Asian Youth Center

  • Collaboration Type: Merger
  • Region: NSI
  • Social Issue: Education, Juvenile justice
  • Size of Organizations: $1 – 5 mil
  • BIPOC Leaders: Yes
  • Successful: Yes

Asian Youth Center completed an asset transfer and acquired the Parent and Youth Leadership program. The acquisition allowed them to undergo an essential culture shift towards an empowerment and cultural advocacy focus.  And the Parent and Youth Leadership program expanded, serving more students and families in more schools.

Best Practices for social impact organizations:

  1. Consider mergers strategically. By looking at the changing landscape, you can anticipate where opportunities will emerge.
  2. Ensure that you have operating reserves available when acquiring assets that do not have enough funding to sustain their operations.
  3. Create opportunities for the whole staff’s joint learning to take advantage of mergers for organizational change.

Outcomes:

  1. The organization shifted from one focused on juvenile justice to one focused on youth empowerment.
  2. Program growth.
  3. It attracted more funding.

Best Practices for Funders:

  1.  At least two funding stages are needed for mergers/asset transfers (assuming success in stage 1). Funding for implementation must follow funding for exploration.

Asian Youth Center (AYC) serves low-income, immigrant, and at-risk youth in Southern California. The agency focuses on education, employment, and social services. The agency began as a juvenile justice-focused organization. Michelle Freridge, Executive Director of AYC, explained, “Historically, AYC has been just a direct service organization, and our initial funding and kind of affiliation was actually with law enforcement to do gang prevention, gang intervention, gang suppression, and with more of a traditional social service identifying gaps and then providing services that meet those gaps as opposed to advocacy and empowerment.”

However, Freridge recognized that the funding landscape was changing, as were practices of working with at-risk youth. When Asian Americans Advancing Justice decided to refocus its programs and no longer act as the fiscal sponsor for the Youth and Parent Leadership program, Freridge saw an opportunity. The Youth and Parent Leadership program had a very different focus that AYC could benefit from learning about.

The Youth and Parent Leadership program worked in schools with students. They used art to encourage students to tell their stories. It’s a vehicle for restorative and transformational justice and political work. As Melissa Avila, a Program Manager for the Youth and Parent Leadership program, explained, “We always try to be political in a way of teaching them their history and that they don’t always have to be oppressed. They could share their own story and find healing through sharing that story if they take ownership of it.” The empowerment and cultural advocacy focus was a needed cultural shift for AYC.

Moreover, AYC was financially positioned to consider taking on the program. The program had a few part-time staff but only enough assets to operate for three months. AYC had the operating reserves to absorb the transition costs if they acquired the program. Ultimately, AYC decided to explore an asset transfer.

Exploring the Asset Transfer

AYC applied for and received an exploration grant from the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative, a member of the Sustained Collaboration Network. Carrie Harlow, Director of NSI, remembers that the grant application was concerning. The Youth and Parent Leadership program had to find a home quickly, or it would dissolve. However, Harlow was already familiar with AYC, and that experience ultimately led NSI to support the effort. She explained, “It helped that Asian Youth Center had been at the table before with other partners. They had built that muscle of how to move through a due diligence process, vet a consultant, and work with that consultant through a process.”

AYC used the exploratory grant funding to hire a consultant to develop a transition plan for the organization. Freridge noted, “It was beneficial because they helped me do the due diligence around the finances of acquiring this organization. They also help me identify the cultural and values impact that having this program come and join us would have on AYC’s culture and values.”

One of the due diligence steps was conversing with the current Youth and Parent Leadership program staff. Freridge remembered that the early conversations were quite tense. Even though the program would dissolve if AYC didn’t take over, the staff immediately recognized that there was a different set of values at AYC. Freridge explained, “The staff joining had these very liberal political values that included things like defunding the police, anti-law enforcement, and anti-probation biases that were going to conflict with the relationships that we already had. So, for example, we had a police chief on our board. In the first meeting, the staff demanded that we kick that person off the board if they joined us.”

Cultural Shift Through Integration

But over time, Freridge won over most of the staff. AYC completed the asset transfer and received an integration grant from the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative. Reviewing the integration grant proposal, Harlow noted, “While Asian Youth Center was historically a probation-funded criminal justice program. The probation-funded programs are ending, and they’re moving towards a diversion and empowerment model. The Youth and Parent Leadership development culture and programmatic approach will be helpful for Asian Youth Center in making this evolution.”

Almost immediately upon receiving the grant, COVID hit. The pandemic required many changes, including working remotely and addressing the community’s emerging needs, like food. The integration plans slowed.

As the worst of the pandemic slowed and people began to return to work in person, the integration plans have resumed. While the Youth and Parent Leadership program continued to operate, it was still siloed. AYC invested in cross-training so that the empowerment values would be spread throughout the organization. With the integration grant, Freridge noted,

AYC brought in all these outside resources to provide all these trainings to staff and programmatic participants. We opened up those trainings to all AYC staff and to co-enroll other youth who were enrolled in other programs so that there started to be cross-training and cross-pollination. And we started to change the internal values very explicitly. We did a strategic planning process where we changed and updated the mission, values, and vision and started training the entire organization in these activities in these methodologies and background to do an integration plan as part of our strategic plan.

Avila was one of the staff that transitioned along with the Youth and Parent Leadership program in the asset transfer. She noted that things had begun to shift at AYC. “Since we joined and showed our work and projects with the students this past year, it has made the agency curious about how we do our work and approach.”

A New Chapter for AYC

Beyond the culture shift, there were other positive outcomes, too. AYC successfully got funding for the program and grew the organization as a result. In 2019, before the merger, AYC recorded $2.2 million in contributions and grants. Their 2023 projections are $6 million. After the first year, they secured a million grant to support the Youth and Parent Leadership Program. The program went from serving a couple hundred families to almost 2,000 in 2022. The program expanded from 4 high schools to 12 schools. Through these expanded programs, youth schools were able to make tangible changes.

In Wilson High, one of the school sites, they created a new club on campus: Sonadores Unidos. The club created a student needs assessment survey distributed to the entire school to support the growth of their community school. They received 907 responses. The survey results helped secure a Health Clinic on campus, which opened in summer 2023.

Harlow noted that the growth “far exceeds any expectation we would have as funders making this type of investment.” But perhaps the most notable feature of this asset transfer isn’t the significant growth. It’s the cultural transformation. Otha Cole, Director of Strategy and Communication at the Nonprofit Sustainability Fund, summed it up succinctly: “Sometimes people think about mergers and asset transfers as a growth opportunity, but not necessarily as an opportunity for a values shift or values extension.”

Categories

  • Mergers