News and goodies: Blog-related and otherwise

Happy New Year, friends and readers. I’ve been thinking lately that I really want to thank those of you who don’t know me in real life but read this blog anyway.

A few updates are in order:

1. Last summer I fell unexpectedly in love with Twitter. My closest friends remain incredulous. My husband was surprised by this. I myself would never have predicted this. But then again, for me surprise is the spice of life. Ping me if you’re on Twitter!  I find it easier to interact with readers there than on here. I tweet and FF tweets about #youthdev, #fostercare, #socent, #educ, #diversity in #highered, #gamification, #crowdfunding, #transition, #autism and #ASD… (I could go on and on.) My handle is @YsetteGuevara. What’s yours?

2. In related news, I will be managing the social media platforms of NYU’s diversity and inclusion team. (Talk about a surprise, since I *just* figured out Twitter and am not at all on FB.) I’ll be sharing more news on that when we launch.

3. There is reason behind this social media madness. My biggest goal for 2014 is to plan and launch a crowdfunding campaign for Incubate Good, the social entrepreneurship program I’m designing for my emerging leaders. It will be a tremendous challenge. I have to learn a lot in the next few months about setting a budget, mapping out a network tree, hosting events, producing a video, coming up with a communications plan… I’ll also have to work on managing the anxiety that will come up with all the exposure.

But you know what? I’m excited. I’m excited because I know that you will absolutely fall in love with my emerging leaders. All this will be for them. If you already like what you read about them here, you are definitely in for a treat, because during the campaign (if not before then) you will hear from them directly.

4. Lastly, there are a couple of guest posts in the pipeline:

The irreplaceable Steph Cowling will be continuing her role as devil’s advocate with some cautionary thoughts on young people’s fascination with entrepreneurship. See this article from HBR as a primer on the topic.

Additionally, I have a new guest blogger who is eager to write about her experiences working closely with young people in foster care as a life coach/youth development specialist.

2014 will be a great year, and I’m glad for your company on this journey.


The ethics of program design in youth development

One of the higher compliments anyone can pay me for my work is something along the lines of “I would love to take that workshop myself!” or “My high school- / college-aged kid could use that program!” or better yet, “Everyone could use a program like that.” Technically, I design programs for so-called “at-risk” youth, but all that really means is being sensitive to certain needs and understanding the institutional context of their lives. What I am actually striving to create are programs with a much wider appeal—wider because in the end they aren’t aimed at “troubled youth,” but at our shared humanity.

As human beings we all unfold in our own time, and that process is never smooth or evenly-paced. Some of us encounter great challenges very early on. This may appear to “set us back,” but only if we succumb to the bad habit of measuring ourselves against others, or—more accurately—against some kind of social norm that demands we be self-sufficient and clearly on our way to some narrow, preconceived notion of success by our mid-twenties. Another view is to approach these challenges as tests. And if we have the tools and the space to reflect on those significant life experiences, we can use them as learning opportunities and even a source of strength.

Note that this is a very individualized and forgiving view of human development, and one that can resonate throughout a lifetime if we continue to sit with it. Within this framework, I am creating a support system for young people during the critical, early years of emerging adulthood, when many of them exit care with the scantest of resources. The outcomes I shoot for are nothing less than what many people wish for their own children: personal well-being and professional fulfillment. We want to give them the very best so they can be their very best. But how can this happen if we push them through programs that are designed according to preconceived and misguided notions of their capabilities?

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“Any important change is not going to feel like a steady, inevitable march toward victory”

This is from Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, a book that had been languishing on my reading list for months, but which I finally picked up last week for my semi-secret project(!). What I love most about it is how the authors flesh out a very simple, easy-to-remember framework with loads of examples of significant changes achieved in very different contexts and at all levels: individual, organizational, and societal.

One of the most powerful lessons of Switch is that big changes are often the result of a series of tiny actions. What will resonate with anyone who works in human services—or for that matter, who has tried to make a significant change in her own life—is the caveat that change “won’t simply be an unbroken string of small wins…More typically, you take one step forward and 1.3 steps back and 2.7 steps forward and then 6 steps to the side…” Such is the non-linear trajectory of all our lives, and anyone hoping to spur behavioral change (and to track those outcomes) will need to take this into account.

First Minds On Fire advisory meeting held today!

Today my advisors and I convened in the “War Room” of AlleyNYC to work through the bones of our pilot program, Multiple Paths to Adulthood. So far the pilot is structured as a three-part program that begins with “Conversations on Adulthood,” a series of sessions that approach the topic of adulthood from various disciplinary and cultural frameworks. The objective is to expose young people to different—even conflicting—ideas of what becoming an adult means, so that they can formulate an informed and highly personal definition of adulthood in a manner that resonates within the context of their lives and communities of support.

The  questions that run through this module are: What is an adult? How do you become an adult? Are you already an adult? and How do you know? (some metacognition involved in this last question). We hope to give young people transitioning out of foster care the space to sort through their own thoughts and ideas about adulthood at a critical distance from all the messages that filter through from their families, foster care agencies, peers, and other social and cultural forces.

On a more personal note, I can’t describe what a load off my shoulders it is to have all these ideas living in other people’s minds now. I feel especially fortunate to have advisors who are fully committed to the values and principles of Minds On Fire, but who bring perspectives and experiences that complement and enrich my own.

What is your roadmap for change?

Another middle-of-the-night quick resource share: the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in collaboration with Organizational Research Services (ORS), presents this document on how to construct a theory of change that describes how you intend to create impact by building on various outcomes that ultimately lead to your organizational goal (i.e., some form of individual or social transformation). ORS has also published this handy brochure on different techniques for mapping out a theory of change, from linear logic models to more complex narrative and diagram approaches, and also how to weigh the pros and cons of each one.

Vera’s guide to becoming an evidence-based practice

Just a quick resource share for those of you doing program work in the social services: Here is the Vera Institute of Justice‘s guide to building an evidence-based practice. As part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Initiative, “Measuring Success” was written in response to grantees in the juvenile justice space who were concerned about the evaluation process. Nevertheless, the guidelines are broad enough to benefit other practitioners in related social services fields.

Walking the walk

The reading and work I’ve been doing on marketing is more interesting than I expected. It’s requiring me to take stock of my strengths, identify areas where I could use some help, and—the hardest of all—set long term goals. It’s easy for me to set goals for myself in the short-term because I’m organized and I love lists. I can look at my calendar and plot out what I’d like to accomplish in the next month, or even this coming year. But setting ten-year (or more) goals is considerably more difficult.

First of all, working outside of any institutional setting leaves me with no obvious road markers. Had I stayed in academia, I’d no doubt be working toward publishing a number of articles and books and securing tenure. Since my career change, however, I’ve had to chart an entirely new path. Skills such as “organization,” “time management,” or “forecasting,” are no doubt necessary, but they are insufficient tools for this journey. What enables us to set achievable goals ten years down the road is being able to imagine a future self that carries the weight of reality.

Unfortunately, we tend to focus exclusively on “life skills” when we try to get young people to commit some goals to paper. But what’s going to happen after they’ve plotted out their high school and college graduations? How do we encourage our youth to think about “work” as something so much larger (and more fulfilling) than a full time job? These questions do not fall into the domain of GED and job prep programs. We need programming that will complement their efforts by prodding youth to ask themselves who they want to be in this world. And by wrestling first-hand with this task for ourselves, we are better able to empathize with the challenges of young people trying to find their way.

Lessons in social entrepreneurship from Year Up’s founder

Yesterday Gerald Chertavian flew into New York City to give a very inspirational talk about how he started Year Up. He had really solid advice about filling the gaps in your knowledge by hiring a diverse team of people and being very selective when it comes to assembling a board, but all those things are a bit farther down the line for me. What occupies me now are networking and creating a sustainable business model, neither of which come naturally or easily to me, so I’m still wrestling with what Gerald had to say about all that. I see how his approach has worked out tremendously for him, but am very ambivalent about applying all of it to my life. Continue reading

Sowing the seeds of self-actualization

One way of articulating what it is that I’m trying to build into a PYA curriculum is the “seeds of self-actualization,” a term I take from “A Theory of Human Motivation” by Abraham Maslow. (Now, I have a terrible blogging habit of burying the lede, so skip down to the jump if you’re already familiar with this.) In brief, Maslow argues that human beings have a progressive hierarchy of needs, beginning with the most basic of physiological drives, moving up to concerns about safety, love/belonging, esteem, and ultimately, self-actualization. Later on, Maslow would sandwich cognitive and aesthetic needs—the pursuits of knowledge and beauty—in between esteem and self-actualization, and top off the pyramid with the search for self-transcendence, or spiritual fulfillment.


These needs are hierarchical in the sense that the higher needs only typically emerge as each preceding need is adequately satisfied. The higher needs either do not exist or recede into the background for someone who lacks food, safety, love, and esteem. If I am hungry, homeless, and unemployed, I will be preoccupied with securing stable housing and any means of income, long before I might entertain the pursuit of creative expression. And above all, I seek nourishment. Once my most basic needs are met to reasonable degrees, there emerges my thirst for understanding, for beauty, for the meaning of life. Continue reading