Editor’s note: Next month, PEP will complete its transition to new leadership as Cheryl Wieker retires and turns the executive director’s keys over to Kathy Hedge. Looking back on PEP’s growth and accomplishments and ahead to the next phase of service to Washington area parents and families, we asked these two leaders to talk about their assessment and vision. (Photo, from left: PEP Founder Linda Jessup, Cheryl Wieker and Kathy Hedge.)
Q: After more than 30 years serving the Washington, D.C., region, how are things going at the Parent Encouragement Program?
Cheryl: The last 18 months at PEP have been a really exciting time because, even in the midst of day-to-day running classes and having the highest number of parents we’ve ever had come to classes last year, we took the time to step back and really look ahead strategically and say what does PEP do well, how are we meeting parents’ needs, what needs do parents have around parenting education that are not being met?
The board did a very comprehensive, from the ground up, new strategic plan. We identified four major areas in which we evaluated our current programs and future:
The most major piece that we always look at here, literally every day, is quality. Is what we’re telling parents correct and current? Are we delivering the program in a way that people can easily take it in? We have indicators of that: class evaluations, enrollment, conversations with leaders and class participants.
Our conclusion was that the quality of the existing programs is still very good. However, one of the areas for work that we identified is expanding Internet-based education. We also had some pilot programs for Spanish-speaking parents that went well. Teaching parenting education in a foreign language to people who are newly in this country is quite a challenge. We’re quite fortunate in the volunteers who said, “We can do this.” I was proud of that pilot. It’s part of our goal for PEP to become more outward facing.
Kathy: If you don’t know PEP in the Washington, D.C., region, it may be hard to find PEP. We want to be showing up in articles and being referred to more frequently by people who are in a position to guide parents.
Q: How will Kathy Hedge’s taking the helm change PEP’s direction?
Cheryl: My retirement has been planned for two years. The timing of the strategic plan is no coincidence. As the cost of running a parenting program like this goes up, we have passed it along—because we felt we had to—letting the class fees rise. We don’t ever want the fee to be something that keeps people from coming to a parenting class. One of the things we really needed was new, out-of-the-box thinking for other ways to financially support the organization’s mission that don’t involve class fees and that expand significantly beyond going to people who are loyal long-term supporters of PEP.
We wanted to recruit someone who knows a lot more about fundraising and has a proven track record of being able to come up with creative strategies for developing new revenue streams. We found, in one of our Parenting in Perspective classes, someone who had just published a book on fundraising, a very smart board member.
Kathy’s background is doing just this, going into an organization that is doing okay, taking a good look at what are the things that are working well that we need to support, where are there areas we could expand, and how will we support all of that? Kathy has worked in several nonprofits at the local, regional and national level. She has a long experience in working in the development area
Kathy: I’ve worked with nonprofits my entire professional career. I came to D.C. thinking I would go into international development but I started working for a local nonprofit and my interests quickly shifted local. I worked for American Youth Hostels, American Red Cross, Board Source, the Center for a New American Dream. My longest tenure was with Board Source, where I was for 13 years. About half that time I was the vice president for development the other half I was in strategic initiatives. For the past couple of years I’ve been a private consultant and wrote the book on fundraising, strategic planning and board development.
During this time, as I was self-employed as a consultant, I started taking PEP classes. As many PEP members say, it started with one child. Everything seemed to be going well and then my youngest son hit sixth grade and things started falling apart for him and all of us. I was someone who read a lot of different parenting books and thought I understood good parenting practices. My mother-in-law is a child psychologist and I talked to her. I thought I had a lot of education around parenting but I still couldn’t figure out how best to handle him. A friend of mine recommended PEP.
I took PEP I, found it to be fabulous, very helpful, and I couldn’t get enough. I loved PEP II and saw how it really could give you this framework for how to interact with your kid. It’s not about how to act in crisis. By the end of PEP III [Parenting in Perspective], it was one of the more transformational things I’ve done in my life. After that experience, I couldn’t stop talking about PEP. It was something I thought everybody should know about. What PEP does is so powerful and what we teach parents is so powerful.
It really spoke to something I feel very, very strongly about, which is both helping parents figure out how to be the best kind of parent they can be to their kids, and then the benefits that accrue to the children. There are a lot of missions I care a lot about, but I would say this is one of the most important things that society struggles with, if not the most important thing, which is not just our kids and our families, but what our citizens are going to be like. I can’t think of a better mission to work on.
Q: When will the transition take place, and how do you feel about leaving, Cheryl?
Cheryl: I am saying goodbye at the annual meeting, Monday, June 9. I’m sleeping in on June 10. I’m going to rediscover my garden, which has been so sorely neglected for many years. And I’m going to be helping my parents. They’re here and needing an increasing amount of help.
I feel so incredibly fortunate to have worked for 14½ years alongside this dedicated group of volunteers and board members and staff and parents, who contribute so much to this organization. It’s a wonderful community of people who really want to do good in this world and do it well, and are willing to put in the time and energy it takes.
We look around the country at our colleagues who teach parenting education. So many parenting education centers went out of business in the last 10 years, in this area and across the U.S. I’m most proud that we’re all still here. We’re growing. That doesn’t mean we don’t still have growing pains. It looks like we’re going to have a deficit this year; we’re going to spend more money this year than we brought in. That’s never a position we want to be in but we can handle it. We have a team that will manage it. We’ve had deficit years before and we’ve come back from it. We still deliver good programming.
Another exciting thing about the last 15 years is a lot of technology change. We have really embraced what we needed to do to stay up with the technological changes that people expect in an organization that’s helping them raise their children. It hasn’t been easy because it costs money. Luckily we have wonderful donors who rose to the occasion.
It’s in our strategic plan as a short-term priority to develop expertise and technology to have online education coming up soon. When we were putting together that big proposal last fall I was floored by how much it cost to do it really well. It isn’t just you train a camera on people.
We really are committed to good parenting education. We try very hard not to put out something that is just putting a Band-Aid on the problem. We want people, even after a one-hour webinar, to come away with a real understanding of why the child did that.
Q: Cheryl, what will you miss? And Kathy, what are you looking forward to?
Cheryl: I will hugely miss being part of such a vital community. The great news is that I’m not moving, but not being day-to-day immersed in this wonderful community of people is going to be a huge change for me. I’m already missing it. But I’m comforted to know that we have picked such an outstanding person to lead the organization. To know that what you’ve put your heart and soul into for 15 years is going to continue and improve—I’m looking forward to hearing all about the adventures of how that goes.
Kathy: To the extent that Cheryl has interest in coming back, I’m going to make sure she has plenty of opportunities. We know she’s at a point where she may have a lot of things to do. She’s welcome any time.
The things that really got me excited and jump out are looking at ways to grow PEP, to really scale it up and expand our reach in a big way; the online training and presence can be a big part of that. People learn in different ways, and they have different kinds of availability. We have to understand the different audiences we need to reach out and serve.
That growth in outreach and audience will be a big focus for me. I’ll be looking at increasing our presence overall in the community and for opportunities to partner with organizations and groups that may help us reach these different audiences. PEP wants to continue to be sustainable; fundraising and PEP’s membership program offer a big opportunity to do that. Just as people know Dr. Spock, they can know PEP. PEP membership can be a gateway to all the offerings that PEP has: trainings, books, maybe new trainings we have online. There are lots of ways to build access.