Long and Longer, Old and New
Being CEO of an organization for 18 years is an eternity in the nonprofit world – yet in the case of Kingsley House CEO Keith Liederman, it represents but a short span of the organization’s 125-year existence.
“It feels like three different tenures,” Liederman reflected, “pre-Katrina, post-Katrina and post-pandemic. Things never stay the same for all that long without some kind of momentous change, within the organization or in the environment.
“It keeps things interesting,” he added, in one of the understatements of the year.
Kingsley House was established in 1896 with an original focus on helping immigrant families manage language, cultural and other obstacles as they resettled in New Orleans. Over the years, the mission has expanded to encompass virtually all underserved community members. Some major accomplishments along the way include helping pass child labor laws; offering the first kindergarten classes in Louisiana; being the genesis of Lighthouse for the Blind and the Tulane School of Social Work; and hosting the original New Orleans Recreation Department.
Additional key areas of service include community health, workforce development and senior programs. The core constituencies of a century ago remain the organization’s focus today.
“Our mission has always stayed constant,” observed Liederman. “The basic needs always seem to hold true no matter what is going on around us.”
That is not to say that nothing changes at all. “Throughout the pandemic, those needs have been evolving,” Liederman noted. “We had to work virtually with families and children, which has led to questioning of established practices. We haven’t determined what the new normal will be, but we are looking at what we can do differently while maintaining the same high standards and creating the same outcomes. We are committed to finding the answers, listening to the people we serve. What they want is changing too.”
One unanticipated benefit of the pandemic was that in order to engage children in virtual classes, the parents had to help out, so parental involvement in early childhood learning actually increased.
Another change cited by Liederman is that Kingsley House has broadened its footprint in the workforce development arena, via its Kingsley Connections program. While this expansion was under way pre-COVID, the current environment has increased the need for these services. In particular, Liederman sees tremendous opportunities in the recently-passed infrastructure bill.
“This will bring huge new dollars to Louisiana, much of which will lead to new workforce opportunities,” he said. “We’re looking at green infrastructure and energy, continuing to grow new energy sources in Louisiana. There will be monumental leaps in technology, which will bring opportunities for career development in IT and engineering.”
Liederman is also pleased that the bill makes the child tax credit permanent and expands the Earned Income Tax Credit and funding for child care, seeing a direct link between expanded child care and early childhood development and workforce development. “It’s key for young parents to be able to go to school, go to workforce training and go to work,” he noted. Kingsley House itself typically has around 1500 children in its early learning programs.
At the other end of the life spectrum, the organization is also expanding care and programs for older adults and veterans. Being able to return to hosting activities at the Kingsley House campus has been particularly valuable for this constituency. Programming also takes place out in the community, and expanded during the pandemic to include the Faubourg Lafitte community and the Sacred Heart Senior Living facility. Overall, Kingsley House is serving twice the number of individuals now as it was pre-pandemic.
Liederman identified two key factors enabling the organization to grow at this rate: first, the dedication of the staff, which currently numbers 186 full time team members; and second, a robust strategic management plan, which he said “is focused on changing from within the organization as well as changes in the community.”
A significant shift for Kingsley House is on the immediate horizon: as it commemorates its 125th year, it is about to change its name. The big announcement will take place early next year
However, Liederman assured, “This will not change anything that we do or the way we work. We will always be focused on the needs of today and the opportunities for tomorrow.”