VOICE Member Profile - Spring Edition 2016
Spotlight: Leah Hanes, Ph.D., Executive Director, T4T.org
Leah Hanes is the Executive Director of the nonprofit, T4T.org. The name was originally Trash for Teaching, however after significant feedback from school districts they decided to take out the ‘Trash” and are now officially T4T.org. This member company’s mission includes saving manufacturers cast-offs and mistakes and supplying that material to teachers, students, and artists for use in project-based-learning. As the country struggles with what Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards mean, T4T.org is training teachers to teach to those standards using open-ended materials that would otherwise go to landfills. These cost effective tools support Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) education in a way that inspires students critical and creative thinking skills. Hanes is at the helm of an organization that “inspires students, educators, businesses and communities to rethink what others overlook.”
Q. I see that T4T turns what would be tossed-away materials into useful tools. But tell me how you go about this? Give me an idea of how your organization works?
A. We are several things at once depending on who is asking. To manufacturers, we are a way to play a role in education, acquire a tax deduction for donating materials rather than spend money on landfill charges, and support the L.A. County initiative to reduce solid waste.
To educators, we are a method of engaging students in learning through doing. There are many researchers and documentary filmmakers following a trend in schools to flip the classroom. Most of us have heard the phrase, but what does it mean? To us, it means that we don’t tell students, or lecture to students, we engage with them exploration. A good example is our method of teaching how sound is transmitted. We do this by having the students make a working head set out of up-cycled materials. The students are excited about making their own head set, and in the process, they learn how sound is transmitted. We call this Beats By Me! They don’t easily forget the process, as most of them will try several times before they hear their favorite music playing through their own creation.
Q. Tell me more about the company - when were you established? How many team members are there? Do you work with volunteers? What is the role of the Board?
A. Steve and Kathy Stanton, the manufacturers of the heart shaped boxes for Sees Candy, started the company in 2004. They were concerned with the amount of waste in the manufacturing process and began to take cardboard hearts and fabric hearts to their son’s pre-school. Over the course of the next few years, they began to collect from other manufacturers. They retired in 2013, and that is when they hired me as Executive Director. Now, we are mostly educators who use the materials for professional development with teachers attempting to adapt to best practices for education. We are preparing students for careers that, for the most part, don’t yet exist or at least not in the form they will be expected to practice. The best way to do that is to create problem solvers. We inspire questions, and we encourage teachers to get in there and assist the students in developing the questions and experimenting with their ideas. We want them to embrace the mistakes and celebrate the knowledge that mistakes create. We don’t want students to follow instructions as much as we want them to apply critical thinking and creative thinking to answer challenges. We want education directed by students with teachers as their guides, mentors and support team. No lectures. No sitting still taking notes from the expert.
Our team now is small but mighty. We are five full time people and four part time people with hundreds of volunteers. We work with Easter Seals volunteers, high school volunteers, and also often have company volunteer days.
Q. Tell us about you. How did you come to the organization?
A. I grew up on a farm in Canada. We never had anything new to build a school project. We had to find something on the farm that could be used for whatever the challenge was. When I walked in the doors at T4T.org, I felt at home. My family composted, we recycled and we reused because on a working farm - that is what you do.
I am able to marry my two passions in this position, education and environmental stewardship. I want to be part of the education revolution. I want students to have a say in how they are educated. If they have a choice, they will choose to learn by doing.
I have run several small businesses, owned an agency representing cinematographers and editors; I produced and hosted a television series back home in Canada about successful women. I have two children who are now married and brought me a
daughter-in-law and a son-in-law and now two amazing grand children - Hollis who is seven and our youngest volunteer and Otto who is two and shows great promise as the next generation of volunteers.
Leah's granddaughter, Hollis, learns the importance of volunteering at a young age.
Q. Who inspires you?
A. People who are willing to challenge common wisdom inspire me. Not for the sake of challenging but because they have a sense that things need to be reshaped. People who have faced great challenge and have found a way to create something inspire me. For example, Mark Twain, whom we think of as a humorist, had a life filled with pain and agony, but that isn’t what he wrote about. He challenged society to rethink what was acceptable at the time. There have been many arguments about his thoughts on slavery because of what his characters said in novels. He wrote those words to force his society and country to rethink behavior about slavery. In his own words, he was clear about his disgust for the practice. The same is true of his own words about anti-Semitism. In his own words, he was clear in his disregard for prejudice. His characters said what was unpopular and to be exposed. In his own words, he was a maverick and a political commentator of great note.
Susan B. Anthony is another person who inspires me for the same reason. She saw what was unfair and she spoke up about it. I was thirteen when I discovered that I was not going to be able to farm. I had always assumed I would and knew that my brother had no interest in farming. I was informed by my high school boy friend that I should have a back up plan since I had an older brother. I became a feminist that afternoon when I asked my parents to set that record straight. They informed me that indeed my boy friend was correct. I would not be able to farm.
Also that year, I discovered that a restaurant in the town near my home would not serve people of color. I was outraged. I told Mr. Moore, my English teacher, who was British Guiana about this and he took all the Canadian press that would attend, and he went to the restaurant to be served. The restaurant refused, the story was published all over the country and the restaurant closed rather than change. Mr. Moore inspires me.
And, finally, Noel Massie inspires me. I met Noel on the L.A. Area Chamber’s Access Sacramento trip in 2014 and was impressed with his leadership. He later came to our warehouse with his leadership team to volunteer. The way Noel moved through Sacramento with grace and authority was mirrored in the way he worked with his leadership team and then with our team as a volunteer. There is an authenticity in his manner that is clear in each of these roles. Noel shared his personal story with our class in the Southern California Leadership Network 2016, and I left there even more impressed than when I interacted with him and watched him with his executive team. Noel Massie is a natural leader and I aspire to have his calm, directed leadership style.
Noel Massie, US Operations Manager for UPS, tours T4T.org.
Q. What is the best thing about being the executive director of this non-profit? What is the most challenging?
A. This is my first experience in a non-profit so the early challenges came from understanding the Board – Executive Director relationship. I was fortunate to be accepted into the Annenberg Alchemy Program and Alchemy Plus, which is a year and a half of education on Board development and relationships. That saved me a decade of bumping into walls. I love the fact that in a non-profit, mission drives us more than money. We need to keep the doors open and the lights on but once we have met that and paid the staff, we can spend the money on the mission. I tend to run the organizational side of the non-profit the same way I would run a for-profit business. I just don’t have to worry about shareholder value. I worry more about stakeholder value, and our stakeholders who are mainly students and teachers.
Q. Why did you join the L.A. Area Chamber? You are a smaller-sized, non-profit. Did you encounter some push back?
A. I did encounter some push back when I joined the LA Chamber. Some Board members thought it might be too ambitious or too soon. I convinced them that they should let me experiment with it for a year and then reevaluate. It was my business background that made me consider it and a visit from Frank Lopez (former L.A. Area Chamber public policy director) that convinced me it was a good idea.
Our current Board President is Brent Bushnell of Two Bit Circus. Bushnell and the current Board support the relationship and see the long-term value in having a voice in the conversation as education is going through such intense change. The L.A. Area Chamber’s educational programs are future focused and in line with our approach to developing talent for the future generations of Los Angeles.
Q. Can you give us an example of how joining the Chamber has benefited your non-profit?
A. There are so many intangible benefits in every meeting I attend and tangible benefits in being a part of the conversation on education through the Education and Workforce Development Committees and Linked Learning meetings I attend. Also, the many benefits, tangible and otherwise, from the relationships in the Southern California Leadership Network, which I graduated from just last night.
The relationships developed in the Chamber have lead to real opportunities for us in new schools and new districts, and the most measurable of all is the grant we received from UPS after Noel Massie and his leadership team came here to see what we are doing and how we are doing it. The money has been a huge help and on top of that, they helped us make some strategic changes in our membership program that gave us a 15 percent increase in our annual revenue.
UPS' Noel Massie and his leadership team learn about T4T.org.
Q. What advice would you give other non-profits or small businesses regarding networking or taking advantage of Chamber member programs/services?
A. My advice would be that you should join because of the education and seat at the table on the issues you work on and to build relationships. It is important to realize that you are not there to ask for anything. All that has come of this for us has come as a result of people getting to know what we do and wanting to be involved. I don’t think it would have happened if I had come asking or looking just for what was in in it for us. I am at the table to take part and offer what I can to the conversation.
Because of connections through the Chamber, T4T.org was able to build a relationship with UPS. UPS provided both financial assistance and employee volunteers.
Q. What do you hope for the future of T4T?
A. I would like to see a chapter of T4T.org in every manufacturing center across the country. We have our first chapter opening in Fresno later this spring.
Q. If people want to know more about your organization or how to be involved, what is the best way to do that?
A. I am always happy to talk with people about T4T so my email firstname.lastname@example.org or our web site www.T4T.org and the good old fashion telephone also works 310.527.7080
Q. Anything else you want to add?
A. I hope to be a member of the LA Chamber of Commerce for the rest of time. I am open to engaging with other members on issues of relevance to education and environmental stewardship. I’m also interested in the homeless issue in our city and in recidivism issues; so, please don’t feel limited in reaching out. If it matters to L.A., it likely matters to me.