Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Innies

A slightly overcast and humid morning but little can dampen my good mood.   Today, the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) awarded the first "Innies" -- the New York City Innovative Nonprofit Awards -- with a breakfast ceremony at Gracie Mansion presided over by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs.  The Center didn't win the big prize (that went to GreenCity Force) but we were among the ten non-profits honored for using data to fight poverty in innovative ways.   We were recognized in particular for the work we have done in Red Hook to help low-level defendants avoid incarceration and lead productive, law-abiding lives.  In my grip-and-grin opportunity with the Mayor, he fondly remembered touring the Justice Center with Amanda Burden and meeting Judge Calabrese before he became Mayor.

While it is always fun to receive a little recognition, the best part of the ceremony came at the end when one of the staffers from CEO came up to (re)introduce herself to me.  While I didn't recognize her, she was
part of the original Youth Justice Board class (2004 I believe).   After leaving the Board, she went to college, then became an Urban Fellow, before joining CEO to work on social innovation.  She credited the Youth Justice Board with sparking her interest in government and giving her the confidence that she could be an active participant in the process.  A living, breathing example that our work makes a difference on both the lives of individuals and in policy circles...hard to beat that for a pick-me-up on a grey Wednesday morning.

Friday, May 10, 2013

On Public Service

On Wednesday, I participated in the annual presentation of the Sloan Public Service Awards by the Fund for the City of New York.  I've written about the Sloan Awards a lot in the past (for example, in 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009), so I will try to keep it brief here.  These awards honor some of the unsung heroes of New York City: the exemplary city employees who run our libraries, steer our traffic, clean up our schools, and care for our sick, among other tasks.

One of the awardees who struck a chord with me this year was Linda Pantages, a fiscal administrator at the Department of Youth and Community Development.  As became palpably clear during the selection process, Pantages has helped dozens of New York non-profits, many of them small and struggling, figure out how to meet the City's accountability standards and receive funding for their work with young people.

I don't know her personally, but I think it is fair to say that operating the Center for Court Innovation would be impossible without people like Pantages inside government.  Our operational model is built on partnership with city, state, and national government.  At each of these levels, we have been fortunate to work with dedicated individuals who understand what we are trying to do and can help us navigate the bureaucracy to get what we need.  Civil servants are all too often caricatured or used as props by demagogues who deride government as inefficient and even malevolent.   Events like the Sloan Awards offer a much-needed corrective to this narrative.   (In a phone call this week, a friend pointed out that the only silver lining to events like the terror attack at the Boston marathon is that they too underline that government can be effective.)

Two other highlights from a busy week:  last night I co-hosted a wonderful party in honor of the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education.  Just this week, a participant in the program was paroled and accepted for admission at the New School -- the fifth such student to be released and enrolled in college.

Finally, one of the best things I've read in awhile appeared online: Arkadi Gerney's story in the New Yorker about the work of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and his own relationship with guns and gun violence.  Not to be missed.