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Change for Kids:
Working With Other Nonprofits
To Make a Difference

Share In 1996, a group of friends decided to make a difference by raising money to buy school supplies for kindergarten teachers at four New York City schools. Three fund-raising events later, other individuals and nonprofit organizations interested in making a difference joined the effort. Included: A description of how nonprofit organizations can work together.

In 1994, Ted Madara and a group of friends met after work at a New York City restaurant for dinner and drinks. They struck up a conversation with a group of teachers at an adjacent table. One of those teachers was a new kindergarten teacher working at a New York City public school. She commented about the $250 yearly allocation she received, which is supposed to pay for an entire year of basic school supplies for her students, including pencils, papers, and crayons.

That, the group of friends figured out, was equivalent to about $12 per student -- or what it would cost them to buy a few beers that evening!

"You don't need to be a real whiz to figure out that our change [from the restaurant tab] could pay for supplies for those kids," Madara said. "We just said that something had to be done."

So they did it.

Madara and his friends established Change for Kids (CFK), a nonprofit organization, in 1996. Since then, other individuals and nonprofit organizations interested in helping New York City schoolchildren have joined them. By 2000, the volunteers had raised about $270,000 to benefit the kindergarten and first-grade classes at four public schools.


CFK is not alone in its desire to make a positive change for New York City kids. "We strongly believe in nonprofits working together to avoid duplication of efforts," said Gillian Grisman, executive director for Change for Kids.

In spring of 2000, CFK brought together more than 30 New York City nonprofit organizations whose primary focus is children's education. The purpose of their meeting was to let principals and educators know about the nonprofit resources available to them, to create an opportunity for the nonprofit organizations to collaborate, and to make sure that efforts aren't duplicated.

After the meeting, CFK created a Not-For-Profit Directory of New York City education-focused nonprofit organizations. "The directories were distributed to all of the organizations as well as to our schools," Grisman said. "It is our hope that by taking this first step, we have created a foundation for others to build upon."


CFK staff hosted that meeting of nonprofits because they have found that working with other nonprofit organizations enhances what they can do for the students at their four target schools.

They collaborated with PENCIL, a nonprofit organization that develops and coordinates civic involvement in New York City public schools. The PENCIL Books Matter program donated more than $50,0000 worth of books to two CFK target schools. PENCIL also provides information about CFK to interested individuals in the private sector, said Ruth Cohen, executive director of PENCIL.

Read an Education World story about what PENCIL contributes to schools. See Need School Supplies? -- Ask and You Shall Receive!

In turn, CFK recommends volunteers for the PENCIL Principal for a Day program.

"We have a mutual commitment not to replicate each other's efforts and to build upon each other's work so that the whole impact is greater than the sum of its parts," Cohen told Education World.

CFK also linked up with matches technology professionals with nonprofit organizations, schools, and community service organizations, said Eric Hancock, chairman of located technology volunteers to teach computer classes to kindergarten teachers and children at two of CFK's target schools. has matched more than 500 technology professionals with projects. "It is really hard to get good, qualified technology people on staff," Hancock said. "Our motivation is to fill in the gaps for organizations that can't afford a technology professional."

CFK also joined volunteers from a local Junior League organization. When CFK took four kindergarten classes on a field trip, volunteers from CFK and the Junior League chaperoned the trip.

CFK's other collaboration, with Teacher's College at Columbia University, promotes the college's Books for Children Project.


When they first organized, the founding members of CFK focused on purchasing basic school supplies for kindergarten teachers at two schools -- including that kindergarten teacher they met in the restaurant! CFK asked the teachers at those schools to supply wish lists. Madara and other CFK members purchased and personally delivered supplies to the teachers at the start of the school year. Each year, the teachers receive about $1,000 in supplies.

As the organization raised more money, it included the kindergarten teachers from two more New York City schools. All the teachers are from high-need New York City school districts.

CFK can't help all students, so members focus on the early grades because they believe that is where they can make the greatest impact. "We believe that if children have the resources they need to learn how to read, the greatest change can happen at that level," Grisman said.

Donations raised by CFK are invested in treasury bonds and only the interest is withdrawn to purchase supplies for the students. That ensures that the organization can continue to help children year after year.

In 2000, CFK hired Grisman and two additional support staff to organize the annual fund-raiser. The staff also monitors the delivery of donations and other projects, such as providing field trips and sponsoring musical performances at the schools.

To ensure that all donations directly benefit students, Madara and 13 other members of the organization pay all salaries and operating costs personally.

Madara and other CFK volunteers are proud of the personal connection they have established with the teachers and students at their target schools. Volunteers visit the students throughout the year to monitor their needs.

"There is a disconnect with the media and what is really going on in these schools," Grisman said. "It is more than just test scores. None of those scores really mean much when you visit and hear teachers talk about their kids."

Because so few people really know what goes on in the schools, CFK recruited New York filmmakers to produce brief documentary segments capturing the essence of these inner-city schools. The segments are aired at the CFK annual fund-raiser. "What these documentaries do is celebrate what goes on in these schools," Grisman said.

Madara's ultimate goal is to see the government put CFK out of business. "I'd like to see no need for us and that the right amount of money is allocated to the schools," he said. "This is not a pie-in-the-sky goal. Everyone -- from corporations to parents and educators -- sees the real need for more education funding. You can feel it in the air."

Diane Weaver Dunne
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World

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Originally published 11/13/2000; updated 03/02/2007