Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Trouble looms over local youth organizations


    I’m frustrated with the lack of accountability that speaks directly to the hearts of the youth that some organizations are supposed to be serving. I wrestle with seeds of thought-provoking questions, and acknowledge I might be offering an optimistic assessment, but problems that don’t get any resolution inevitably will continue down the abyss of dysfunction.
    Fixing troubled organizations—climbing out of the abyss of dysfunction—might require new energy and new commitments. Doesn’t accountability go to the very heart of one’s duty as a board member? Isn’t a good board a victory, and not a gift? Does the board oversee, manage or even evaluate the ongoing performance of other directors, or staff members? Has the program become so dysfunctional that parent volunteers (your life blood), key influential members of our community, and strong financial donors, been alienated to the point of no return? Do you suspect directors, or staff members are using the organization’s platform to further their own self-interest, but without them the fear of the organization collapsing trumps your responsibility to ask them politely to resign? At a certain point, doesn’t dysfunctional behavior become obvious? Replacing current leaders or staff members, I’m quite sure it would be a difficult, agenizing task to take on, but doesn’t accountability for change lie at the feet of each board member? And taking the program for granted, that it will survive the trouble, well, one might ask if that is simply arrogant and irresponsible of a board member’s Duty of Care.
    Should parents assume some accountability? When the children become frustrated with unfairness, become discouraged, angry, have been hurt by decisions made at the top, who will speak out for them? Parents feel the same frustration, but won’t speak out because they simply don’t have the time or energy to take action, anything they say or do will not make a difference or no one will listen or care. Parents fear being put down, getting too angry, too sad, or too out of control. By far, parents won’t speak up out of fear of retaliation; fearing life will be made difficult for them and family members, and for good reason. Parents should be able to challenge “rules” that our kids are required to live by; just because something is “policy” doesn’t mean it’s fair or just? Advocacy isn’t always easy, and there’s no guarantee if you speak up you’ll get what you want. But, if parents don’t speak out, nothing will change. Advocating on behalf of a child or anyone else helps ensure that their views and interest are heard and considered in decision making.

Fixing troubled organizations might require new energy and new commitments.

    I don’t have experience serving on a board, because I can’t guarantee I will always live up to individual standards of being “politically correct” and I wasn’t born with a mute button. If these qualities don’t concern you, well then, I’m ready to serve. I do, however, have experience at raising an exceptional young girl, and I lead her by example. Someday she will learn to stand up for herself, or someone else who has been treated unfairly, or will stand up to any issues that are important to her; knowing she does have a voice, even if she struggles to find words or good listeners, or doesn’t achieve her goal at the end. She will learn that speaking out sometimes comes with great penalties and risk, but at least she will maintain her self-respect and dignity; knowing that if she doesn’t speak out, nothing will change. So, until our kids learn to develop their own voices, where does the accountability lie? My frustration continues to grow.

Michelle Itson-Gentling is a communications specialist who lives in Ketchum.

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