Nonprofit finds a new focus 

After a year of upheaval and soul-searching in which it pulled out of a major contract and laid off staff, the nonprofit St. John’s Educational Thresholds Center has new board members, a new executive director and a new direction.

"We wanted to be more sustainable," board of directors President Claudia Viek said. "Things are more stable now. Morale is better."

The 35-year-old youth-education organization now plans to focus its successful after-school programs on preparing low-income students in the Mission district for college from a very early age, Executive Director Jeff Feinman said. The group plans to extend college readiness and financial planning programs to its middle- and elementary-school clients.

"A piece of my vision is college access for kids," Feinman said, adding that parents need to be shown that college is worth the financial sacrifice. "Parents make a cost-benefit analysis in this community. There are a lot of myths. They don’t know the inner workings of financial aid."

Toward that end, the group is renovating its 16th Street storefront into an educational resource center through a partnership with LeviStrauss and Hands On Bay Area. The group already helped 110 kids apply to CSU and UC system schools this year through an existing high school program, Feinman said.

Other nonprofits do provide college-access programs in the Mission, such as the Bay Area Youth Fund for Education, government and school officials said. But limited budgets mean that each program can help only a certain number of students, while low-income families cannot afford for-profit test prep services.

"I think that they are building on their strengths and their tradition," said Margaret Brodkin, director of San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth and Families. "They serve a part of the Mission that is desperately in need of their services. There are still many more kids that can benefit."

Feinman has also kicked off three new fundraising efforts that hope to net $200,000 altogether.

St. John’s, founded in 1972, runs the St. John’s Tutoring Center at Marshall Elementary School and other middle- and high-school programs in the Mission. It had grown tremendously, but in 2005, the board decided that it should stop running another after-school program, the Community Bridges Beacon at Everett Middle School, to focus on more academic programs, Viek said. It was a major decision, because the contract was worth $600,000, approximately half of their funding.

"It was really very large … we were sort of in a mission drift a little bit. We weren’t focusing on educational enrichment. We weren’t really tracking outcomes," Viek said.

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