Introduction History of Welfare Systems History of Non-Profit Organizations Poverty and Non-Profits Funding Challenges of Non-Profits The “Bigger Picture” Interview with Jeff Conway-Carlisle United Way
Interview with Mr. Dale Cross, Executive Director of the Employment Skills Center in Carlisle, PAConducted by Carla Nally on October 25, 2007
NALLY: Today is October 25, 2007, and I, Carla Nally, am seated here with Mr. Dale Cross, the Executive Director of the Employment Skills Center here in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. First of all, Mr. Cross, could you please tell me a little bit about yourself… Where are you from? Are you a Carlisle native? And if not, how did you end up here in Carlisle?
CROSS: I am not a Carlisle native, but I did grow up in Pennsylvania.
NALLY: Where exactly?
CROSS: Hazelton, which is north of here.
NALLY: Oh okay!
CROSS: I left there to go to school.
NALLY: Where did you go to school?
CROSS: I went to school at West Point in upstate New York and then [was] in the military for a few years, and then went into business and moved around quite a bit. I actually didn’t get back to Pennsylvania until about fourteen years ago. So… started out and now ending up in the state of Pennsylvania.
NALLY: Do you like Carlisle?
CROSS: Oh, it’s a wonderful community, it really is.
NALLY: That’s good to hear! I like it too. I’ve been going to school here for four years already. It’s a nice little town.
CROSS: Good, good. It’s better when you like it!
NALLY: Now, you are the Executive Director of the Employment Skills Center and what are your duties as Executive Director?
CROSS: Well, basically it’s to manage our programs and services and to raise funds. We are a local community based non-profit.
CROSS: We’re only able to provide our programs and services if we raise sufficient funds so that’s a major part of my responsibility.
NALLY: And what is harder, managing the programs or raising the funds?
CROSS: I’d say probably raising the funds… it takes more time.
NALLY: Well, let me backtrack a little bit. What exactly is the Employment Skills Center?
CROSS: Okay. We basically are an education and training organization. We provide what is most commonly referred to as adult education. We basically provide fundamental skills to individuals so that they qualify for better jobs and that really enhances their quality of life as well. The core of our programming is adult education in the areas of GED preparation -that’s the high school diploma equivalency in the United States. There are five tests one must pass to demonstrate the qualifications for that high school diploma, and so we help people prepare in each of those areas so that they can pass that test and get the certificate.
They get the training here, and there are tests centers all over the state that they can take them at. The second program is basic literacy. Anyone with less than a seventh grade reading level… and it is a very diverse group of clients, but basic reading and writing comprehension skills. And then the third is English for non-native speakers, and that certainly is a growing area. Those are the core programs. We provide some additional areas of education and training, but that’s the meat of what we do.
NALLY: Wonderful. Is there anything that you would change in regard to how the center is currently run?
CROSS: Well, yes. From time to time we add new programs, we modify programs, that’s basically what needs are in the community that we find, and to some degree the level of funding, or the specific guidelines that the funding may require so there are changes from time to time, sure.
NALY: Ok. Well, what kind of factors impede you from executing these changes? You said that the funding is perhaps the most important… is there anything else?
CROSS: Well, to some degree it’s our perception of what the needs are in the community and if that’s not completely accurate then we need to make changes. So I’ll give you an example: we applied for some funds about a year and a half ago to expand our literacy services to a new site in addition to Carlisle, and that site was Mechanicsburg.
NALLY: That’s really close by though.
CROSS: It is… but for folks that have basic literacy needs, many of them do not have transportation, so to them it’s a long distance. We opened up some literacy classes at the public library in downtown Mechanicsburg, and our research indicated that there was a fairly substantial population of people that would take advantage of this, but as it turns out, we were unable to attract more than five individuals and after our initial trial funding, we did not seek additional funding. We were successful in getting some of those individuals and find transportation and come here… so that’s an example of where a program changed because the need did not transpire as we thought it would.
NALLY: Why is the Employment Skills Center needed here in Carlisle?
CROSS: Well, unfortunately, there are a large number of people who need these services. In the United States, twenty-five percent of high school students today will not graduate high school… that’s a really significant statistic. Thirteen percent of all adults in Cumberland County, the county we are in, don’t have a diploma, that’s adults!
NALLY: Right, that’s just adults, not even counting the younger kids.
CROSS: Right, so the need is relatively significant, and of course as the number of immigrants joining the community, joining the workforce increases, then the demand for our English classes increases. So, we are needed because the residents of our local community…
NALLY: So there is a strong need…. Well, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of social service organizations within downtown Carlisle. There is this center…. There is Hope Station, which is not too far away, and Safe Harbour… So there is a need for these kinds of social services. How has the Employment Skills Center affected the downtown Carlisle area?
CROSS: I think we have been a plus, an advantage for the downtown area. It is a convenient location. You mentioned some of the other social service agencies… It is very common for individuals who need our services to also need the services of other agencies, so we often find our clients through references, referrals, from other agencies and being located in this area has helped. Safe Harbour, for example, many of the residents at Safe Harbour need some enhancement of their educational and employment training skills, so we are very convenient for them. The Salvation Army is a block away, and many of their residents do as well. Even in the wonderful community of Carlisle, we’ve got a fairly significant homeless population…
CROSS: …and there are certainly agencies that deal with some of their basic needs, the Cares Organization, for temporary housing… the… Project S.H.A.R.E. organization for food… but we also can provide some help in the way of education, and we feel that it’s helping people break that cycle of poverty, to be able to become more self-sufficient and less reliant on other services.
NALLY: Right. Well, you just mentioned that… well, it sounds like you have a very strong relationship with the other organizations that provide these social services, but how would you describe the relationship that the Employment Skills Center has with residents of the Carlisle community that don’t necessarily need these services?
CROSS: It’s hard to evaluate that… how do you know? I’d say the best I could answer that would be, we believe that we are a fairly good level of recognition in the community, and that folks know who we are and what we do, that that’s growing and certainly always needs to be developed. The fact that we have a fairly decent base of individual contributions is another indicator that we are well received… The fact that we do get referrals from other agencies. Like a lot of non-profits, we have a lot of fundraising events from time to time to generate funds and the response to those is very good. People come out to support us at those events… So, those are all indicators. There is always room for improvement and there is no finite measurement, if you will.
NALLY: Well, what would you like to see improve with this relationship?
CROSS: Well, I guess, we’d certainly like to, for all of the things I mentioned, to grow and get better. We seek to get as much publicity as we can so that the word gets out to not only potential clients, but to potential donors in the community. So, yes, just like most organizations, we want that to continue to grow and develop.
NALLY: I was looking over the website and I saw that the center was founded in 1967. Do you know how the community reacted to the arrival of this center?
CROSS: No, I really don’t … I’ve been here for about two and a half years, so well before my time… The fact that we’ve been around forty years says something. If there was not at least a fairly positive response, then I don’t think this organization would have survived. But it’s an indication that the demand exists, the demand has continued over that period of time, certainly doesn’t seem to be lessening… I mentioned the statistic that thirteen percent of adults in Cumberland County don’t have a high school diploma, that’s twenty thousand adults. We probably see a hundred and twenty-five in a year out of twenty thousand.
NALLY: The numbers are so high.
CROSS: So, you know, we could quadruple in size and still be reaching only a small portion of the potential, for folks to avail themselves of that kind of service. So, it kind of puts it in perspective.
NALLY: Under your direction how has the Employment Skills Center progressed, or, developed?
CROSS: I think we’ve done well over the last few years as an organization, like most organizations, you need to assess how you are performing. Are you meeting the needs in the community? We had such a session, a strategic planning session about two and a half years ago, and as a result of that, we’ve tried to focus our programming in alignment with our mission. We’ve discontinued some things, added some new things. I believe that’s helped put us more in sync with the community and the needs. One of the most significant changes is January of this year, just ten months ago, we changed our name.
NALLY: Oh, really? What was it before?
CROSS: It was the Carlisle Area OIC.
NALLY: What is “OIC?”
CROSS: That’s a good question… that was the first question I’d usually get. There was not a great deal of name recognition. The answer is, it stands for “Opportunities Industrialization Center,” which is quite a mouthful. It still doesn’t describe very well what we did. The mission, even back then, was focused on adult education. So, we went through a process of talking with clients, talking with donors, talking with community members, and trying to come up with what better described and what would better resonate with those constituents, with those stakeholders and as a result of that process we came up with “Employment Skills Center,” and then implemented that. And since then, I think the recognition has been better, the reception to that name has been very good, and so that’s probably one of the more visible changes that we’ve made recently.
NALLY: Well, I had no idea about the name change! I mean, it certainly does , I don’t know, I guess it presents the mission of this organization better…
NALLY: … especially to people that might not be able to understand what “Opportunity Industrialization Center” can offer you. “Employment Skills Center” is a little bit easier to… even [to] relate to. What kind of people are seeking out the services here? You mentioned that mostly adults… you would say, want to contiue on with their GED education…
CROSS: Yes. Say, if a teenager drops out of school, it’s really not our target audience. They have to be at least seventeen. But we’re focused more on the older adult that’s trying to re-enter the work force, that’s trying to re-start their employment.
NALLY: Okay… As of now, I think that I have more than enough information… Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Oh! And the website is wonderful! Especially for me, a student trying to understand…
CROSS: Oh, to get some background information.
NALLY: It’s very well organized and has so much information!
CROSS: Yes, well, that’s new as well. We went into that in conjunction with the name-change.
NALLY: Oh ok. Do your students, or participants of your programs, do they have access to this information via web?
CROSS: I would say the majority come through referrals, from other individuals, from other agencies. There are some that may have come across it on the website, but the typical client is less likely to gain information through that source. It is more word of mouth than referral. And of course, we have posters and other print materials that we continue to distribute throughout the community, so folks see that from time to time.
NALLY: And what is the reaction of students once they complete the programs … do they … come back and thank you for your services?
CROSS: [Chuckles] Yes, some do. But really, I think the best thanks is for them just to take what they gained and go on and have a better quality of life from it. We do several things. We have a once a year ceremony, we call it our “Graduation,” but it’s really just an expression of appreciation, a congratulation for the effort that students have put forth. We have some in our literacy program for example, in our English classes, and they have been here for years. They have been to multiple “Graduations.” So we call it that, but it’s really just an expression of appreciation. We also try to have students express the difference that it has made in their lives, in other words, give us testimonials. That’s helpful in describing to other clients and to potential donors what it is we do, and the value that it brings… you want to know that you are getting a return for that donation.
NALLY: Do you have a relationship with Dickinson College?
CROSS: Oh, absolutely. [Laughs] Multiple. In fact, I don’t know if you know her… Sandra Garcia? She is a Dickinson student working here and she is in the Federal Work Study program. She comes here for a number of hours each week and she is currently helping us with our upcoming fundraiser. We also have a group of Dickinson Students that are here as volunteers, and we have had volunteers from a variety of sources… we’ve had the Bonner volunteers [Bonner Leaders] They are just getting organized for this year, but we had two or three Bonner volunteers last year. One has helped as a tutor in the classroom, another has helped with our website development, and another has helped with fundraising activities. We’ve also had some of the sororities looking for volunteer projects come and help us. We also participate actively in the Community Round-table, and that is a Dickinson organization. In fact, I would highly recommend that you find out about the Community Round-table and you talk to them… if you are looking for impact on the community, what better resource than Dickinson, whose whole focus is the community!
NALLY: Well yes. Especially because at times it seems like the college is actually distant from Carlisle, the town…
CROSS: That’s not my perspective at all. [Laughs] I just mentioned three or four connections… and how about the downtown corridor project? Dickinson has made significant donations to help the downtown development. In fact, I was at a meeting, you know Rusty Shunk? In his office, which is right downtown, yesterday… the taskforce that is looking at the Downtown Improvement District, they were meeting there, and so that’s another Dickinson connection! So what’s that, five or six, I just gave you?
NALLY: I meant from a student perspective… not that the students don’t like Carlisle, but there is a lack of interest in downtown Carlisle. That’s the distance I meant to refer to… how some students don’t take the time to go downtown, how some think there is not much to do there.
CROSS: That’s not my perspective at all.
NALLY: That’s wonderful to hear!
CROSS: I know a whole lot of students that do make the connection.
NALLY: Well, I have so much information… thank you–
CROSS: What’s the name of the Dickinson website that tries to match studetns with volunteer needs in the community? Dickinson Connect?
NALLY: Dickinson Connect… yes, through that website –
CROSS: That’s another one! And your project is…
NALLY: I wanted to look at the non-profit organizations in downtown Carlisle and see the affect they have had with regard to downtown’s development.
CROSS: Right, well wouldn’t you want to talk to the people that run Dickinson Connect?
NALLY: I wasn’t trying to focus my project so much with Dickinson’s role…
CROSS: But they are inseparable! What’s their goal? [Dickinson Connect] To try to help the non-profits in the downtown Carlisle area by providing volunteer help. Right?
NALLY: Yes… (Laughs) This actually helps more, not only because you provided me with information regarding the center, but you’ve provided me with so many more resources. I appreciate that.
CROSS: Have you talked to United Way?
CROSS: This might be a very, very, good resource. In many communities, you’ve got all of these organizations trying to raise money for their purposes, their cause. A long long time ago, many communities said “let’s try to put an organization together that raises money, one drive for all of the organizations. And that’s a very general, very loose description, in fact, the United Way here in Carlisle does that for twenty-eight organizations, and that’s not all the organizations. That’s a large number. And we are a member agency. We still do our own fundraising, and others, but this is an annual campaign… the campaign is taking place right now. United Way has a Member Agency Services which, twice a month, hosts a meeting of all the organizations. I mean, you’re talking to me… we are one agency. We are a relatively small agency. We have a very specific purpose.
NALLY: Mr. Cross, thank you so much.
CROSS: You’re very welcome. [Laughs] It’s probably more than you bargained for! [Laughs]
NALLY: I appreciate it, thank you!
CROSS: Good luck on your project!