Heart of Los Angeles
Expanding Equitable Access in LA
How Star Insights Helped Heart of Los Angeles Create Organization-Wide Mission Alignment
For over 30 years, Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) has been providing high-quality after-school programs to children in Los Angeles, ranging from a music and youth orchestra to visual arts classes, competitive sports programs to family wellness and counseling programs, and academic support programs ranging from elementary school to college prep courses.
HOLA envisions a Los Angeles in which every young person has the opportunity to realize their full potential. Their mission is to help young people overcome barriers through exceptional, free, integrated programs and personalized guidance in a trusted, nurturing environment.
“I believe that every child has the same potential, they just may not have the same access to opportunities to realize it. That’s a shame. And I think we can do better. So, Heart of LA is about removing barriers for young people, so that they can ultimately find and realize that potential.”
Heart of Los Angeles
Having just reached a major milestone – opening a brand-new building – HOLA was looking to the future and deciding on their next steps as an organization. With decades of experience and lessons learned, HOLA was looking for the best way to move forward.
How could they expand their impact? How else could they help reduce the ever-widening equity gaps and the ever-increasing number of young people without access to programs like theirs?
With these questions in mind, they turned to Star Insights.
THREE CORE QUESTIONS
Like all Star Insights engagements, HOLA went through the signature, 5-Phase, Co-Creation Process. In the initial meetings, it became evident that HOLA was wrestling with three core questions that would decisively influence the trajectory of the organization:
- How could HOLA make best use of this new facility and do more in their community?
- How could HOLA help change the systems that created these equity gaps in the first place?
- How could HOLA serve more young people and impact more lives – without diluting the quality of their programming?
While HOLA had decades of experience in youth development in LA, playing a larger role in shaping public policy posed some unique obstacles. HOLA believed that being in the room with policy makers could help them address the systemic inequalities that make their services necessary. The shift in thinking was that, instead of just reacting to the ever-widening inequality gap, they could proactively influence prevention and reduction of these issues.
“This idea of being reactive as opposed to being in the room and influencing prevention of things happening in the first place, are mistakes that we’ve made. But I think George Floyd, and COVID, you know, have challenged LA and other places to really look at their systems and try to find opportunities for reimagination.” – Tony Brown, CEO
Expansion was also tricky, not just because of concerns regarding quality, but because of the number of stakeholders involved and the high demand for their services. With many calls for them to expand into new communities, how could HOLA help their young people change their circumstances in life, while also partnering effectively with funders, government partners, other advocates, and community groups?
Internally, HOLA didn’t have established criteria for how to evaluate and make decisions on potential expansion opportunities. This led to much of their time with the board being spent deciphering if an opportunity was right for HOLA, instead of gathering resources and acting on the opportunities being presented to them.
Working together with a core team from HOLA and a strategic planning committee, Star Insights proceeded through their discovery and exploration phase. The Board brought a diverse set of thoughts and experiences to the process and were quick to join the team in wrestling with these challenging questions about HOLA’s future.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic made a combination of in-person meetings, Zoom events, and hybrid calls necessary, but HOLA’s Board was up to the task and dived in with gusto. A true working board, they were very willing to dig into the questions Star Insights presented and work alongside the executive team to find answers.
“We have a really good board. Our board lets the programming staff, and the operational staff do their job, which is awesome. The challenge has been that, sometimes, our operational staff get sort of stuck. Can we do this? Can we take this opportunity? Or is this something we should turn away? The board isn’t close enough. So, we needed a set of operating principles, so that we wouldn’t have to keep running back and forth with the board, as we meander through this moment of growth and expansion.”
Heart of Los Angeles
Star Insights’ strategic planning process allowed the strategic planning committee to work quickly to fully align behind a refreshed vision and mission, and to deliver three clear strategic priorities. However, what they lacked was a tool they could use on a day-to-day basis to make decisions that would help them accomplish their goals at this specific phase of the organization. And so, Star Insights worked with them to create a set of customized operating and expansion principles that everyone at HOLA could use.
“Star Insights helped us come up with 7 really good operating principles. And then 10 really wonderful expansion principles. And those were intended to guide our board and our leadership staff when we consider expansion opportunities. And that was extraordinarily awesome.” – Tony Brown, CEO
REALIZING THEIR FULL POTENTIAL
The creation and implementation of these principles has helped HOLA realize incredible success, both internally and externally.
“Now, when we go to a board meeting, we don’t have to spend the next 40 minutes answering the question ‘should we be doing this?”. We can get other types of strategic advice from the board, around resources and connections, because of these operating principles. Now it’s just a matter of lining up resources and connections. It makes us far more effective, and we’re better able to deliver more quickly, at a time when these equity gaps couldn’t be more urgent.” – Tony Brown, CEO
In addition to enhancing collaboration between the Board and staff, external partners have noticed the increased alignment and cohesion these operating principles have given HOLA. With one physical expansion site already in South Central, HOLA is pursuing another expansion hub, farther south, using their expansion principles.
“I’ve been meeting with some of our partners [in South Central] and one of the partners said, “Gosh. It’s just so amazing to me, how everyone I meet within your organization is so aligned, You guys are so aligned, in these meetings.’ They’re blown away. And I think that’s a really good reflection of how powerful having a really good strategic plan, and these operating and expansion principles, have been.”
Heart of Los Angeles
Having these principles has also been key in allowing HOLA to engage in policy discussions. These principles not only guide them inside the room, but also direct which rooms they should be in, the conversations they want to be having, and the outcomes they want to drive.
With these principles to guide both everyday operations and expansion efforts, HOLA can continue to offer high-quality programs, work to reduce equity gaps, and help young people across Los Angeles reach their full potential.