From All Sides

Yesterday I put together a new table of data to calculate what percentage of the YM-YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood's income in the 1970s came from the government grants they received to provide social services to older adults. I wanted to know how dependent the Y was on this stream of funding, as compared to its annual allocation from the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York (FJP) or to its revenue from membership dues and special activities fees. I was surprised to find that government grants made up an average of 57% percent of the Y's non-Federation income (Total Other Income, or TOI) between 1973-79. 

Government Grants as a Percent of the Y's Total Other Income (i.e. non-FJP income). All work is property of Avigail S. Oren. Please do not use without permission.

I was surprised because I had long hypothesized that the Y benefitted from these government grants, because they made the Y less financially vulnerable to fluctuations in their annual allocation from FJP. Clearly, although the government funds balanced out the risk of a possible decrease in their FJP allocations in any given year, it did not do enough to diversify the Y's sources of income. On average, between 1973-79 one-third of the Y's total income depended on the government, one-third on FJP's allocation, and one-third on membership dues and fees. Government money may have buffered the Y in years when their FJP allocation decreased, but it too was subject to fluctuations and possible cuts.

These numbers helped me to recognize a great truth in life: any given solution may not solve all aspects of a problem, and often it can create new problems. While government money provided a measure of financial stability to the Y in the early 1970s, the Y suffered doubly in 1975 when the toxic market forces of hyperinflation, spiking energy prices, and New York City's fiscal crisis led to cuts in both its government and FJP funding. It's a valuable reminder that income diversification is essential for individuals, businesses, and voluntary/charitable organizations alike, and that leaders must consider (and plan for) the consequences of pursuing each new stream of income.  

Rock Concert

This past week, I have been writing a case study about the Senior Citizens Center established at the YM-YWHA of Washington Heights-Inwood in 1973. As a result, I have been thoroughly rereading the minutes of the meetings held by the Y's Board of Directors in the 1970s. Although the Board devoted much of its discussion to its new programs for older adults, the minutes reflect that the Board was also concerned by declining participation in their programs for teenagers and young adults. They often discussed strategies to reengage lapsed members and recruit new ones.

One suggestion that arose again and again was a "rock" concert [puzzling quotation marks theirs, not mine]. Board members proposed a rock concert on three separate occasions in 1971 and 1972, without ever elaborating on what bands they could possibly get to play such a show. Neither did they reflect on the fact that teenagers may not be interested in an act or band that a group of middle-aged adults found palatable. 

In 1978, the Y actually did follow through on the strategy. In May of that year, the Y's Teen Supervisor, Stan Friedman, suggested to the members of the Board's Program Committee that they re-launch the Teen Program with a rock concert. The minutes recorded: "Members would be allowed to bring one friend. Again, a special invitation would go to the list of Jewish Teens. Stan said that a former gym member of the Y, Dennis Minogue, is now a band manager."

The concert was held in December, and in the intervening months the goal shifted from recruiting teenagers to recruiting college-aged young adults into a new Y program for this age group. Although staff member Martin Englisher reported to the Y Board that 110 people had attended the show, most were non-Jewish high school students who were not Y members. Englisher concluded, "It was felt that the concert, although it went well, did not really serve the Y's purpose."

Most remarkably, the rock concert continues to be an idea that adults suggest for teen recruitment and engagement. I texted a friend who works with teenagers in the Jewish community about the Y's history with rock concerts--admittedly, my description was hyperbolic--and she responded that this is an idea she still hears with regularity, despite rock music's precipitous decline in popularity in the 21st century.

The problem with suggesting a rock concert, besides its being freighted with nostalgia, is that it is not something that teenagers need. A rock concert is something that adults think teens want, and no one likes to be told what they should want or what they should find meaningful. With history on my side, I urge the adults who lead Jewish communal organizations to retire this strategy. 

Binary Fission

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I have been working on the fourth chapter of my dissertation for over six months. The preceding chapters each took an average of four months, and I've blown right past that. It feels especially overdue because I submitted the last chapter on December 30, 2015, and so my committee has not received anything new from me in 2016. I did spend a month this summer working on an article draft, and several months in the winter were spent revising earlier chapters, so I have made progress in other ways. Nonetheless, I'm uncomfortable with the pace I've been on and with my delinquency in delivering work to my committee.

Today, however, I had a realization--one that has been quietly dawning for some time, but which finally flamed out into the wide open air at 11:00 AM this morning. 

In over six months of work, I have generated a lot writing. Even as it has amassed, I've mostly felt burdened by how much still remains to be done. At some point, I began to suspect that I already had a monster, and it was not done growing. I tried not to worry about, and stayed committed to my original plan.

This morning, I decided that there was just no way that I could fit two topics as big, broad, and deep as the Urban Crisis and the War on Poverty into one chapter. Although they are intimately related, the JCC movement responded in different (though not contradictory) ways to the destruction and rebuilding of their urban surroundings. 

Once I pulled the trigger and separated the chapter into two, I felt an immense relief. My monster baby has been transformed into fraternal twins, different from one another but obviously of a pair. More reassuringly, I have written TWO chapters so far this year, each averaging about four months! There's still more work to do, but a burden has lifted.

A Quarter of a Million Decisions

I came across the following passage in A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz, and although it is about the writing of fiction I think it's generalizable to writing, period, including the writing of history:

If you write an eighty-thousand-word novel, you have to make about a quarter of a million decisions, not just decisions about the outline of the plot, who will live or die, who will fall in love or be unfaithful, who will make a fortune or make a fool of himself, the names and faces of the character, their habits and occupations, the chapter divisions, the title of the book (these are the simplest, broadest decisions); not just what to narrate and what to gloss over, what comes first and what comes last, what to spell out and what to allude to indirectly (these are also fairly broad decisions); but you also have to make thousands of finer decisions, such as whether to write, in the third sentence from the end of that paragraph, “blue” or “bluish.” Or should it be “pale blue”? Or “sky blue”? Or “royal blue”? Or should it really be “blue-gray”? And should this “grayish blue” be at the beginning of the sentence, or should it only shine out at the end? Or in the middle? Or should it simply be caught up in the flow of a complex sentence, full of subordinate clauses? Or would it be best just to write the three words “the evening light,” without trying to color it in, either “gray-blue” or “dusty blue” or whatever?