Investee Profile: Open Doors Academy
Open Doors Academy is an out-of-school enrichment program that nurtures, protects, inspires and challenges adolescents to reach their full potential by providing diverse and individualized programming in a safe and structured environment. ODA addresses students’ academic, emotional and social wellbeing in its year-round programming that includes an extended learning program, summer learning, a high school alumni program, and a parent/family support network.
Lead Partner Dominique Litmaath River and Open Doors Academy CEO Annemarie Grassi are a formidable team. Bright, articulate, committed and energetic, these women have combined forces during Open Doors Academy’s first year as a Cleveland SVP investee.
Annemarie believes that SVP’s collaboration with Open Doors Academy will increase ODA’s organizational visibility and enhance its financial sustainability, staffing retention, and overall program quality. To that end, Dominique and Annemarie have completed a high-level assessment of the organization, and are now targeting needs in specific areas and developing workplans for projects that will tap the skills of SVP partners. Annemarie has found “SVP’s organization assessment process with staff and board members to be helpful in clarifying the organization’s strengths and needs, and it reassured us that we all see things moving forward in the same direction. This provides us the building blocks for a solid foundation and platform for growth.”
ODA opened its doors in 1992 as an afterschool drop-in program for youth living in high-risk environments at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights. In 2002, ODA became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, providing daily, structured programming for 40 middle school students each year. It now serves over 320 youth and 700 family members annually at 5 middle school sites and 3 high school communities in Greater Cleveland. ODA students participate in project-based learning experiences such as core enrichment programs and academic tutoring built around their developmental needs, full-day summer camps, and service learning trips. ODA believes in building a safe haven, creating a sense of community, and fostering the kid’s confidence, self-discipline, and skill levels—ultimately empowering them to reach their dreams. ODA creates this supportive environment by engaging parents, teachers, and other community partners. According to Dominique, what is “paramount to ODA’s success is the organization’s ability to engage parents.” She has been working with ODA’s Director of Community Engagement, Ashlie Dyer, to “identify ways to further enhance the experience and sustainability of the already outstanding parent involvement in ODA’s programs and services.” In addition, ODA is further developing partnerships with key organizations in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio to provide resources, expertise and innovative programs. For example, this summer the Cleveland Clinic sponsored ODA’s Inner Athlete summer camp for ODA kids. At this camp, students have a chance to learn about what it really takes to be a successful athlete – including nutrition, exercise, body maintenance, and endurance – as well as meet doctors who specialize in sports medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Sports Health.
ODA’s accomplishments are impressive:
• ODA is the only program in Northeast Ohio that offers a 7-year continuum of support for students from middle school through high school and beyond.
• In Cleveland, only 52% of students who enter the 9th grade graduate from high school. Of those, only 23% will go to college and only 7% will graduate from college in six years. ODA’s program boasts a lifetime 100% high school graduation rate since its incorporation in 2002. Of its graduates, 91% have gone on to college, and its first class of three graduated from college this year.
• ODA was recently selected as one of the organizations that the Afterschool Alliance (a national organization) will be using as a model program in its national resource on afterschool impact.
• ODA has been named a 2012 Top-Rated Children and Families Nonprofit by GreatNonprofits.
• This past year, 98% of ODA parents completed their service requirement, contributing over 2,825 hours throughout the program year.
• As a result of the individualized support ODA’s students receive from professional tutors, 69% of students at one site improved in reading, up from only 21% improvement the year before.
• At Miles Park Middle School (a school designated as being in academic emergency), of the students who were enrolled in ODA’s program for 90 days or more during 2010-2011, 60% saw grade improvements in reading and 53% saw grade increases in math. By the end of the fourth quarter, absolutely zero students had failing marks in either math or reading!
• This is the first year ODA has partnered with businesses to provide intern opportunities for its high school alumni. 41 students were placed at organizations as Shaker Lakes Nature Center, MetroHealth, Cleveland Clinic, Willoughby Hills Animal Clinic, Cleveland Heights Recreation Center, Case Western Reserve University, and Community Shares.
As powerful as these statistics are, there’s nothing like the personal touch. Annemarie caught the crowd’s attention at SVP’s 2011 bigBANG! conference last fall. After hearing seven electrifying Fast Pitch presentations, the crowd chose ODA as the nonprofit they would most like to donate. Click here to see and hear Annemarie’s riveting Fast Pitch.
ODA believes that learning is not confined to childhood or the classroom alone, but takes place throughout life and in a wide range of situations. Both Annemarie and Dominique exemplify this commitment to life-long learning themselves. Prior to her ten years with ODA, Annemarie worked as an educational consultant and therapist with children and adolescents living with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and traumatic brain injury. She received her B.A. with Honors in Psychology from Ohio University, her Master of Science in Education in Child and Adolescent Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently working on her Doctorate in Urban Education at Cleveland State University. A recipient of numerous awards, Annemarie received the 2011 Athena Young Professional Leadership Award and was recently chosen as the 2012-13 president-elect of the Junior League of Cleveland. Dominique adds her own raves about Annemarie describing her as “really sharp, focused and unwaveringly committed to ODA, its mission, and most importantly the children. On top of this, she is interesting and fun to work with.” Dominique believes they can both learn a lot from each other as they work together to “identify ways to engage SVP in this truly life-changing organization.” Click here to read more about Annemarie.
SVP’s Dominique Litmaath River lends her considerable expertise and broad vision to this collaboration. A dual Dutch and American citizen, Dominique is a management consultant who previously led the global sales compensation and international benefits team at Robert Half International, was a managing consultant at Towers Perrin, and had a career in sales management at Hilton Hotels Corporation. Dominique earned an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and currently sits on the executive committee of the school’s alumni network board of directors. Dominique is also the co-founder and board president of the Dutch language after-school program here in Northeast Ohio. Although Dominique’s relationship with ODA has only just begun, Annemarie describes her contributions in glowing terms: “Dominique has been an awesome lead partner! She has dedicated time and energy, and has remained forever flexible with our ever-changing schedules. She is focused and committed to our work and is working to steer us in the right direction. We are grateful for her involvement and support!”