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Inclusive Diversity & Equity

Nonprofit leader helps young people find their voice

Verneé Green draws on life experience, follows her calling as CEO of Mikva Challenge

Mikva Challenge CEO Verneé Green.

Verneé Green is CEO of the Mikva Challenge, a nonprofit organization supported by Allstate and The Allstate Foundation.

Verneé Green was lucky – she had parents and teachers who helped her find her voice early in life. Now, as CEO of the Mikva Challenge, she is helping young people across the country find theirs.

The Mikva Challenge develops youth civic leadership programming that aims to inject young people's voices and perspectives into schools, neighborhoods and communities. It's based on three main principles:

  1. Youth voice matters.
  2. Youth are experts on the issues that affect them.
  3. Our communities and schools are stronger when youth leaders are involved in all aspects of civic life.

Making her voice heard

Green put Mikva's three principles into action long before she joined the organization.

When her high school in St. Louis was consolidated with another one across town, Green and her fellow students had to cross multiple gang boundaries to get to it.

Then, just six months later, the school district wanted them to move again. Green and the other students had had enough.

"I mobilized a walkout in protest," Green recalled. "But we followed that up with action. We wanted to make sure the district heard what we had to say, and they agreed to meet with us."

Officials reversed their decision on the second move.

A few years later at Illinois Wesleyan University, Green helped organize protests when racially charged graffiti appeared on and around the mostly white campus. The students met with the university president and other officials to talk about diversifying the student body.

Green and other students also campaigned in their hometowns to encourage young people of color to attend Illinois Wesleyan. Enrollment of students of color tripled the next year.

"Those students wouldn't have come to that school without the outreach we conducted," Green said.

She ultimately built a 25-year career in education, including three years as a teacher for Chicago Public Schools and five years as a guidance counselor at two charter schools. She earned a master's degree from the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.

In 2018, Green joined Mikva Challenge as its chief program officer.

A lot of the problems society associates with today's youth can be solved if we let those same young people come up with the solutions. All we need to do is listen and engage.

Verneé Green
CEO, Mikva Challenge

 

Mikva and Allstate

Allstate has supported Mikva's youth civic leadership programs for nearly 10 years. A recent grant from The Allstate Foundation helped the nonprofit build an organizational culture focused on racial justice and healing.

Soon after joining Mikva, Green attended the Executive Leadership Program through The Allstate Foundation Nonprofit Leadership Center. Participants learn through academic instruction, coaching and peer interaction.

Since 2014, The Allstate Foundation Nonprofit Leadership Center has helped nonprofit professionals develop critical skills to transform their communities. The center's free and accessible leadership development programs are provided through Northwestern University Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management.

"Best professional development experience ever," Green said about her time in the program. "So many things I learned there – everything from fundraising best practices to strategies for self-care – I've put into use both professionally and personally."

Green said the program helped her recognize that ongoing professional development is necessary to the success of the organization. "Mikva got a better me because of this program, and it's made Mikva a better organization."

 

Green said she often begins supervisory team meetings with a free online video from the Foundation's Nonprofit Leadership Center. Afterward, her team discusses what they learned and how it applies to their work. The videos touch on nonprofit finance, stakeholder engagement, marketing and communications, and analytics and impact.

Green encouraged her staff to apply for the Executive Leadership Program to build leadership and professional skills. Mikva's director of development was in the 2019 cohort.

Most nonprofit leaders who have participated say they've taken on additional job responsibilities since completing the program. That was true for Green. After a stint as executive director of Mikva's Illinois chapter, Green was named CEO of the organization in June 2021.

Empowering youth today

Mikva's impact on young people is significant. According to a 2020 Mikva survey of participants, 97% said they were more likely to actively listen to their peers – even when they may not agree – than they would have before Mikva. Additionally, 83% of the organization's civic partners said they are more likely to include youth as part of policy changes and community improvement as a result of their Mikva experience.

97% of Mikva youth say they'll actively listen to their peers – even when they disagree.

 

Green added that Mikva youth are more likely to vote, graduate from college and participate in community life. "They become more thoughtful, informed, confident and active members of society," she said.

"You win people with honey, not vinegar, so I'm going to be kind, keep educating them, keep being kind and seeing it from other people's point of view," she says.

"A lot of the problems society associates with today's youth can be solved if we let those same young people come up with the solutions," Green continued. "Mikva encourages its participants to find and use their voices. All we need to do is listen and engage."

The Allstate Foundation


The Allstate Foundation accelerates positive change by empowering and educating the most vulnerable, inspiring today's visionaries and promoting community leadership. Since 2014, the Foundation has empowered more than 18,600 nonprofit professionals with critical skills to transform their communities through The Allstate Foundation Nonprofit Leadership Center. Provided through Northwestern University Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management, the center offers free and accessible leadership development programs to every nonprofit professional in the country.

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