Guest post from Shana Heilbron, Chief Development & Communications Officer, YWCA NCA
Last December, I wrote about the YWCA National Capital Area’s excitement over being named the 2013 Technology Innovation Award winner. Today, I wanted to reflect on the impact of the award, share how our program has grown, and some of the lessons we have learned over the past year.
First and foremost, we tell EVERYONE that we won the award. We are proud to share this with our government, corporate and foundation partners, and also our individual donors and community partners. We have been able to use the cash prize as leverage for other dollars – particularly in the technology community – and that has meant additional capital to support the growth of the distance-learning project.
Second, we have added additional face-to-face time to the program – we now require our participants to complete 12 hours of in-person class time (they actually come to the YWCA one night a week for in-person instruction) and also participate in an 8-hour orientation program.
The distance flexibility has proven to be the most convenient component of the program, but the once-a-week in person requirement has created an opportunity for social interaction that we found our students needed. Currently, we have six students participating in the program, and they will likely be ready to take the GED exam before the end of the year.
Finally, our team is constantly looking at ways to make the program stronger. When we looked back and discussed the main reason for implementing the program – to provide an opportunity for learning to students who were working to support a family, but wanted to improve their academic standing – we asked ourselves if we had fully accomplished our goal, and the answer is, mostly. We are doing great work but know there is always room for improvement. We have created plans for more instructor training and development; we want to understand best-practices across the country and implement those into our work; and, we want to make sure we have the systems in place to capture the data so we can understand and evaluate the level to which the program is working.
What began as a small pilot project for about 5 students is growing into a much larger initiative for the YWCA. The distance-learning program has been operational for just over two years now, and we will continue to build the program each year. We want to again thank 501cTECH and the TIA judges for their support of the YWCA, and for continuing to recognize the impact technology has on local nonprofits.