 2012 at 5:22 PM · Report this
scary tyler moore 38
oh, really @35? do tell, please.
Posted by scary tyler moore http://pushymcshove.blogspot.com/ on January 3, 2012 at 9:22 PM · Report this
39
My personal opinion of the DNDA is it’s a private association that leaches government funds in the name of public development and health to purchase public real estate and establish revenue raking “Affordable Housing” complexes, which gives them nothing but pure profit with exclusion to building maintenance, and faculty expense, being that they only invested government and donated funds, and have no personal financial stake. They purchased Youngstown through a 400,000 dollars in grant fund from the office of housing, and the number of donations was no listed, see http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cms/groups/pa…. It doesn't surprise me that Youngstown programs would be the first thing they let go when they confront financial troubles. Its leading board member is a broker from windermere real estate company, and its treasurer is works in real estate for PSE. Not to mention that most of youngstown's space (about 75%) is used as affordable housing, and the DNDA continues to pose its focus on Arts, and education, but suddenly now that is a deterrent from their mission. If you disagree i'd like to hear your response.
Posted by Superwolf on January 4, 2012 at 8:52 PM · Report this
40
My personal opinion of the DNDA is it’s a private association that leaches government funds in the name of public development and health to purchase public real estate and establish revenue raking “Affordable Housing” complexes, which gives them nothing but pure profit with exclusion to building maintenance, and faculty expense, being that they only invested government and donated funds, and have no personal financial stake. They purchased Youngstown through a 400,000 dollars in grant fund from the office of housing, and the number of donations was no listed, see http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cms/groups/pa…. It doesn't surprise me that Youngstown programs would be the first thing they let go when they confront financial troubles. Its leading board member is a broker from windermere real estate company, and its treasurer is works in real estate for PSE. Not to mention that most of youngstown's space (about 75%) is used as affordable housing, and the DNDA continues to pose its focus on Arts, and education, but suddenly now that is a deterrent from their mission. If you disagree i'd like to hear your response.
Posted by Superwolf on January 4, 2012 at 8:55 PM · Report this
41
Youngstown needs to be cut loose to try and stand on its own. DNDA served a mission, but ought to have folded up shop a few years back and turned all of its housing projects over to Capitol Hill Housing. It is not to late to make both of these things happen.
Posted by Delridge Res on January 5, 2012 at 8:49 AM · Report this
WESTsEAnative 42
@ # 38
My friend works for the city and another is involved with another agency like that one, and what I know is that several people left after an employee beat up another employee while calling him a fag. The president, or director of the place, found out and fired the the gay man. There was more to it that I don't know exactly, but there was a van, some kids from the youth center, some employees and alcohol, a fight and fag calling. It was ignored by the media, I think. If it happened at a private school, people would care... But now everytime I drive down Delridge and see the building with the field I think, anti -gay youth center -- great. Place where the victim gets shit canned for being gay, awesome. Maybe the Slog knows more? ANyone else know more? Jen?
Posted by WESTsEAnative on January 5, 2012 at 3:35 PM · Report this
43
@ #42 - The Director of Southwest Youth and Family Services lives in friggin' Redmond:(
Regardless of family name and credentials, it is really disturbing that someone like he/she who lives out in the burbs is in charge of operating SWYFS.
Posted by Delridge Res on January 8, 2012 at 7:12 PM · Report this
44
The North Delridge Neighborhood Council on DNDA/Youngstown, incluidng an excerpt from the stakeholder letter written to the DNDA board:

http://www.ndnc.org/2011/12/30/an-open-l…
Posted by Alberto206 on January 16, 2012 at 10:19 AM · Report this

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