End of an Era

If you'll look at the dates, you'll notice that it's been a month since I lasted posted on this blog. Before that, the posting was getting more and more sporadic.

So, I've come to a decision.

I'm going to stop blogging here. It's really a time thing: I'm rather swamped to keep up with this and I'd rather go back to my first blog (Word Nerd) and try to breathe new life into it. The Word Nerd blog is really where my head is a lot of the time with my novel-writing aspirations and author interviews and book reviews.

Thanks to everyone who's been a regular reader here over the past 15 or so months. It's been a great time being a VISTA and transitioning into this new world of fundraising.

Glad to have you along for the ride.


Back to the Grindstone

I returned to the job today to find some 60 e-mails waiting for me (I'm not counting the 50 messages in the SPAM folder...), a pile of mail and one voicemail.

I've waded through the e-mails and am trying to get my brain off of vacation mode and back into work mode.... It's not like I've got a shortage of grant deadlines to meet or anything.

We're also starting into planning for the fall fundraising breakfast. We've got the location already (of course), but now it's time to start lining up guests and writing speeches and things.

I think it's good I took my vacation when I did because I think my desk will be the main focus of my attention in the near future.


Return to the Roof!

Remember those two crazy days last summer where Mentor Services Director Bob Goodrum lived on the Starfish Initiative office roof?

Well, he's doing it again.

8 a.m. tomorrow (June 30) Bob will re-ascend to the roof for another stint aloft to show the need for mentors in Indianapolis. This year, Bob won't be alone on the roof, but he'll be joined by local notables and some dignitaries. (IN First Lady Cheri Daniels is scheduled to join him for a while Wednesday afternoon.)

So, come on down to Starfish during Bob's time on the roof to wish him well (there's a scissor-lift to take you up to say hello), or use this as your opportunity to sign up to be a mentor.

Meanwhile, as Bob's up on the roof recruiting mentors and working on his tan, I'll be in my office writing grants. Which is where I've been for the last few weeks.

All in all, my nose is getting rather pointy (...y'know, from keeping it to the grindstone.)

Hopefully, there will be pictures over the next two days!


Hello again

I have officially emerged from the federal grant writing hole I was in for the last two weeks. The thing was submitted last Friday in the early afternoon, after which time, I went home and tried to catch up on some much-needed rest.

Of course, now, I'm trying to catch up on the projects that got pushed to the back burner while that grant was top priority. I've got a couple of rapidly approaching deadlines (one is Wednesday) but that feels really do-able. This is a much shorter application, so hopefully it will come together easily.

Last week was also a $30K week for outstanding grants that came in. :)


Federal Grant Writing Foxhole

I have been incommunicado since Monday because I've been in my hastily dug foxhole for a federal grant application.

This is one kind of proposal I have not written yet and I must say -- all the horrible things I've heard about how hard they are to write are true. The feds certainly want things in a certain way (going as far as telling you what font to use) and it's been quite the learning experience.

As of this point, the first rough draft of the narrative part is done. This is the product of pretty much three straight days of outlining/researching/writing/planning/researching more/writing, for more than 8 hours a day.

In 40 minutes, I'm making myself crawl out of said foxhole for the weekend, though a copy of the proposal is coming home with me to read sometime this weekend. Monday, I will crawl back in to improve the narrative, add in missing sections and write the required attachments. The due date is June 15. The goal is to be done and have it submitted by June 12, a week from today.

At the moment, that feels doable. A lot of work and some more long days, but doable.


Open House

The open house was Saturday, and I have to say, it was a rousing success.

Saturday kicked off with the dedication of the Commons after former Starfish board member Rick Webster. It was Rick who had the original vision for what this building could be and his tenacity for making the project happen that brought it about. Sadly, Rick passed away late last summer before we'd even gotten the final green light to do the renovation.

Rick was the most excited about turning the garage into the Commons, and so, it was only fitting that we officially dedicated and named the room as the Rick and Patti Webster Commons.

The afternoon was full of great tours of the building with many of our current and incoming Scholars, mentors and donors. It just goes to show that good planning leads to good events. All the hardwork totally paid off.

A few photos from the morning's dedication:

The photo on top is the general view of the new Commons. The photo on the right is representatives from each of the businesses who donated to make this project happen.

This last photo is Starfish founder Mike Feeney with Patti Webster, presenting her with a copy of the plaque that names the Commons after Rick and her.


Open House

I am down to the wire on prep work for this open house.

In 24 hours, I'll be back at work for the final morning-of set-up and then it's showtime.

Today is cleaning day and finishing things day.

And I'd better get started...



The construction/renovation is done!

We have a few touch-ups to go before Saturday's open house, but today, the last of the furniture was installed. Included in this last furniture order was all of our task chairs. We'd been carrying on with the old ones since these were back-ordered. Now that we have the new chairs (all shiny silver and white!) our offices look finished and pulled together.

Progress is being made on getting everything ready for the dedication/open house on Saturday.

Of course, there's a great deal to go, so back to work for me! (Hopefully, pictures will be forthcoming next week of the open house...)


Welcome to Crunch Time

In a few minutes, I'm headed into my weekly Monday morning meeting and then -- then -- once that is over, crunch time begins.

The open house is now in 10 business day (counting today) and there's quite a long list of things that need to be done/completed for that.

Last week, I got the June issue of our donor newsletter sent to our graphic designer (YAY for making self-imposed deadlines). With that out the door, I could erase my dry erase board full of those plans and re-fill it up with a giant open house to-do list. This list has everything on it from "tent delivery" to "name tags" and all sort of things in between.

Granted, not everything on this list is something I have to accomplish. Our Event Planner VISTA is doing a great job of helping to coordinate things and make displays and just think through what all needs to be done and finalized.

Just in case you were wondering, grant applications and other things are still on-going. In fact, we've got another fairly major grant that's due shortly after the open house is over and I've also got a new e-mail blast marketing system to figure out.

To be clear, I'm not whining. I'd rather be busy than bored any day.


There goes the dumpster

The big construction dumpster we've had during this whole project is pulling out of our driveway RIGHT NOW.
Apparently, that means they really are close to done.

Looking around, they really are close to done. More of the super cool stuff (pictures to come) has been hung up and I've spent my day working on a display wall.

Open house, t-minus 12 business days. (There's no point counting weekends because I really hope I don't have to work those to finish this off...)


One last bit of sawing

I thought we were mostly done with the drilling and sawing here, but it turns out, they needed to install decorative lights in the bathrooms and wouldn't you know, my office is directly next to the bathrooms...

So, I'm trying to work once more through drilling/sawing. I'm also trying to remember that this project is almost done. More furniture gets installed on Monday. Middle of next week the Commons gets finished. We are really coming down to the end.

Which is good. Considering the open house.


Open House planning and more

The grand re-opening house/dedication of the Starfish building is now in t-minus 19 business days. This suddenly seems like a frighteningly short time to get this all pulled together.

Invitations are at the printer/going out in the mail any time now, plus we've got a gazillion extra to pass out to friends, acquaintances, etc.

In addition to getting people invited, the construction has to get finished (which I really don't have any control over or hand in, obviously) and then the building has to get completely spruced up. I think later this month, we'll all be on big cleaning jags, washing down walls, dusting, vacuuming, etc. to make this place sparkle for the open house. We've also got displays to put together, posters to assemble and the like in all our new areas.

Of course, in the midst of all this, there's the regular work to get done too...

Meanwhile, consider yourself invited to the open house:

12:30-4 p.m., May 30
Starfish Initiative Office
814 N. Delaware St.
Indianapolis IN 46204


Running Silent

Sorry for the lack of blog posts lately.

Work and life have been very busy.

Check for updates maybe next week.


New Data

I discovered today that earlier this month, America's Promise Alliance released their 2009 Crisis in the Cities report, "Closing the Graduation Gap."

Bottom line, it presents bad news for Indianapolis. The Circle City is now 50th out of the 50 largest metropolitan cities in the country, for a graduation rate of 30.5 percent. Last year the report had Indy at 49th of 50 and it's no fun being one of the cities that went down, not up.

The report covers some traditional ground, looking at the disparities between urban and suburban districts, potential earnings of non-high school diploma holders vs. those with more education and rates of poverty for those without a diploma compared to those with or with more education.

I think the conclusion of the report draws some of the strongest attention to what this crisis really means.

At no point in our nation's recent history has the economy found itself in such dire straits. And at no point has the critical role of a quality education been more evident. For individuals facing a worsening economy and weakening labor market, a strong education may offer the best protection for weathering the storm. Likewise, it is also clear that the brunt of the crisis will be borne by those with the least education -- those without a high school diploma.

As this report and other research have shown, two very different worlds exist within American public schooling. In one, earning a diploma is the norm, something expected of every student; in the other, it is not. The stakes attached to graduating have never been higher.

I remember, in my previous time as a reporter, one school board meeting where a parent asked why the socioeconomic level of students in school buildings mattered. At the time, I remember being shocked as I sat there, about the complete lack of understanding this parent had about the challenges faced by those growing up in poverty and how much more it takes from schools and the community to help those children succeed.

Clearly, the parent lived in the first world and too many students in the school district were living in the second world.

I sent the Crisis in Cities report out to my colleagues here at Starfish. It's sobering data, but as I said to them, when you are at the bottom, you can only go up and that's why we're here.


One Month till the Big Check

We found out yesterday that Starfish was chosen by a local group to receive their annual grant of $15,000. We're really pumped about this because it's been awhile since we got any major money.

Let me just say, the no major money thing isn't because of the economy, it's the funding cycle. We've got a bunch of applications out to funders that we'll start hearing from in May/June. Still, it's nice right now that we know this funding is coming because it lets us work on fall plans for camp.

We'll officially get the big check at an award luncheon in May.

Also, the construction progresses along. They are hard at work on the lounge and the commons areas. There was some loud sawing/pounding noise for a bit this morning, but I'm really hopeful that the loud stuff is going to be over soon.



Today was not at all like what I thought it would be.

I spent a good three hours this morning cleaning and organizing our new kitchen. Because we stored all the kitchen stuff in the garage, all of it was covered in a fine film of dust. I washed EVERYTHING and found it a logical home in the new kitchen.

We have tons more space to add to our kitchen, things like pots and pans. We haven't been able to cook for our Scholars in a long time, but we really like doing that and now the new kitchen makes it possible.

Not bad for having prune-hands now.


Fighting my Alligators

Yesterday I went to a brown bag lunch-and-learn deal all about how to prioritize. I signed up for the workshop because it had such a great title: When you are up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember that your original goal was to drain the swamp. This was a fantastic workshop and I thought some of the points were worth sharing.

Generally, I'm a pretty organized person. I'm left-brained; I scored pretty high as a "C" on my DISC profile, meaning I like organization, lists, systems, etc. I'm normally good at seeing both the forest and the trees and figuring out how to get through tree forest and avoid the underbrush that would trip me up.

That said, ever since I took over this job for real in October, I've felt on the verge of being overwhelmed. It's not easy to fundraise in a recession, but it's still possible. It's not easy to be a mostly one-woman development/PR department, but it's still possible. My problem is that when I get overwhelmed, I can become paralyzed. Forest. Trees. I'll plunge in, but let myself get distracted by the pretty flowers or the stream or whatever makes it easier.

This prioritizing thing has been on the forefront of my brain for a while. I've been listening to what people say about it, from the advice of one of our board members, to veterans in this field and now this workshop.

Here are some great tidbits from what I've been hearing lately:
1. You can lose 2-3 hours of work time a week because of having a cluttered desk.

2. Follow the OHIO principle -- Only Handle It Once. Maybe it's hard to handle something only once, but if you can reduce this from 4-6 times to 2-3 times, it's still an improvement.

3. Don't live in your inbox. Turn the ding off that tells you when you get new mail. Turn off the little box that pops up in your corner. Organize your e-mail with folders so that your inbox never has more than a certain number of emails in it. (One I'm adding... deal with it and delete it if it doesn't need to be archived.) I read/heard somewhere that it takes 15-20 minutes for a person to get their concentration back after checking email/blackberry/phone, etc.

4. Most people do their best work in the mornings. Therefore, don't meet in the mornings. Push meetings into the afternoon when the day starts to drag.

5. If you are the only one screaming for a job to get done, maybe it's not that important. Sometimes important jobs are the self-directed ones, but really, most of the time, they aren't.

So, how am I using these tips?

Since the move into the new office, I'm determined to have an uncluttered desk. Yesterday, I spent a bunch of the afternoon dealing with boxes of stuff that got bequeathed to me. I circular-filed a lot of it and have a new pile that I need to go through a second time to really decide what to keep and then where that goes. I'm sure this will be a constant battle to keep things under control, but I know that when they are, I'll feel more in control.

I also started going through my inbox. Right now, mine's got 485 emails in it. I'd like to set 100 as the goal. I know it's going to take me a while to get there, but I'm being pretty ruthless with this.

I'm sure this will continue to take time, but I'm going to fight off these alligators.


More Construction Photos

Now that my network is behaving again, here are some more images. This is the upstairs meeting room, set up classroom style.

This is the wall of my office and my window!

This is my wonderful new desk, with tons of storage space and drawers with handles and locks. Hopefully, more pictures will follow when it's all unpacked and cleaned off for the open house.


Office Renovations -- Sneak Peak

Since the downstairs offices are mostly done, I thought it high time to get some photos posted for a sneak-peek at the renovations.

So, beginning at the front of the building:

This is the new reception/lobby. Note the fun swirly orange carpet.

This is the former blue office. Not blue anymore. Also, not the space where I work anymore.

Argh. I just lost my network connection and can't get to the photos on our shared drive.

Sigh. Hopefully more later.


The new office

I'm moved in to my new office. Hooray!

Yesterday I was without Internet while the move happened. Today, I am without a camera because we've got a group of Scholars on spring break who are taking a trip with Starfish staff to Ball State. Since college access and planning is a big deal with what we do here, I won't begrudge them taking the camera.

Maybe tomorrow I'll have the ability to share photos.

The great news though is I'm in and it looks fabulous and I have wonderful file storage for everything and all the other offices are beautiful too.



The furniture is installed.

I'm in.

Pictures to come.

Furniture Day

The furniture has begun to arrive this morning.

So far, one semi truck (or, to use correct AP style "tractor trailer") has been here this morning, dropping off filing cabinets and things. More deliveries are expected this morning and then the installers will start to set up the Exec. Director's office and then my office.

I think I'm being overly optimistic that I will get to move into my office by EOB today, but, I've still got my fingers crossed. In the mean time, I'm repacking up my table from all the stuff I've been using for the last month.

I have to say, I'm really surprised by how much I've gotten done while banished back here. I'm sure I've been less productive than I was even in the old Blue Office, but I've gotten a lot done. Hopefully, I'll get a grant report sent off today and then be ready to start writing some new requests at my new desk this week.


The new office

The official furniture installation dates just went out.
Of course, it's subject to change, but ---
*drumroll please*
If the schedule stays as is, I could be moving into my new office on March 30 or 31.

Let the countdown begin!


Construction and Classes Update

Today's a big day in the renovation world -- ceiling tiles and light fixtures and flooring are being installed. (Oh my.)

The furniture should be here around the end of this month or early next, so it's looking like early-to-mid April to move back into the "real" offices.

I was out part of last week for another Fundraising School class -- Developing Annual Sustainability. The material is starting to sound repetitive, which I'm thinking means that I actually know it now. Next up, implementation of what I learned.

I've got one grant due today that I've got to go turn in and then finding the bottom of my table will be a high priority for this afternoon.

No new photos of construction right now, but hopefully I'll get some more in progress shots soon.


Talkin' about my fumigation...

They are spray painting again today in the office, meaning day two of paint fumes. When they painted walls last week, it wasn't so bad, but the spray paint is a bit noxious (though nowhere near as bad as the dry-erase wall paint upstairs).

The downstairs renovations are now in week two of hopefully four total. The walls have their first coat of paint. The spray paint is where they are doing the ceiling tile grid. (It's a huge cost savings to paint over the old dingy grid instead of putting in new grid and it looks great upstairs.)

Despite all the noise and fumes, we're still plugging along here at work. I've got two major grant applications due in one week, so I'm bouncing back and forth between these projects and wondering how I was always ahead of deadlines last winter/spring and when that changed.

And, just to help the craziness of this week, I'm back at fundraising school tomorrow and Thursday to learn about developing annual sustainability. Good stuff, I'm hoping.


Construction, Pt. 2

We are all back at work now and relegated to little tables in back rooms. It is far from ideal, but we keep telling each other that it's all going to be worth it in the end after the spiffy renovation is done. The upstairs, which has everything but furniture, looks awesome. The downstairs will be equally as awesome after this period of displacement.

Despite the chaos of the morning, I went through the downstairs offices and snapped some photos of the now-empty offices and the current workspaces.

This is my current "desk."

The other main work room, for about five staff.

The old blue office, now sans carpet, furniture or ceiling tiles.

The room that will be my office once the renovation is done.

The reception area, with sunshine coming through the window.


New Website

One of the things I've been doing during my out of office exile is to work on updating the new Starfish Initiative website.

There's still to be work to done to update all the text, but the new site is leaps and bounds ahead of the old site, and far more professional looking.

So, check it out.

The new Starfish Initiative website.


Out of Office

Today is the first of the working without an office days. At the moment, I'm working from a table in a coffee shop. Later, that might be the library (I don't think I can spend all day here).

Monday we're office-less too, because of the installation of the HVAC system. Upon returning Tuesday, I'll be working at a table in a back room. It's less than ideal for the time being, but in the end, it will be so worth it because of the renovations. Hopefully, some new pictures of the completed upstairs soon.


End of class and the move

My fundraising school class was great. Lots of excellent information about how to raise major gifts.

The office renovation move now happens in less than 48 hours. That means between now and then, I've got to re-find the bottom of my desk and move all the rest of my stuff.

I better stop blogging and get to work.


Entropy in action

On Tuesday morning, when I thought I had to have my entire desk packed by the end of today for the move that's not happening now until next Friday, you could actually see most of the bottom of my desk.

This is no longer the case.

I do not know what happened. I sort of refuse to believe that I am that much of a piler that I covered over an entire desk in a day. One day.

Obviously, this is proof of entropy or blue shift, that the universe is closing back in on itself or something.

In other news, the painters and the carpet people are here today working on the upstairs. No new photos to post of the work. I think that may just wait for the big "reveal."

Also -- next week, I will be in fundraising school learning all about major gifts and then moving my office, so I'll update when I can.


This is a holdup

Well, not that kind of holdup, but the kind that involves the carpet not being in yet, meaning the carpet layers can't install it upstairs, meaning that we can't move upstairs/to the back of downstairs this week because they aren't done yet.

That's right -- the move is delayed until the end of next week. We were on track for moving this Friday, but carpet's kind of an important thing.

Most of my office is in boxes, although not quite all of it. I'm holding off on packing the remainder until it's time to move, because I keep having to get in the boxes I packed to get files I need. Many of the boxes are coming with me to the temporary digs I'll be working out of next month.

The move gives the whole office sort of an unsettled feeling as we transition. But, then if I just go upstairs and start looking at the new paint and everything that's been done up there and how AMAZING it's starting to look, it makes all the unsettled-ness completely worth it.

Hopefully, I'll get upstairs for some more sneak-peek photos soon.

If I can remember what box I put the camera in.


The move

The word is I may need to be out of the blue office by next Friday.

So far, I've packed up five boxes and hauled them into the garage where we can store our stuff during the move. This afternoon, I also erased my "Word List" board, after I copied it all down into a computer file. The board also had the definitions of "inputs," "outputs," "goals," and "outcomes" and I used that side for reference every time I wrote a grant.

It's strange to be unpacking the blue office as its really, finally starting to feel like my workspace after more than a year here.

And just to prove that construction is really happening, here's a photo I took for the newsletter. This is the upstairs training room.


Two Boxes Down

I began packing up the blue office this morning.

The word here is that we will be moving out of our offices by the end of next week or so. I decided that if I packed a box or two each day this week and next (maybe I don't have that much stuff...) that the whole concept of packing up my office will be not so bad. This morning, I started in on the bookcase, packing up books and binders and things I'm confident I will not need until I move into my remodeled very, own office.

I'm also resolving to start working through the stacks on my desk. (If you could only see the piles...) These things also need homes (and ones that I can find again) during the move. I do still have to keep working during all this renovation hullabaloo. My fear is that I'll pack some project into a box and TOTALLY forget where it is, that I'm working on it, or when it's due. (Of course, in the nightmare version of this fear, it's a gazillion-dollar grant that I forget to turn in and all of Starfish goes under because of me.)

Needless to say, this desk-packing-organizing thing is a much bigger deal.


Grants and Monopoly

Today is a $5,000 day.

As in, we just got a check for $5,000 from a repeat foundation. This is, I'm fairly sure, the third year they have supported us and specifically our Algebra Camp and Homework Club. These programs make a huge difference for our students academically and this continued support is great.

Second, today is the day of the IndyCrew Monopoly tournament for which Starfish Initiative is the charity of choice this year. Joyce (the executive director) and I are headed to the Conrad Hotel downtown later this afternoon for the tournament. We'll get to meet the players, talk about Starfish and perhaps Pass Go and Collect $200. I've got the camera, so hopefully, we'll have some event pictures from this one to post later.

Meanwhile, back to writing reports.


Construction Season...

... is officially open at Starfish.

The roll-away dumpster is here and the demolitions folks began work upstairs today. Last I looked, there were no longer baseboards on the walls and another guy was measuring door frames.

So you have some idea of the progress later, here are some "before" shots of the areas where they are constructing right now.


Breakfast 2.0 (and the pending construction racket...)

I can't believe I'm thinking about breakfast planning again.

But, honestly, it is time to start some of the planning already. In fact, last week, we decided on our venue. We're not having it at the same place as last year, because we're really going to work to get 500 people and 500 people won't fit in the room we had it last year. (Which is sort of too bad, because it was really pretty...)

This morning, I'm meeting with our event planner VISTA to brainstorm sponsorship opportunities for the breakfast and get our sponsorship stuff ready so we can contact businesses, etc., about that. The idea is to get sponsors for everything -- the invitations, the food, the table decorations, all of it, along with just general event sponsors.

Also... the construction is really supposed to start here at Starfish this week. We've been saying "next week," "next week" for the last few weeks, but this week is really supposed to be it. There's signed contracts now and everything...

I'm excited because the end of the blue office is near. I'm also excited for my current VISTAs who will get to move into MUCH better work spaces than where they are. (The blue office will become the gray and orange office with new furniture, better lighting, comfortable chairs and will go to one of the new VISTAs).

The construction, I'm sure, will make it hard to work somewhat, but the end result will be so worth it that I'm willing to put up with just about anything.


History vs. Work

It's a bit tricky to get any work done today, what with history being made out in Washington D.C.

One of our Starfish VISTAs is in the nation's capital, hopefully on the Mall by this time to take it all in. One of our college interns is also participating and I'm extremely jealous (albeit, warmer.)

We set up a little, old TV in our office so that we can all watch the inauguration later. Being the newsjunkie that I am, I'm finding it difficult to concentrate on work this morning between reading news coverage updates. I've been flipping back and forth between Cnn.com, npr.org, usatoday.com and walking back to the back of the office to watch CBS (the only station we get...)

At least I think I can get my desk cleared off this morning and maybe my Chronicle of Philanthropy read.



I was just rereading a grant proposal I wrote last winter because it's time to do the final report and resubmit a new application for this year.

We told this funder last year that we would, "Recruit a minimum of 100 additional qualified and promising low-income youth for participation in the Starfish Initiative in the 2208-09 school year..."

Talk about long-range planning... *groan*

At least they still funded us.

And hopefully I can avoid any sort of similar errors in this year's proposal.


This One's All Mine and 2009's start

Late in 2008, I wrote a professional development grant to attend another class through the Fundraising School.

Today, I got the letter that I was approved and get to take the class in March.

It's a little strange that this grant, for once, is largely for me. Of course, the whole point of me doing this is to be better at my job and therefore help the organization. But, instead of writing about the need for more college grads, I wrote about how I needed to know what I was doing!

We've been asked here to compile a new list of goals for our jobs here at Starfish and I've spent quite a while today hashing out a set of things that I think can be accomplished in the next year but that will push the envelope somewhat.

But, with everything on the list, I'd best keep working.

VISTA Service Ticker