Youthprise pivoted their service model during the pandemic. No one could have predicted what happened next.
Not every family has equal access to afterschool and summer programs. These programs often carry a price that is too great for impoverished families. A few years ago, the state of Minnesota came up with a great idea – provide tax credits so low-income families can take part. But there is a catch. The families must first front the cost and wait for the credit to appear on their taxes many months later.
Youthprise and Venn Foundation teamed up to launch Minnesota Afterschool Advance. They help low-income families pay for afterschool and summer programming. They do so by using an innovative financing model. They help families use a state tax credit that can cover 75% of the cost of these activities.
Marcus Pope of Youthprise explains. “For systemic reasons, this tax credit is underutilized. Only about 4% of the potential funding is claimed each year. If every eligible family in Minnesota used the full amount, it would be about $275 million.
In the first 18 months, those same systemic barriers constrained the program’s growth. But, after months of work, the plan was finally showing signs of traction.
According to Matt Norris of Youthprise, “As we entered 2020, we saw a summit of statewide partners as a critical inflection point. That would springboard us into our biggest summer and fall by far.” That is until all activities ground to a halt because of COVID-19. “The order to self-isolate came just days before the summit,” Matt explains.
The prospect of afterschool programs being shuttered weighed heavily on Marcus and Matt. “It was frustrating,” Matt says. We were of thwarted by something completely out of our control. This happened just as the program was starting to build real momentum. It was intense. But we focused on the opportunities to advance our mission and build momentum.”
The Minnesota Afterschool Advance program focused on access to afterschool programs. The same tax credit can also be used for up to $200 of computer hardware per family per year. Marcus adds, “The entire state prepared to shift to distance learning over just two weeks. We saw an opportunity to help low-income families prepare for the transition. We scoured the internet and found Chromebooks for under $200. We quickly threw together a flyer and started sharing it with our network.”
Marcus remembers the moment well. “I can tell you almost to the minute when the first school district sent the flyer out to every one of their families. In the blink of an eye, the applications started pouring in, and my phone and inbox lit up. In the next 48 hours, our program received more applications than it did in all 2019!”
More schools started sharing the flyer district-wide. Local influencers posted about it on their social media. The next week became a mad scramble to marshal the product, dollars, and people to deliver for families. “The deluge hasn’t stopped since,” Matt says. “At one point, demand became so overwhelming we had to shut down our application and start a waiting list while we shored up our supply of devices. We tried to refine a process that was strained by the unprecedented volume. We’re now working through a waiting list of over 150 families with more added every single day.”
In just one week, with one pivot, they responded to an immediate need. Youthprise shifted from a program grieving a loss to one meeting the demand for its services.
About Marcus Pope:
Marcus Pope currently serves as Vice President for Youthprise. In this role, Marcus oversees grantmaking, development, communications, policy advocacy, and special initiatives. Marcus served as Associate Director of the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community at the University of Minnesota (U of M). He also served as Director of Youth Programs for the Neighborhood Involvement Program in Minneapolis. And he was Academic Advisor for the Youth Studies Department at the U of M School of Social Work. Marcus holds an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree in Sociology, Youth Studies, and African American studies. He also holds a Master’s degree from the U of M in Education – Youth Development Leadership, with an emphasis on Program Evaluation. He also completed a Mini-MBA from the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business.
About Matt Norris:
Matt Norris serves as Policy Director & Director of Minnesota Afterschool Advance at Youthprise. Matt has worked in the youth development field since the age of 16. He spearheaded the effort to launch a youth engagement initiative in his hometown of Brooklyn Park, MN. Matt co-founded a youth-led social enterprise that was recognized by the Obama Administration. He helped lead the Step-Up internship program which provides over 1,500 internships to high school students every summer. Matt also built the Minnesota Afterschool Advance program. He has also been a leader in promoting social entrepreneurship in Minnesota. He helped draft the state’s Public Benefit Corporation Act. Matt has interned for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and has a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.