April 24, 2019

Selfless Service

Mrs. Laura Keefe is the Executive Director and Founder of YELLS. I had the opportunity to interview her about her involvement with writing and the fundamental growth of YELLS as a non-profit.

A few weeks ago I was able to have the opportunity to interview someone that has inspired me, both professionally and mentally. Mrs. Laura Keefe is the Founder and Executive Director of YELLS (Youth Empowerment through Learning, Leading, and Service). I have had the chance to work closely with Mrs. Keefe while I volunteered as a mentor at one of the after-school programs she oversees, and the professionalism and care she emplaces into her work and the students who attend the programs are incredible.

Mrs. Keefe began her journey into becoming the founder and executive director of YELLS by first being an English teacher at Marietta High School. It is there that she discovered how powerful service learning and youth leadership are for students. She went on to explain that youth come alive when they’re given a voice and the opportunity to make real-world change.

They grow the most while giving to others.

She at first worked with service learning mostly within the school system as a club sponsor for various leadership groups. However, it was through her role as a sponsor that she discovered the power that these organizations can have on a community. She recognized a need for a positive voice for the Franklin Gateway residents because most of what is spoken about in regards to this area are negative news.

She wanted to make a change.

Further within the interview, I asked her what does she like most about working at YELLS. Without hesitation, she said, “watching youth and their families grow as they lead.”

That is true selflessness.

She went on to say, “It’s always amazing to watch someone push themselves past their comfort zone, and then experience the pride and accomplishment when they’re successful.”

One of her most proud moments as the founder of YELLS comes from a time when the youth of YELLS sought to preserve the identity of their community by rally to keep “Franklin” in their street’s name. Franklin Gateway was originally named “Franklin Road,” and the City of Marietta planned to change its name to Gateway Boulevard.

The students and teenagers of YELLS felt strongly about keeping the name “Franklin” and they took action to make that a reality. Under her oversight, the students organized a Town Hall and invited the Mayor to come speak with community members.  YELLS youth moderated the entire session, asking questions of City leaders and inviting residents’ voices to be heard.

She admittedly recognizes that the preservation of the name seemed more of an exercise than a reality. “We originally thought this was an important exercise but had little hope it would make a difference since the business community was already using “Gateway” in its branding.  However, at the next Council meeting, one Council member shared that they had to listen to the people of the neighborhood, and maybe there’s a way to compromise by renaming the street Franklin Gateway. “

I then directed the interview to her use of writing within her work.

Acknowledging that the purpose of this interview was to have an insight into the use of writing and English within career fields, I was very eager to learn.

I asked her how often she needs to write to donors and grant providers.

“Constantly,” she said.

Each year YELLS must reapply for the majority of the grants that fund the program. Additionally, most funders require monthly reports and regular updates. These updates usually consist of documented events held by YELLS and the impact they have on the neighborhoods. YELLS also works to celebrate our donors as part of the YELLS Family by showing gratitude both through written “thank you’s” and through social media tags and posts.</p>

She went on to explain that these things are done to help create a bond and a community between YELLS and its donors.

It just so happen to be that during our interview Mrs. Laura was writing a renewal grant proposal.

So I had to ask, “Are these grant proposals difficult to create and assemble?”

She humbly responded with, “Most are tough.  I’ve gotten the hang of it over the years, but it requires laser focus.  There’s a lot of pressure as you’re literally writing for the ability to do the work that’s so necessary, knowing that both a community and people’s jobs depend on a successful application.  All applications are different, though.  Some are fairly straight forward and ask similar questions, and some force reinvention and new ideas.  Some are 50+ pages and months of planning, and some are one-pagers.”

Mrs. Laura is constantly writing to donors and grant providers, so it is easy to understand that writing is a crucial skill for her position. The need to communicate the vision, and tell a narrative that motivates and promotes action is essential.

“You’re constantly working to motivate people to invest in your cause, so your words must be powerful and capture your impact. “

To sum up our discussion, I decided to ask her what is the biggest challenge facing YELLS and the industry that she is in. Immediately she responded with funding. Now that YELLS has scaled to the point of having a staff, they now must rely heavily on funding to keep the work going. Another major challenge is keeping up with stretched capacity and balancing meeting all the needs of the community while still doing quality work.

My meeting with Mrs. Laura Keefe was an amazing insight on what it is like to run and manage a non-profit organization. Her constant impact on the youth of Franklin Gateway and the selfless acts she does daily for the community cannot go without recognition.

She gives up her time day in and day out for the community.

Mrs. Laura always has a smile on her face and a great attitude even if she is stretched thin with duties and obligations at YELLS.

Franklin Gateway is thriving, and it is with the help of YELLS and Mrs. Laura Keefe that this community is growing and reaching new heights.

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