TMG Reflections

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Oct, 21 2014

Client Spotlight: Higher Achievement

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Since its founding in 1982, The Meltzer Group has had the opportunity to work with many wonderful individuals and organizations. As a way to say thank you and highlight these long-standing relationships, we will periodically feature one of our clients in “The Meltzer Group Client Spotlight.”

In this installment we are proud to feature Higher Achievement, an organization dedicated to closing the opportunity gap for middle school youth.

Baltimore HAEducation in America has never been more important. The youth of today will eventually become the leaders of tomorrow and because of this, it’s imperative that impactful educational opportunities are available to children of all ages. One such organization leading the charge is Higher Achievement, which offers a rigorous after school program geared towards middle school students in disadvantaged communities. From 5th through 8th grade, Higher Achievement scholars spend 650 hours a year learning an advanced curriculum that is aligned to state standards.

The program combines high expectations with high support in the form of demanding academic work plus mentoring, skill building, individual student achievement plans and personal encouragement. The results have spoken for themselves: 67% of students improve their grade point average (GPA) by at least one letter grade, and 94% graduate from high school, which is twice the rate of their peers. In addition, 93% of the students graduate from college, which is four times the rate of their peers.

Higher Achievement CEO, Lynsey Wood Jeffries, has been with the organization for 14 years. She became involved when a friend of hers who volunteered with Higher Achievement encouraged her to explore the opportunity. “I started out as a fundraiser and several years later moved into the role of DC Metro Executive Director before eventually becoming CEO in 2012.”

Higher Achievement currently serves more than 1,100 scholars per year, operating achievement centers in Washington, D.C., Alexandria, Va., Baltimore, Md., Pittsburgh, Pa., and Richmond, Va. The impact of the organization’s work stretches much further than those five cities, however, as evidenced by Jeffries being featured in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, an award-winning magazine and website that covers cross-sector solutions to global problems.

Earlier this month, Amelia Castaneda, a DC Metro Center Director with Higher Achievement, was awarded the prestigious “Champions of Change” award by the White House. Amelia is the first person in her family to graduate from college, and was asked to pen an entry for the White House Blog about her personal experience.

In addition, four Higher Achievement scholars were invited to the White House as special guests of First Lady Michelle Obama in 2013 for a private screening of the Oscar-nominated film, “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” It marked the second time the organization was invited to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, after it received the “Coming Up Taller” Award, presented by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in 2010.

“We pride ourselves on being a good place to work,” Jeffries explains. “We’re fortunate to be able to offer a more robust benefits plan than most non-profits, and The Meltzer Group team has absolutely been an important part of that.”

Jeffries splits her time as CEO between internal and external operations, with her responsibilities ranging from fundraising across the four states in which Higher Achievement operates, to overseeing a team of 60 full-time employees and everything in between. “We have a board of 14 people who are very well connected. Networking is huge for us,” Jeffries says.

And she isn’t kidding about that last part. This year, Higher Achievement was looking to move into a new office and received $700,000 in pro bono construction services, including lawyers and consultants. “We do partnerships in a very deep way,” Jeffries explains.

While she has certainly enjoyed the added responsibility and recognition that come with being in charge, Jeffries says there is one aspect of the program she wishes she could be more involved with. “I don’t get to work with the scholars on an everyday basis in my current role,” she explains. “The media doesn’t necessarily do a great job of telling the story of underserved families, and those are really the people who inspire all of us at Higher Achievement. I truly love spending as much time as possible with our scholars and their families.”

Higher Achievement has been working with The Meltzer Group for a number of years, but Jeffries says the organization has relied on TMG more so in the last year due to the ever-changing landscape of employee benefits. “We simply don’t have the bandwidth to have someone handle our benefits and insurance needs internally, and that is why The Meltzer Group has been such an asset to us. Nick (Spithas) has been great to work with. He’s really gotten involved and has been a big help to our employees.”

Sandra Mohr is Higher Achievement’s Controller. She points to two examples of The Meltzer Group team going the extra mile. “We have four locations and were paying for a PPO for our staff in Pittsburgh and Richmond. The Meltzer team worked hard to come up with a less expensive option, thus providing savings to both the organization and our staff.”

She continues, “We recently purchased a new building and did not provide the needed closing date to The Meltzer Group in a timely manner. Once the closing date was set, the Meltzer team worked diligently to provide the needed documents. Both teams we work with from Meltzer, benefits and insurance, are always available to answer our questions.”

Alan Meltzer, CEO and Founder of The Meltzer Group, is not only impressed with the work Higher Achievement is doing, but he’s proud to be associated with the organization. “We truly enjoy working and partnering with educators and anyone really that wants to make a difference in the lives of young people.”

He continues, “What Higher Achievement is doing is nothing short of incredible. The programs they have in place, the number of lives they are touching and the overall impact is just amazing. I’m glad that we can help Higher Achievement with a small piece of their overall operation, but they are the true stars and should be recognized as such.”

Nick Spithas serves as a Client Advocate at The Meltzer Group and has been working with the Higher Achievement staff for nearly his entire tenure. “After previously working in our Key Accounts division (small group), I moved to our Large Group division,” he explains. “Many of my groups, including Higher Achievement, were on my mind, and luckily Higher Achievement moved to Large Group as well, meaning I’d have the chance to work with them again!”

Spithas continues, “I was very excited, to say the least, and we’ve continued to work together, ensuring things are running smoothly with their group benefits. One of my favorite memories was attending their Going Places Gala in 2013 – this gave me the opportunity to see first-hand the immensely positive effect Higher Achievement has on the youth of underprivileged homes and communities. They are a role model to the community and are changing the course of so many lives for the better. I am honored to work with them and look forward to many more years!”

Jeffries was asked to look ahead to the organization’s long-term goals. “We’re currently operating on our strategic plan, which was put in place in 2013, and our short-term goal would be to influence another 7,000 students through our program. Our bold goal looking ahead to 2030 would be to have all of our students in the areas in which we operate graduate high school and be ready for college.”

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