In running an AmeriCorps program for 15 years, Deidre Crawley faced many challenges, the greatest of which was a drastic cut to AmeriCorps programs in 2009. Deidre shares how they came through that difficult period as well as lessons in young adults supervising other young adults, and managing your own emotions and reactions at work when in a leadership position.
This week is AmeriCorps Week. To learn more about AmeriCorps, visit http://americorps.gov
This season is sponsored by the Do Good, Be Good AmeriCorps Training Series. If you work for an AmeriCorps program or State Commission, contact Sharon to find out about customized training for your AmeriCorps supervisors or members.
Full Transcript Below:
00:07 ANNOUNCER: This is Do Good, Be Good, the show about helpful people and the challenges they face in trying to do good. Your host is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, a career do-gooder who also loves craft beer and a good hard tackle in rugby. Sharon speaks to everyday people about why they do good, and what it means to be good.
00:27 SHARON: Happy AmeriCorps week everyone. I’m your host, Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, and if you’ve been listening to any of the episodes yet in season two of Do Good, Be Good, you know that we have been highlighting stories of people serving in AmeriCorps. I served in AmeriCorps in 2007, and I also served as a Program Director for AmeriCorps programs in Flagstaff, Arizona, for five years. Today’s podcast is brought to you by the Do Good, Be Good AmeriCorps Training Series, more on that later. My guest today, is Deidre Crawley. Deidre was the director of the AmeriCorps program that I served in in 2007. Five years later after I served, she hired me as the program coordinator for that same program. And I loved working for Deidre. I consider her a mentor, and now I’m very grateful to count her as a friend. Deidre left the AmeriCorps program a few years ago to take a position as the Dean of Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, which is a public charter high school here in Flagstaff. We refer to it as FALA in this interview. Deidre and I started the interview by talking about how one of the ways she is helpful, is as someone who is willing to stand up for others and fight for them if necessary.
01:54 DEIDRE: The first time started probably with my brother, who was much, much smaller than most of the kids in his school, and so he would be bullied frequently. My favorite story, of course, that I tell everyone, is when I was walking home from school and I came around the corner and the rather large school bully had him on the ground and was pummeling him. And I ran and picked up the rather large bully and tossed him off of my brother rather far. It was an adrenalin moment, but no one messed with my brother after that ever again. And particularly not the bully who was doing that. I’m very proud of that moment, and I feel like I set a stage for that, “This is not gonna be tolerated on my watch no matter who you are, whether you’re my brother or not, I will be there to take care of you.”
02:53 SHARON: I asked Deidre, about a challenge she faced leading AmeriCorps programs in Flagstaff, Arizona. AmeriCorps is a federally-funded program. AmeriCorps members commit to serving in schools and non-profits, usually for one year. While they’re serving they earn a small living stipend. At the end of their service, they’re awarded an educational voucher that they can use at any point in the next seven years for higher education or to pay off a student loan.
03:23 DEIDRE: It was my third year in, I had written a grant that didn’t have any exceptions to it. I had a team of 15 people. We were a well-oiled team and everybody was functioning really well. We had probably one of the most amazing recruitment seasons. We were recruiting for a 120 members. Things were just probably better than they ever, ever could have been. And two weeks later we were told that AmeriCorps might be shutting down. What was going on was actually a good business practice. But when you have federal dollars you can’t use… You can’t obligate federal dollars for something else, if they’re obligated for a particular piece. So there was a trust for AmeriCorps members, educational vouchers that they could use. The overseers of that knew and truly so that those would… Not everyone in AmeriCorps would use their voucher all at the same time. So they were able to provide more services using that as a back-up funding source. What the federal government said was that money is earmarked for trust and you have to keep it as if everybody’s gonna use it all at once. When that happened, we went from a program of a 120 that we were recruiting for, to 23.
05:00 DEIDRE: And we had to be in a freeze for three months. With not knowing if it was even gonna come back. With the understanding that how we were going to manage AmeriCorps was gonna completely change forever. That meant also that I had a staff of 15 that I had to figure out what we were gonna do, how are we gonna do this, where are we gonna go. And 120 members out there, who were wanting to be in AmeriCorps had already been placed. Everything was already ready to go. For about a month we couldn’t even tell them yes or no. That was hard. We were literally riding high, it was like we had a great team. We had recruited for every spot, for 120 people who were gonna come in and give back to the community.
05:57 DEIDRE: And the other piece of that was… It was only gonna… The… Our sites, who didn’t have that much money, only had to pay a dollar an hour. Probably 75% were being placed in schools. The price that was gonna have to be paid in order to make that up was gonna have to go up significantly, and schools couldn’t do it. And so, that was the first cut that had to happen, was that all of these enthusiastic, wonderful, giving people who were excited to give back to their community and through the schools and help kids, weren’t gonna be able to do that. All of that was heart breaking. It was one of those things that from this point forward, I’m like, “We don’t know.” Until you’re there and you’re doing it and it happens, then you know it’s happening. So there was never this guarantee that you were gonna get this and that was a huge lesson in leadership, and I had to let staff go.
07:02 DEIDRE: The first piece was the first letter that had to go out immediately and we did a phone tree so we didn’t want it just to be the letter that let people know. So the first piece was… There was a lot of work to do so we needed the staff to do that, was a phone tree of letting… “This is happening. Everything’s on hold, we’ll keep you posted.” These are the reasons why, again, being very transparent about every piece along the way about why we got to where we are today. The staff, I think, because many of them were former AmeriCorps members so they had that, “I wanna give back.” So they were willing to do what it took even when they knew that we were cutting back. Everybody who was in that was in a place of, “We’ll do whatever it takes to make this work,” with the understanding that some of us may have to be looking for another job right now. The same thing with the members. I think that it was the most difficult for the schools because now they were gonna have to change how they worked with the students. And usually they were in the programs of the students with the highest needs. The tutoring programs was the biggest thing that we were doing.
08:16 DEIDRE: So FUST was not so keen. [chuckle] And we were able to the build relationships back up and I think that’s because we handled it with the transparency but also very careful to make sure we were communicating all the time. I think we did our update about every three days, and even if the update was, “We have no information at all. We’re just letting you know we haven’t heard anything. Now we’ve heard that it looks like we’re gonna have a very small program.” That was just a piece that, I think, helped retain the reputation of the AmeriCorps program that had been there for a long time, and one that we had built up to a point that was… Like I said, we were like riding high. Our reputation remained intact and people were still willing to work with us. And I think that, that was one of the pieces about, by making sure we did it methodically and taking care of our people, making sure everybody understood, “This is the reality. There’s nothing we can do, but we’re gonna make it the best we can.” And then I was still doing it, running the program, 12 years later and it was still different in every…
09:29 DEIDRE: So when… Sometimes when things… I think what I learned from that was when news comes down that, “This is happening or that’s happening,” I understood in my own place and experience that, “Well, we’ll get through it. We’ll find a way. But what we have to do is be clear and honest and transparent about it even if it’s difficult to say.” But you can have a difficult conversation and you can share difficult news in a way that is honest but not, it doesn’t have to be mean it just… Or you don’t have to sugar coat, you just have to be clear and state the facts. And that’s actually a really hard thing to do, you wouldn’t think it was but it’s really hard to just be, “I have to tell you this.”
10:24 SHARON: I think it’s really hard too, to not make it about you.
10:28 DEIDRE: Yes. Yes.
10:29 SHARON: Especially when it’s affecting you.
10:31 DEIDRE: Yes.
10:31 SHARON: It might be your job, that’s going away or it’s the work that you do, you have so much of you in it, and then it’s… You’re having to tell other people how it’s affecting them and to not have that piece of it where you want them to say, “Oh you’re gonna be okay.” Or you want them to care about what it means to you or how it’s affecting you. Yeah.
10:53 DEIDRE: And as we started in the beginning, I’m a rescuer, [chuckle] and I want to make everybody okay and happy, so that’s hard for someone who has to share difficult news and who wants to protect all of the people.
11:11 SHARON: Season two of Do Good, Be good is sponsored by the AmeriCorps webinar series. Do you work with an AmeriCorps program? Then I would love to work with you. I can design and deliver customized webinars for AmeriCorps supervisors and members. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, that’s email@example.com. Mention this podcast for a 20% discount. Now back to our show.
11:42 SHARON: When I was in AmeriCorps, Deidre led a workshop that I attended called ‘Friend Trap.’ I found it very helpful and I asked her to share how she developed it.
11:54 DEIDRE: Young people who are not that distant from being a youth themselves have this feeling that I need to be friends with the people who I am supervising. And so I was always talking to them, “You can be friendly, but you have to distance yourself because there’s a difference between being a friend and being a supervisor, and being friendly ’cause there will be times when you have to say things that aren’t something that a friend would say or do things that something a friend would do.” And so that’s where the genesis of that particular workshop came from, was actually working with young people who are supervising young people. A young person would be doing something, and everything would be going along, swimmingly. And they’re very friendly, “I’m giving you a ride home. I’m going to be your confidant.” A situation came up where the confidential information was of a nature where it had to be reported as a mandated reporter. And the supervisor was very uncomfortable because the young person said, “You can’t tell anybody this.”
13:04 DEIDRE: And it was very difficult for that supervisor to have to be the one to report something that was happening with a young person that had to be reported. And as a mandated reporter, it’s a very difficult thing to have to deal with. It doesn’t feel comfortable. You know that there’s gonna be some sort of trouble along the way, but it has to be done. And the young person that had shared the confidential information was very angry and said, “I told you that as my friend. I said you couldn’t tell anybody.” And so that was a very important situation where both of them learned a lesson about what you share, and why you share certain things with certain people, and why you don’t. But when you’re in a position of leadership over other people, you have to be careful, to have a little bit of a boundary. You can still be friendly. You can still do things, but you have to make it very clear that there is a boundary. It’s hard.
14:04 SHARON: I asked Deidre if she had any recent stories about her new role as the Dean of a Public Charter High School.
14:10 DEIDRE: We’ve been waiting for a really long time for snow in Flagstaff. So yesterday, we got snow in Flagstaff. The excitement at our school was palpable. Everybody was like a little kid. At lunchtime, a snowball fight ensued. And this was perfect snow conditions for a snowball fight. I mean, it was wet, it was icy, and you could make some lethal snowballs really fast. But I’m in a position of safety for the kids, so I can’t exactly join in on this. And so I’d come out and said, “Don’t throw any snowballs.” But there was still some snowball throwing going on. And then a couple of teachers said, “You need to do something about all the snowball throwing.” So I got on the intercom, and I was pretty excited at that moment. And I said, “At FALA, we don’t throw snowballs. And if I catch anybody throwing snowballs, you will be punished.” [chuckle] My advice to you is before you get on an intercom, know where you’re going. Don’t be too excited about it.
15:23 DEIDRE: Now the joke at FALA is, “You don’t wanna be punished.” [chuckle] But it was a good moment. It was fun. And then I found out that it was a teacher who started it all. One of the things that I do there is I have students write apology letters when they have done something that is worthy of an apology. And so the teacher came in and I said, “So I understand because many teachers have told me, and told on you that you were the one that started it.” And he looked at me, and he said, “I’m so sorry.” And I said, “So what are we gonna do about it?” And he said, “Write an apology letter?” [chuckle] So I got an apology letter today, and it really made my day. It was really, really sweet. He said it would never happen again.
16:09 SHARON: Deidre also shared a story about when she had something to apologize for.
16:15 DEIDRE: We have those times when we have had a lot of information thrown at us. And sometimes, it’s not good. It clouds our judgment, and so we react to the one thing that isn’t even important at all. We were dealing with some very important issues, and there was a lot of people asking questions, I was dealing with that. But someone complained about my door being closed too much. And this is during a time when we’re… Not that I’m necessarily saying that it’s not, that I’m not being transparent. It’s just that I need to discuss things before I share them, so that it’s the right message. So at one point, I had to shut my door again. And someone said, “You’re shutting your door again.” And I was like… “You’re supposed to be more… You say, ‘you have an open door policy.'” And I was just like, “That’s it.” [chuckle] And I said, “My door is closed. But if you notice the ‘Do not disturb’ sign is not flipped around, and you can come in, and knock the door, and I’m still available, but I need to have a private conversation. But I am here for all of you.”
17:32 DEIDRE: And there were students and teachers, and I think there was a parent in the room. And I got a little worked up, and I went in my office, and I shut the door. And for about five minutes I was like, “Ugh.” And then I opened the door and I said, “So how’s everyone’s day going?” And, “Yeah, maybe I did overreact.” And said, “I apologize for my bad behavior.” And made a little bit of a humorous thing about there’s been a lot going on. I will still… And I said, “And I’m still going to close my door, but I apologize for going off about something that really wasn’t that important.” Being able to look at yourself and go, “I’m an excellent, great, wonderful, inspirational person who has a lot to offer.” And sometimes I yell about closing my door [chuckle] because you just can’t take one more thing at that moment. But just owning it and going, “Yep. I did that. Can’t hide it. Not gonna gloss it over. That happened.”
18:43 SHARON: I love the image of you standing there probably all defiantly and having the tone voice of, “I am very welcoming.”
18:55 DEIDRE: Yes.
18:56 SHARON: “I have an open door policy. Don’t you see? You can talk to me at any time.”
19:01 DEIDRE: Yeah. Your tone is much closer to how it really was. Yes. [chuckle]
19:04 SHARON: Yeah.
19:08 SHARON: Before she left, I asked Deidre what she thinks it means to be good.
19:12 DEIDRE: To be able to be in a position to have a passion for something and understand that in that passion you’re being able to give back for the greater good.
19:29 SHARON: Well, that’s a wrap. Thank you for listening to Do Good, Be Good. And happy AmeriCorps week. If you wanna learn more about AmeriCorps, visit americorps.gov. For show notes on all of our episodes, visit dogoodbegoodshow.com. If you want more behind the scenes stories and insights about our podcast, then check out our show page on Facebook at facebook.com/dogoodbegoodshow. Thank you so much to Deidre Crawley for coming into the studio and sharing her story. This podcast was produced with help from Sun Sounds of Arizona. Music in this episode is Bathed in Fine Dust by Andy G. Cohen, released under a Creative Commons attribution international license and discovered in the free music archive. Until next week, this is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom signing off.