Dodgeball Prosperity and the Common Good
During our journey, The Yacht Club has seemingly stumbled upon a way to completely re-imagine the traditional non-profit model in a way that potentially solves one of the greatest struggles in the non-profit sector: How do we motivate people to volunteer?
It turns out...it’s dodgeball.
The Yacht Club utilizes the nostalgia of dodgeball to reinvigorate struggling city parks while providing tailor made youth programming to the children of the surrounding community -- Our idea is to expand our efforts & programming to 3 additional LA City Rec & Parks centers in the disadvantaged neighborhoods of LA.
We started The Yacht Club as a social experiment in 2008. Once a week, we would ask dodgeball-deprived Angelenos to complete a different philanthropic task in exchange for an hour or two of (slightly) organized dodgeball. They’d swing by a drugstore as they made their way to the Highland Park Rec Center to pick up a toothbrush, box of tampons, or any other needed item. By the end of the two hour dodgeball workout, we’d have a bag full of goodies to drop off at any number of local charities (the Downtown Women’s Shelter, Humane Society, LA Food Bank & others). It was our way of doing a little good while having a little fun.
As The Yacht Club’s vision became clearer, our efforts to achieve the common good followed suit. We began to focus our attention on the kids at these parks whose programs were being slashed due to budget cuts. Now, we began asking these same dodgeball players to hide eggs on Easter, to hand out toys with Santa on Christmas, & to spend their Friday nights playing dodgeball with kids. Suddenly, three years had blown by when we received a letter from the IRS…
"Dear Applicant: We are pleased to inform you that upon review of your application for tax exempt status, we have determined that you are exempt from Federal income tax under under section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code…"
Sure, we were excited, but this would mean that The Yacht Club would need to evolve. So we assembled a Board of Directors, acquired an office, & got to work.
Now, as we head into our 5th year, we bring roughly 500 adults and 100 kids into LA City Rec & Parks centers each week with chapters in Glassell Park, Venice, & North Hollywood. In addition to their donation of time and goods, participant league fees received from the adult dodgeball pay for permit fees, equipment and helps fund our customized kids programs. Using the resources from our adult league participants, every week, we use the game of dodgeball to significantly impact at least 6 of LA2050's 8 indicators:
1. Health: The Yacht Club uses dodgeball to encourage kids and adults to run, jump, duck, throw, catch, block, laugh, smile and banter for a couple of hours each week.
In addition, The Yacht Club chapters in Venice & Glassell Park partnered with Whole Foods to create Yacht Grub – a free cooking class for kids that focuses on the education & benefits of healthy eating.
2. Education: Once we've used kid’s dodgeball to establish relationships & build trust with our kids, we work with LA City Rec & Parks’ staff & coordinators to create workshops & classes designed to bridge the gap between traditional schooling & extracurricular activities. We focus on critical thinking & artistic expression through photography and kids cooking & gardening workshops.
3. Social Connectedness: Whether it’s kids or adults, dodgeball plays a key part in the development of the social skills necessary to become a productive and proactive part of our communities. We're working to create a much-needed social outlet for kids and young professionals by providing opportunities to get involved in their local community, to forge new relationships & to volunteer in unique ways that directly benefit their neighborhood.
4. Public Safety: The Yacht Club changes the perceptions of our communities by creating safe, alternative spaces for kids to spend their time. The work we do encourages positive experiences & interactions in LA City Parks & Rec centers.
5. Environmental Quality: The Yacht Club increases access to open spaces & parks by creating positive experiences & maximizing utilization of LA City Rec & Parks centers. Additionally, we introduce our participants to community gardens in the areas served.
6. Arts & Cultural Vitality: Cultural and artistic activities run rampant in our programs. For example, Yacht Pix is a pilot program in our Venice chapter that puts cameras in the hands of teens. This scavenger hunt-style class aims to teach basic photography skills, to encourage critical thinking, & to help kids expand their artistic talents. This winning formula creates a catalyst for real change in the youth & communities of LA & a grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation & Good Worldwide will enable us to expand our efforts to 3 additional parks by the end of 2013.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
To date, The Yacht Club has successfully transformed 500+ dodgeball players into engaged, socially-conscious Angelenos by creating a diverse number of opportunities for participants to volunteer directly in their communities, in addition to adding roughly 1300+ hours of physical activity for kids and adults. This has been achieved through the following programming efforts:
Creative Fundraising: One example would be our 3rd Annual Valentine's Day Tournament. We worked with private local and national companies to create a unique themed event. This was an incredibly successful fundraising effort with proceeds going towards on-going activities for kids, including Kids dodgeball, Yacht Grub, Yacht Plot, Yacht Pix and forthcoming programs.
Kids Dodgeball: Friday nights from 7:30-9 PM: Continuing our efforts to create positive experiences & growth for the youth of Glassell Park & Venice (& starting the program this spring in North Hollywood), we host our Kids Dodgeball League on Friday nights. This program was started under the Mayor's Summer Night Lights initiative over two years ago, which we used as a platform to gauge interest & create an on-going program. We are very proud that this informal league has helped us build relationships with kids in the neighborhood, which has furthered our ability to create new efforts & programs.
Yacht Plot: We have firmly planted ourselves in a new spot in Glassell Park - The Drew St. Community Garden. The Yacht Club volunteers, along with helpful neighborhood kids, maintain the garden a few times each week-routinely watering, weeding, tidying up, monitoring plant growth, & dealing with challenges presented by seasonal change. Once mature, the plot’s produce will supplement the culinary needs of the Yacht Grub kids cooking class. To assist in supplementing the needs of our gardening crew, our adult dodgeball league rallied & donated our wish list of kid's gardening tools.
Kids Cooking Classes: In 2012, we formed Yacht Grub in collaboration with Whole Foods, creating a cooking & nutrition class for at-risk-teens associated with recreation centers in Venice & Glassell Park. The goal of this six week course is to give students confidence in the kitchen while they learn healthy cooking, practical nutrition information, basic knife skills & complete awareness of how to read ingredient labels. 8-10 students learn two new recipes each week in this 2 hour class.
Yacht Pix, an introduction to photography course for kids at the Oakwood Rec Center in Venice. The goal of the class is to learn a variety of techniques & ways of shooting, honing the students’ critical thinking skills. Guest photographers showcase their work, allowing students to see how photography can be a profession. At the end of the session, the students work is hung for a ‘gallery opening’ where one photo is chosen as the winner based on skills learned, directions followed, & positive behavior displayed.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
LA Department of Recreation & Parks:
Directors & staff are vital partners in our project - their commitment & understanding of the impact we can have at the parks & communities are essential to our success. We work to identify & define the specific needs of each park, funneling resources & volunteers to reach those goals.
Teachers, Stakeholders, Community Leaders & City Officials:
Our leadership teams work with community leaders & educators to establish common goals & collaborate on solving specific problems in the neighborhoods we serve. i.e., due to budget shortfalls, the Glassell Park Community Pool had been slated for closure in the fall of 2012. Our local chapter worked to ensure the pool stayed open year round.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Currently our growth and success is built on word of mouth. The Yacht Club started with 10 players and volunteers and has grown to nearly 500, all from players encouraging friends and strangers to get involved. By people continuing to step up through our adult programming and get involved in The Yacht Club, their desire to take the helm and start new projects that benefit their community is one measurement of success.
Success will also be measured by our ability to address specific needs of Los Angeles parks. For instance, in the summer of 2012, The Yacht Club launched our Quick and Dirty dodgeball series, the goal of which was to identify a specific problem at a local recreation center, host a one day tournament to raise funds and donate to the cause. To date, we raised funds for the following causes:
• $800 to send 7 low-income kids to summer camp at Oakwood Rec in Venice.
• $800 for the Save Glassell Pool campaign
• $800 to ensure the Glassell rec center stays open on Sundays
• $750 to make much needed repairs to the North Hollywood Rec Center’s gym floors.
Another major indicator of our success will be the retention and return rate for program participants. Success will come in both large and small forms. Whether a child returns to Yacht Grub for example, continues their culinary education, encourages others to do so or potentially sparking interest in what could become a profession would all be monumental measures of success.
Some of these pilot programs are less than a year old, so retention and recidivism are still being analyzed, but to date we've noticed that 75% of kids who began these programs have returned on a regular basis. The hope is to increase both the raw number of local children participating in the program by offering a more diverse array of classes and to maximize our retention rate by perfecting the instruction models we have begun.
We’ll also use the feedback we receive from our partners, community leaders, and kids in our programs to identify our strengths and weaknesses and grow a stronger Yacht Club.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
We believe a more physically active Los Angeles means a healthier Los Angeles, but exercise is just one of many benefits and advantages The Yacht Club can bring to the neighborhoods that need it most. We also offer a safe and fun place for kids to hang-out by creating positive experiences and engaging activities, helping LA City Rec and Parks centers to become a living and breathing part of the community and a focal point for those living within it. Additionally, the art and educational programs we offer are designed to build vital skills that enhance human development, such as: confidence, critical thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit, which studies show results in more engaged young people that are more likely to avoid the juvenile court system, stay in school, and even go to college.
In addition to health benefits, The Yacht Club offers Los Angeles a host of other benefits, from improved public safety and social connectedness to environmental quality. While many people living in Los Angeles have the desire and the good intentions to get out and help their community, many feel so removed from the problem that they don’t ever rustle up the determination to get involved. The Yacht Club has developed a system to draw them into the LA City Rec and Parks centers to understand the need, to experience the sense of community, and to engage in a movement of change, ultimately creating a sense of investment in their own neighborhoods - we’re shedding light on how vital it is that participants get involved in shaping our surroundings.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
By 2050, we hope that there will be a drastic reduction in the rates of obesity in our communities. We hope the kids in our program have retained a lifelong commitment to exercise, nutrition, civic engagement and volunteerism. Additionally, we hope they have led by example and their kids will also have lifelong commitments to the same. We hope that The Yacht Club will teach them to also be educators - leading the classes they used to be students in, understanding and pushing for the skills that were so pivotal in shaping them into adulthood. Their own children will be helping to shape new programs at LA City Rec and Parks centers which have, once again, become the touchstones of our communities - the place where neighbors meet, kids play, and communities grow together.
The importance of fostering healthy, productive, civic-minded youth will mean that services are being added to LA City Rec and Parks programs instead of taking them away. In our vision for 2050, The Yacht Club’s programs will be present in every LA City Rec and Parks center in Los Angeles, engaging kids and adults as productive and active community members. The Yacht Club’s comprehensive programs - Yacht Plot, Yacht Grub, Yacht Pix, Dodgeball, and the other programs we have the capacity to develop - will become part of Los Angeles’ vernacular, and funding for these programs will be automatically included in the Mayor’s budget as part of a comprehensive program to address the health of Angelenos. The desire to solve health problems with a single pill will be long-gone, and conventional wisdom will be clear – not only are exercise and diet key to living a long happy life, but the internal sense of self-worth and accomplishment that comes from giving back to your community through volunteerism is paramount to your overall health.