BY JULIA NGUYEN | February 24, 2022
Every young person deserves opportunities to develop skills they can use to pursue their dreams, but how can we know we’re providing the program that meets the needs of people served? At Girls Rock Santa Barbara (GRSB), they are working to ensure that there is not only access to opportunities to help girls and gender-expansive youth but that their programs are improved through the implementation of a sustainable evaluation process.
GRSB, founded in 2012, has a mission to empower girls, women, and gender-expansive humans, from 3rd grade to college, through music education, the creative arts, community, and positive mentorship. Their programs are designed to help the youth gain experience from female-identifying role models that are professionals in their fields.
For the past couple of years, Girls Rock has been developing its evaluation process and program model to collect and analyze results, and use what they learn to strengthen their existing programming.
With support from the Small Capacity Business Grant Program at the Santa Barbara Foundation, GRSB was able to hire Lisa Bass, Social Sector Evaluation and Planning Consultant/Learning Partner. Bass joined the team to be a thought partner on developing a program evaluation model rooted in creative youth development. Her efforts would help the organization understand and use all the data it was collecting.
“We had a lot of qualitative evidence and stories from our families and our community members over the years,” said Jen Baron, Executive Director of Girls Rock Santa Barbara. “As an organization, we wanted to be able to look at the quantitative data and understand how we can take an honest look at what we do for the community, assess where we are, and also map out a plan for where we want to go. We knew the work we were doing with our youth was very important, and building the program model with Lisa, our teen board, adult board, and various stakeholders helped us see the secret sauce that makes GRSB so very special.”
The organization’s main program in the summer is Amplify, a sleepaway camp in the mountains of Ojai, CA. The summer camp environment allows youth to explore creative interests such as guitar, bass, drums, photography, journalism, and more. Campers are also provided the opportunity to select electives that range from songwriting to hiking to body positivity workshops; each taught through a lens of feminism, art, and social justice. Depending on the camper’s age, day and overnight camping trips are scheduled accordingly. At the end of the two-week program, campers produce a final creative project, whether a song, photo project, video, or article. Watch a performance from the 2021 Amplify program.
Additional programs that Girls Rock provides are GRL Mag, a youth-run online magazine, and Syryn Records, a youth-run record label and internship program that offers teens and young adults an entryway into the music industry. GRL Mag and Syryn Records both operate year-round; interns and youth from around the world create the content and gain real-life experience.
As happened to many of our nonprofits, COVID-19 put a snag in operations which adversely affected the evaluation process.
“When COVID hit, we knew we would not be able to run Amplify. We knew we had to pivot our programming to find a way to still keep our youth connected to the mission as much as possible,” said Baron. “We were able to repurpose Amplify funds to build out our Syryn Records and GRL MAG internships. We called it the Summer of Love internship and had over 60 youth involved from around the world, all of whom were paid a $500 stipend at the end of the 7-weeks. With over 100 guest female mentors from the music industry and with positive evaluations falling in the 98% range, we knew we had created something really meaningful for our kids.”
During that time, Lisa Bass and her team spent time training GRSB staff in the program model and how the organization can use it to be better mentors for the youth. Bass and her team also taught the staff how to administer evaluations and are now training members of the team to read and tabulate the data so that the evaluation is ongoing and sustainable.
“The knowledge I’ve gained and my staff and my team have gained through learning about survey evaluation and a way to think about the questions themselves, and how the data is interpreted and used has been huge. I feel like I’ve grown so much with my new skillsets,” noted Baron. “We feel so grateful to both the SB Foundation and Lisa Bass for the absolute leaps and bounds Girls Rock has seen since doing this work together!”
To learn more about Girls Rock Santa Barbara, please go to girlsrocksb.org.