***First, I just want to remind everyone that posting something to this blog is as simple as emailing it to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and school affiliation. Let's hear from more of our readers!*** I’m currently en route to Eugene from Philadelphia, 35,000 feet above Iowa (the pilot just announced that; my best guess was Michigan).
From Friday until this afternoon, I worked with Inside-Out’s National Steering Committee (as a representative of Inside-Out alumni in the state of Oregon) to examine our organization’s growth in the past year, and to identify priorities for development between now and next March. It was a privilege to be included on the Committee, particularly because it is almost entirely made up of brilliant, non-condescending, I-want-to-be-like-you-one-day professors, and I’m an undergraduate student. Yet another context in which I’ve been entrusted with more responsibility than I feel I’ve really earned, and thus another one that has demanded that I step up (and damn have I grown as a result!).
As a really brief digression, I don’t push unsolicited advice on my peers except this: if you feel stuck and want to grow, gain access to positions where you have so much responsibility/the expectations are so high for you that you have to grow. Anyway.
Serving on the Steering Committee also afforded me the opportunity to return to Graterford Penitentiary, where Inside-Out courses were first offered, and the home of the original Think Tank. I was last at Graterford in August when I was trained as an Inside-Out instructor, and many of the conversations that I shared with the ‘inside’ Think Tank members have continued to ring within me ever since. I’ll save these latest ones for another time in the interest of updating you on Inside-Out’s current position:
Inside-Out is facing one of the toughest challenges in its history. It won’t be news to you that funding is tough to come by for non-profits working with populations that generally don’t garner much public concern (i.e. prisoners in a political climate that generally still flexes tough on crime). The ‘market’ is crowded with organizations not entirely unlike Inside-Out, all looking to get a piece of the grant funding pie.
Inside-Out’s difficulty with securing substantial, recurring financial support for itself has been draining for the National staff, which happens to be the segment of the organization most overwhelmed with work. The National staff used a number of interchangeable metaphors during our sessions: ‘we’re too big for our own shoes,’ ‘we can’t keep up this speed,’ etc. Much of the conference, rightly, was spent engaging with this problem that necessitates recalibration.
It’s a pretty frustrating position for all of us. How can a program that has redirected so many of our lives (in an ‘Inside-Out is one of the most important experiences of my life’ kind of way) get so little recognition from people in positions to sustain and expand it?
We, The Inside-Out Steering Committee, didn’t arrive at definite answers to this question during my time in Philly. But I’m pleased to report that the level of openness and humble willingness displayed by Inside-Out’s leaders to redefine aspects of the organization is deeply encouraging. It will see us through.
I don’t mean to give the impression that Inside-Out is on the brink of going away. In fact, Inside-Out is here to stay; far from stagnant, it is seeing unprecedented—and somewhat unanticipated—growth. Therein lies the challenge. With over 300 trained instructors, 10,000 alumni, so much interest in instructor training that it no longer needs to advertise itself, and a tight budget, how does Inside-Out continue to grow? What opportunities for growth should it prioritize? There are physical and mental costs to the people at the heart of this organization, too, of course. Anyone who has taken a quarter/semester-long course knows how draining it is to participate in such a physically-, emotionally- and at times spiritually-demanding project. Imagine directing the course of the now-international program for years on end, underfunded all the while.
Inside-Out’s staff needed to pull back and take a long look at the sustainability of its truly heroic efforts. Barbara, facilitator of many of our Steering Committee conversations, put things into perspective with a story, the point of which won’t be lost on our alumni readers who are currently working for great causes with unfaltering devotion: “Sometimes, in non-profit work, people are so passionate that they take on a martyr attitude without even realizing it. Well, the martyr script isn’t sustainable, because you have to die to get your martyr card!”
U of O
Former ‘outside’ student
Inside-Out Oregon site editor