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VAYLA New Orleans’ Board of Directors announces its search for a visionary leader to succeed founding Executive Director, Mr. Minh Nguyen, as Executive Director.
With the help of a consultant to guide the process, the VAYLA Board of Directors has commenced a thoughtful and well-designed transition, designed to engage staff and external stakeholders. These parties were participants in the Organizational Assessment, contributing their insights and ideas to the development of this Position Profile. Recognizing the challenge of succeeding a founding director, the transition process will continue after the new Executive Director is hired. Mr. Nguyen will be available to orient his successor and will continue to offer his support in his role as a member of the board. The transition consultant will continue to work with the new Executive Director, staff and board to ensure a smooth transition.
Overview of VAYLA and its Programs
VAYLA New Orleans is a nonprofit, progressive multi-racial community-based organization that empowers youth and families through supportive services and organizing for cultural enrichment and to create positive social change. Young community leaders founded VAYLA in 2006 to give voice to and address the needs of the local community. Committed to youth development, community empowerment, higher education, and cultural awareness, VAYLA is composed of young people, mostly high school and college students, who want to engage and empower others, educationally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Brief History of VAYLA
VAYLA New Orleans was born out of a campaign to shut down a landfill that posed a threat to their community. In 2006 young people banded together with their elders to combat environmental racism and raise a powerful collective voice. The young people understood that the placement of an unprotected toxic landfill in their backyard would jeopardize their health and wellbeing, as well as that of their grandparents, parents, and future children. They organized to protect the place that their parents and grandparents had built as refugees.
After the successful landfill campaign, the young people who had been involved wanted to create a space where they could continue to grow as leaders. They sought an organization where they could continue to identify needs in their community and work to promote social justice. The landfill may have been closed, but struggling
schools and illegal dumpsites remained, with few usable recreation spaces and barriers to basic health services. There was a growing sense among the youth that there was much work to be done. Young people not only could
be part of this work, but that they needed to be part of this work; they needed to bring their unique perspective and talents to ensure society was serving their needs.
VAYLA is dynamic and has successfully transitioned from being a Vietnamese organization to becoming a multi-
cultural organization that engages the full diversity of its community. VAYLA is now the link between the African
American, Latino and Asian American community in New Orleans East. VAYLA is community owned and driven, they engage in their work authentically and in partnership. Because VAYLA serves such a diverse community, it can result in competing interests. A degree of conflict is baked into an organization like VAYLA and its challenge is to respond to these competing interests, generate dialogue and build bridges that allows all voices to be heard and respected.
VAYLA envisions a world where young people and their families have the academic foundation, leadership skills, and opportunities to affect change for a vibrant and thriving community. VAYLA exists to reinforce and uphold integrity, empowerment, inclusion, tradition, leadership, and critical consciousness in a passionate and youth-centered way. VAYLA recognizes that young people have a voice and equips them and their families with the confidence to speak for themselves and the skills and knowledge to do it effectively to influence public discourse and policy. VAYLA holds itself accountable by acting with honesty and humility and promoting healthy and meaningful relationships to ensure that is has the greatest impact on the community’s young people and their
The Community that is served by VAYLA
VAYLA serves New Orleans East, which has a population of approximately 71,000 residents. Within New Orleans East, VAYLA is located in the Village de l’Est (known by its Vietnamese residents as “Versailles”), which boasts the highest concentration of Vietnamese Americans in the United States, with a population estimated at 7,000 in a 1-½ mile radius. This Vietnamese refugee community, which arrived primarily in the 1970s and 80s through the efforts of the Catholic Church, is also home to many newly arrived Latino immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Limited English proficiency is widespread; more than 22% speak languages other than English at home and speak
English “not well” or “not at all,” compared with fewer than 1% of New Orleans residents. The community also has a large African American population.
VAYLA and its members have dealt with several issues that cut across intersections of race, class, and language. With a primarily Vietnamese, African-American, and Latino constituency, VAYLA has collectively engaged in campaigns that embraced multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual aspects, and challenged the educational, health, and economic disparities that have historically affected its community. There is a great need for youth in the community to take on leadership and advocacy roles, particularly due to the language barriers that persist for the older generations. VAYLA continues to empower young leaders to resist educational injustices and demand policy changes that promote community and regional health, access, and wellbeing.
To provide opportunities for families and individuals to learn, grow, develop, and become self-
sufficient, productive people
To provide effective organizing and advocacy trainings to families and individuals to empower them to advocate for themselves, actively engage and lead a movement to bring about long-term change to improve their well-being
To provide social support services to families and individuals by promoting education, health,
leadership, cultural, and generational connections
To develop VAYLA to become a resource center where families and individuals can get the information they need to make effective decisions.
VAYLA is first and foremost youth centered. Youth become involved with VAYLA because it is fun and because they see it as a safe haven. Youth see VAYLA as a second home, a safe place; they can be who they want to be in this space. Youth then become involved in and lead civic engagement. Youth are trained to run VAYLA’s programs. VAYLA’s strategic priorities are determined by the youth. If something in the community needs to be fixed, VAYLA will provide the tools to fix it.
VAYLA’s Leadership Development Program serves as the foundational course for youth organizers. Youth leaders determine the content and curriculum for the program on an annual basis and with support from staff, implement the course to VAYLA’s new organizers.
VAYLA educates the community and listens to the community. Its work is guided and informed by the community. VAYLA’s staff conducts trainings in survey design, interviewing, data collection and analysis. With the surveys’ data, members develop their own policy analysis, developing communication strategies to raise awareness and communicate with policy makers. Youth and their families are engaged in policy advocacy through a participatory action research model which conducts a community needs and opportunity assessment as we have done for our education and health assessment. Youth and their families identify the information they will be seeking. Once this assessment is completed, youth will design and implement a survey measuring community needs, challenges, and strengths and will then implement it.
Finally, youth and their families meet face-to-face with policymakers where they are equipped to present their stories, concerns, recommendations and solutions. VAYLA members have hosted candidate forums for school board and local elections, participated and presented in Advocacy Days at the State Capitol, and met face-to-face with local and state policymakers.
VAYLA’s staff is young, some began their relationship with VAYLA as youth members. Staff culture is non-hierarchical and collaborative. Staff is empowered to make decisions and work collaboratively. The Executive Director is viewed as a mentor by many on staff.
VAYLA is an organization that not only works with its community but also in strong partnerships with other organizations, locally and nationally. VAYLA’s work is done with coalition partners and will sometimes support issues that are not central to it because they understand the value of being a good coalition partner. As such they are well respected throughout the community for their willingness to collaborate and to share resources.
VAYLA’s initiatives include:
Civic engagement and voter engagement
Increased access to: Reproductive health, education, rights and justice
Returning New Orleans Schools to local control
Providing a supportive environment for young people who identify as LGBTQ
Evacuation and Disaster Response
VAYLA also has:
An annual summer sports tournament and dance competition that engages approximately 750 people from the gulf coast region
A recording studio
A dance studio and fitness center that offers weekly workout classes
A non-commercial Low-Powered FM (LPFM) radio station that serves as a radio voice for and to the
Vietnamese community and other residents of New Orleans East
VAYLA’s first victory was the defeat of the landfill soon after Hurricane Katrina. They have continued to, in collaboration with youth, neighbors and other organizations, to experience many other significant victories for their community.
Reopening of Sarah T. Reed High School – In 2014, the state-run school board, Recovery School District (RSD), in the implementation of its plan to make New Orleans the country’s first all-charter school system accelerated the process to close Sarah T. Reed High School. Reed Renaissance, a VAYLA initiative, developed and published a Student Blue Print. Following the report’s release, students and their families built a broad-based coalition of Vietnamese, Latino and African American youth and adults to support the re-opening of this school on another school’s campus. The degree to which the RSD incorporated community priorities and youth voices was unprecedented in New Orleans. VAYLA’s campaign for a community high school garnered significant media attention and prompted the RSD to work with VAYLA and the community to re-open the school. Through a school visioning process, youth, parents, teachers and stakeholders identified priority areas for a school operator which included: intensive supports for at-risk youth, multiple pathways to high school graduation, extracurricular activities that foster whole child development and partnerships with parents and community members to support school and student success.
Improving Language Access in Orleans Parish Schools – Youth organizers worked with adults to gather information that led to the publication of a report ESL: Lost in the System and the filing of a complaint with the Department of Justice to expose and hold New Orleans schools accountable for language rights violations. As a result, the RSD allocated $2.9 million towards special needs, including language access. In 2014, schools and charter school operators submitted resolutions to the Department of Justice outlining the steps they would take to resolve the issues raised in the complaint.
Providing a safe space for LGBTQ+ Youth: VAYLA’s YouthQUEST (Queers in Unity for Education and Social Transformation) program has served as a safe space for LGBTQ youth, supporting young people in coping with homophobia and trans-phobia that permeates their school and home environments.
Supporting Victims of Natural Disasters- In 2017, VAYLA raised $23,000 from individuals to provide aid to victims of a tornado in their community.
Increasing Access to the Polls- In 2016, VAYLA filed a lawsuit against the state of Louisiana that required naturalized citizens to provide proof of citizenship in to register to vote. Governor John Bel Edwards repealed the 142-year-old law, effectively allowing 72,000 naturalized citizens to register to vote.
Increasing Voter Turnout- In the 2017, municipal elections VAYLA’s Get out the Vote campaign
combined old fashioned door to door canvassing and technology to mobilize the electorate. Technology provided access to more people and supported door-to-door, phone banks, touching people 15 times during the election cycle. It empowered young people to be engaged. Their district elected the first Asian American to the New Orleans City council. As a result of VAYLA’s GOTV efforts, 39.7% of its universe voted in the general Municipal election, compared with 32% of all non-white voters citywide. They engaged in this work in partnership with their community and with citywide coalitions.
Strategic Opportunities and Challenges
Many issues are on VAYLA’s and its community’s horizon. The most pressing is Entergy’s proposed power plant for New Orleans East that was approved by the New Orleans City Council in March of this year despite deep resistance by the community. While this battle may have been lost, it is anticipated that the issue is not resolved.
Other issues and future campaigns include:
Support and safety for undocumented families
Providing academic support to its youth
Environmental justice in New Orleans East eradicating blight in New Orleans, especially along Chef
Developing and implementing a youth run radio program
Creating opportunities for youth to earn income while working with VAYLA
Strengthen the youth leadership pipeline, particularly keeping youth engaged after they graduate high school or enter college
Within the context of these myriads of issues lies another opportunity for VAYLA. It is a young organization that has grown quickly in response to community needs. Not only is the organization young, its staff is young, many have moved from being members to staff positions.
In its next phase of growth, there is the opportunity for VAYLA to develop systems and processes that better support its work. The nature of VAYLA necessitates an internal and external focus. VAYLA has a great staff, they are dedicated, smart and share the passion of VAYLA and the community. They will benefit from further staff development. There is the opportunity to focus on the second tier of internal leadership, to develop a strong team and depth of management. This is the time for VAYLA to invest in its infrastructure, capacity building and leadership development. VAYLA will benefit from a dynamic Executive Director and smart people who steer from the back seat.
Because of VAYLA’s absolute commitment to working cross-culturally and inter-generationally, the potential for conflict is baked into their culture. Those very issues that create diversity also result in competing issues within an organization. This is why VAYLA is a unique organization not only in New Orleans, but nationally and it is why VAYLA matters.
Profile of the ideal Candidate
Minh Nguyen’s vision, passion and commitment to his community provided the genesis of VAYLA. VAYLA’s commitment to being a youth-centered and community-led organization has supported its growth and success. Mr. Nguyen’s successor will be responsible for building upon this success, continuing his commitment and developing an infrastructure that will sustain the organization and allow it to continue to grow and serve the community.
Essential Skills, Experience of the Ideal Candidate
The new Executive Director must have the demonstrated ability to be a leader within the community and to lead, mentor and manage a talented staff. Because VAYLA is youth centered, the new director must demonstrate a unique ability to lead and be led by young people. The director must share VAYLA’s passion for the issues championed by the organization and the community it serves. The ideal candidate will be a visionary
as well as pragmatic.
The ideal candidate will be able to work in a culture where the opinions and ideas of everyone within the organization, staff and stakeholders, are valued. He or she will be a leader who is an effective bridge builder across cultures and generations and able to gather and apply human resources to solve problems. Partnerships and collaborations will be valued and advanced. The new director will be at the table with the community and elected officials and garner the respect of all.
The ideal candidate will also bring strong management skills to VAYLA and be able to demonstrate how they have led an organization and how their management style has contributed to staff and board growth and development and supported sustainable growth for the organization. Ideally the candidate will have experience working with a nonprofit board of directors, knowing how to tap into their potential to fully contribute to the organization and develop strong governance practices.
The ideal candidate will have the ability to provide effective oversight and direction of VAYLA’s fiscal and human resources. He or she will demonstrate an ability to build a management team that is responsive to the needs of the organization allowing the Executive Director to provide oversight despite the need to spend much of their time working outside the office, in the community. VAYLA requires a leader who recognizes their strengths and weaknesses and hires management staff to complement his or her talents. He or she will develop a sustainable business model and systems that support the work of VAYLA and create accountability mechanisms.
VAYLA has developed a unique ability to pair technology with old fashion organizing strategies. The new director will embrace technology to enhance the internal and external operations of VAYLA.
Capacity for Resource Development
As a nonprofit, VAYLA is dependent on investments from funders, local and national. VAYLA has an impressive track record of attracting these investments and its future is dependent upon its continued ability to do so. A successful candidate will demonstrate their ability to work with funders, be a responsible steward of these investments and be able to effectively communicate with funders to attract and retain financial support for VAYLA’s programs. Responsible resource development also requires ongoing accountability to funders, keeping them apprised of VAYLA’s accomplishments and adhering to reporting guidelines.
Essential Attributes of the Ideal Candidate
The essential attributes of VAYLA’s new leader will include:
Accountability to all stakeholders.
Passion for social justice and change, and for mentoring youth and staff.
Fearless about confronting difficult social issues.
Able to inspire others.
Demonstrable ability to lead and be led by youth.
Inspire trust and loyalty with the youth, the community, funders, and coalition partners.
Strategic and analytical, able to work with others to chart a course of action.
Effective and articulate communicator, in writing and before small and large audiences.
Listen and hear the voices of the community and translate those concerns to others.
Approachable with regards to those with different viewpoints and perspectives.
Open, honest and transparent in dealing with staff, members, and the public.
Quickly engender trust and respect within the community.
Willingness to Partner and Collaborate
VAYLA works in close partnership with many organizations to advance its mission. VAYLA’s leader must be willing to be at the table and partner with diverse people and organizations locally and nationally. VAYLA is widely respected for its work with other partners where the only goal is to better serve the community. VAYLA is appreciated for its willingness to openly share its resources with its partners. The new director must demonstrate an ability and willingness to be a good partner and bridge builder. VAYLA’s director will be willing to work with unlikely allies.
Ability to work effectively with the community served by VAYLA
While not essential, it will be helpful for VAYLA’s new leader to have ties to the New Orleans East community that it serves. VAYLA is an advocate for this community and the new leader must have knowledge of the community and willingness and ability to work effectively in a cross-cultural milieu. VAYLA’s leader must inspire confidence from the New Orleans East community of Vietnamese, African American and Latino residents and be able to continue to build bridges within and without this community. VAYLA’s new leader must be committed to and love this community to work effectively in it. The new leader will respect the community for what it is and what it has to offer and have a vision for how to protect it and help it move forward.
It is essential that the successful candidate be able to demonstrate an ability to work with young people. Youth must be a passion for its leader. VAYLA’s next leader will share its commitment to being a youth centered organization and be able to build upon VAYLA’s foundation to develop programs that will support the growth of youth leadership.
VAYLA values diversity within the organization and within the community that it serves. Candidates from diverse backgrounds and a demonstrated ability to work well across all racial, gender, sexual preference, age and socio-economic lines are encouraged to apply.
Candidates shall send a resume and cover letter that responds to the requirements outlined in this Position Profile as soon as possible to firstname.lastname@example.org. Resumes will be held in confidence and will only be seen by the search consultant and VAYLA board until a pool of highly qualified candidates is identified. You will be notified before references are requested or contacted. The position will remain open until filled, however resumes will be reviewed as they are received.