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By January 2015, Rhiannon, Zariya and Belissa, three young poet-performers who met at Get Lit’s program at The Los Angeles County High School of the Arts, were media stars. Their sharply critical and evocative spoken word performance “Somewhere in America” had just gone viral online. It caught the attention of Queen Latifah who invited the three of them to perform the piece on her television show, putting the young women and Get Lit on the national stage.
Since founding Get Lit in 2006, Executive Director Diane Luby Lane had set out to help low-income high school students “claim their voice, claim their lives” through spoken word and poetry, while building teen literacy and boosting graduation rates. With the national recognition they were receiving the momentum was incredible, with requests for their poetry curriculum and performances “growing through the roof!” says Diane. At this pivotal moment, Diane and Get Lit’s Finance & Operations Director Amanda Pittman wanted to ensure Get Lit’s future. They began Strategic Planning with ESC in June 2015.
Diane explained the challenge: “As a founder, you just have to dream big,” but as Get Lit began to evolve into a more complex organization, both she and Amanda realized their “pie in the sky” ambitions required ground-level planning. Their ESC coaches, Lauree, Heather and Barry, helped them support their idealistic visions by addressing concrete realities. In the early stages of planning, Lauree, Heather and Barry would regularly visit the Get Lit office, sit on the couches where the students practiced reading after school, and discuss new ideas with Diane and Amanda. “There were so many moving parts,” Amanda observed. From Get Lit’s in-school curriculum to their student performance tours, it was essential for everyone to “know exactly how the parts move” so that they could pinpoint the organization’s top priorities for growth. Ultimately, with guidance from their ESC coaches, Diane and Amanda identified three main priority areas for organizational focus: program expansion, infrastructure and board development.
By prioritizing program expansion and infrastructure improvement Get Lit was able to increase its staff from four to seven and nearly double its budget in one year, putting it well on its way to becoming a $1 million organization. Beyond that, Get Lit’s biggest gains were in board development. The buy-in from the board was overwhelmingly positive. ESC consultant Lauree was a key driver in helping Diane and the board focus on one element of organizational growth at a time. She listened to their needs and asked them insightful questions as they worked to create “stepping stones” for success instead of “idealistic, tough-to-reach” goals." Thanks to these targeted milestones, the Get Lit team was able to establish stronger relationships with the education community, including forging a close working partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Arts Education Program.
Today, Get Lit continues to provide outstanding spoken word and arts education opportunities for low-income high school students. The organization is poised for tremendous growth—Get Lit’s program is currently offered as a class in 98 schools in the Greater Los Angeles area. Just last year, Get Lit’s in-school curriculum was approved to satisfy the elective requirement for the University of California’s subject requirements for college admission. And Get Lit’s poetry curriculum has been downloaded and used by teachers across the nation and worldwide. Their strategic plan will continue to help the Get Lit team push their impact to new limits. Diane and Amanda are grateful for the experience: “We couldn’t have tackled the plan without our coaches’ help.” Now with a firm foundation in place, they stand ready to empower students and young poets for years to come. Diane says proudly: “At the beginning, we were just young poets. Now our own success is a testament to the organization and its mission to claim the future.”