“Be A man, not the man.”
But, wondered Joe Horan, a teacher/coach in the Syracuse City School District, how is a man defined? The common image might be of a good athlete, well off and socially popular. Joe decided instead that young males needed to live for a cause greater than their own. Twelve years ago he started a program that teaches middle school boys to be a SIR: have SIGNIFICANCE, show INTEGRITY, and value RELATIONSHIPS. Initially an intramural basketball program with forty 7th and 8th grade boys at Levy Middle School, the Building Men Program has seen significant growth over the years.
The Syracuse City School District has committed to the program, naming Joe a Teacher on Special Assignment. He is tasked with expanding into more schools and developing partnerships with other nonprofits. The Building Men Program now runs in 8 of 11 middle schools and, starting this past fall, 4 out of 5 high schools. They now serve approximately 300 young men. A Summer Institute is now in its fifth successful summer.
It was about some of these programs that Joe came to Gifford, requesting $10,000 to support Building Men’s ongoing programs, which are centered on six elements:
- Chalk Talks – character talks with guest speakers
- Academic Progress reports
- Honorable Competition – basketball leagues
- Post-game conferences to confirm “humble winning, gracious losing.”
- Community service
- Rite of Passage – a ceremony for 8th graders as they “graduate.”
Gifford had supported Building Men from its earliest days, and has watched with interest as the organization grew to become its own 501-c-3, began attracting donors and began to pay some personnel through grant funding. But as much as Gifford thought the programs were valuable, our focus on capacity building led to a conversation with Joe about sustainability. Rapid growth, no matter how needed, places its own stresses and strains, and we wanted to insure that the board and systems at Building Men were strong enough to endure.
“I was pretty skeptical,” says Joe, when Lindsay McClung from Gifford recommended that a grant of $10,000 be awarded, but that $2,000 of that be directed towards a consultant to help them put their rapid growth into perspective. “Was I wrong!”
Prior to working with consultant Beth Leibrick, the Building Men Program’s board of four met only quarterly with Joe giving just a report on activities. Now they have a more active board of seven, clear roles and responsibilities, guidelines, they are up on not-for-profit law and are developing a marketing plan. “With Beth’s help we learned to plan for success, not for failure,” says Joe. They used some of the grant to grow systems through purchase of software and computers, becoming more efficient and able to track data more thoroughly.
Lindsay’s proactive approach is a prime example of how Gifford often blends programmatic grantmaking with capacity building. “We always want to insure that an organization’s ‘table legs’ are in good shape before adding more programs to the tabletop,” Lindsay states, in reference to the Lifecycles model of capacity building. “We’re delighted that $8,000 helped the Building Men Program continue its important activities. But we’re even more delighted when we learn that a small amount like $2,000 can have such long-term impact.”
What’s next for the Building Men Program, now that they’re getting stronger? In a few years’ time, Joe would like to refine the new high school program, have champions in place to run Building Men in each middle and high school, and move towards the students leading programs themselves. Joe admits that he often is asked when he will start “Building Women.” With a smile, he responds: “I’m not man enough to build women.”