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Setting students, junior staff up for success requires flexible funding

By Jayne O'Donnell

Youthcast Media Group®

When my 23-year-old daughter moved to a new school for 8th grade, her history teacher quickly recognized she likely had attention deficit disorder (ADD). That helped her get in-school help from a learning specialist and us to get recommendations for outside neuropsychological testing and executive function tutoring.

It changed her life.

Kathryn Essig leads a college prep training session for YMG students during a video shoot

Now, our virtual organization’s college interns and junior staff are getting the professional version of that tutoring, with the same specialist who put my child on her well-organized path a decade ago. Kathryn Essig of Northern Virginia-based Essig Education Group is helping set these young people up for success with the prioritization and organization skills they need for YMG, future jobs and college. Essig was named Educator of the Year in 2022 by the national organization CHADD (Children and Adults with

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).

Headshot of Kathryn Essig (courtesy of Essig)

Next, she will be helping us get a new group of high school students to create TikToks on the decriminalization of mental illness efficiently (on top of engagingly, grammatically and factually — no small task!).

I tell you this in part to highlight how much goes on behind the scenes at YMG that doesn’t fit neatly into our “programs,” per se. And, also, to illustrate how hard we work to prepare — and promote — the high school students we train. (All of our current interns started as high school participants).

When it comes to our successful health journalism training programs, we’ve been blessed with a few generous two and two-plus year grants from funders including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Sozosei Foundation. But like most nonprofits, we struggle to raise enough unrestricted money. That includes donations to cover the costs of some of the must-do and want-to-do functions of YMG like liability insurance for the youth and the journalism they create, for our fabulous operations manager Carey Johnson who patiently onboards all new contractors, interns and staff and trains (and retrains) everyone how to properly account for their hours on timesheets, along with the technology and management everyone needs to succeed.

Sophie Beney, YMG’s assistant manager of social media and visuals, says “everyone should have a Kathy Essig!”

We’ve also been beyond blessed by the pro bono-to-us services of Sara Levinson, a consultant with the Small Business Development Center, which is funded in part by James Madison University and the federal Small Business Administration. Sara recently completed a management report on YMG, which gave us high marks for our accounting controls during our rapid growth, but warned that our high reliance on grant funding is not sustainable in the long run.

Unrestricted funding – which comes primarily in the form of donations (hint, hint!) – will help us continue to invest in training our interns so that they can be successful with us, and beyond.

Because who among us hasn’t struggled to stay focused in our real or makeshift offices at home with dogs barking and families interrupting? (For the record, my husband once interrupted me as I was presenting on a 700-person webinar to tell me the trash hadn’t been picked up!)

One of YMG's new interns, Kymani Hughes, says "thanks to Kathy Essig's executive function training, I developed effective strategies for time management and efficiency at Youthcast Media Group."

Some of us more seasoned staffers took Essig’s training in 2021 as the pandemic wreaked havoc on a few of our more-distractible minds. I was first in line! Like many parents, I learned around the same time as my daughter’s diagnosis that I had ADD and executive function disorder, which ADDitude Magazine says “is basically weaknesses in the cognitive process that organizes thoughts and activities, prioritizes tasks, manages time efficiently, and makes decisions.”

For her part, my daughter Cate graduated summa cum laude from Syracuse University in May ‘22 and is performing well in her first job, which builds the foundation for a successful career.

We want all the young people we work with to have the chance to achieve as much. Please consider making a donation today to help us do so.


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