Reflections from Harvard – An Insightful Week for Penfield’s President, Christine Holmes

< Back

During the week of July 15th, I had the distinct opportunity to join 150 nonprofit leaders from all over the world to study and discuss what works for nonprofit organizations during Harvard Business School’s “Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management” Program. This enriching and rewarding week provided an opportunity to assess where Penfield is as an organization and what the future will hold for us.  The experience was extremely valuable and insightful as we plan for our future.

I traveled to Harvard hoping to test some of the ideas Penfield’s executive team had been discussing for several months regarding the agency’s future.  Specifically, how research on the impact of serving children up to age 8 aligns with our current mission and focus.   Presenting Penfield’s case study to several thought leaders in the nonprofit sector ignited an informative and constructive conversation that confirmed we are on the right track.

During the week, there were several key insights I took away that will be useful as we envision the future of our organization.

First, what Penfield does truly is unique. In speaking with global nonprofit leaders from Singapore to Australia – and many stops in between – that provide care for children with special needs, I learned that many of their organizations tackle one or two of the services Penfield provides.  The vast majority had never seen on organization address so many crucial services for young children and their families under one roof.   Their feedback made me all the more proud of our staff and the work we do at Penfield to serve Milwaukee families.

Second, international research indicates that for early childhood intervention to be most effective, it needs to be offered and sustained at least through age 8. While programs focusing on birth-to-3 and birth-to-6 are certainly beneficial, the shorter duration of these programs is not enough to ensure long-lasting impact.  Penfield parents often remark, “I wish my child could stay here longer.” Many Penfield children may have to wait up to a year after graduating from the Birth-to-Three program to receive services in the public school system, if they qualify at all. We must do better for our children. As Penfield continues to grow, we hope to extend our commitment to kids so they truly can reach their full potential.

In the coming months, we will conduct a thorough needs assessment among our families, and the community, to determine the best course of action for Penfield in expanding services to older children. Meanwhile, we will assess how to augment our research presence and expand beyond the exceptional work we do currently.  Meeting the needs of Penfield families will require an investment from our philanthropic partners, as well as new opportunities for increased support. We will continue to listen to our families to learn what we could do better.

One of the most important lessons I learned at Harvard is that we in the nonprofit sector are not in this alone. It was reassuring to hear stories from leaders around the world and realize that many organizations face the same challenges we face at Penfield. Even more encouraging was realizing the possibilities that are open to us.

Thank you for all you do for Penfield Children’s Center.  I look forward to sharing the agency’s emerging vision in the months ahead.