At the beginning of December, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance announced two significant pieces of news: Following cuts in a State of Illinois grant, the Alliance is looking to form a strategic partnership with another organization, and Executive Director Owen Daniel-McCarter is leaving the organization.
Alliance Board Vice Chair Mary Morten said that the organization has already made short-term plans to address the funding cuts, with individual donations replacing some of the funding.
"We have a lot of people that have come to understand and support the work of the Alliance, so we've really grown our individual donor work, which is not something a lot of small organizations can say. We're very proud of that," Morten explained.
As for the search for a partner organization, Morten said those discussions are just beginning, although, according to her, organizations that do "extraordinary program work" would likely be a good fit. "There are the overhead costs that we're trying to rein in, so that we can focus on the program work, which is so needed, particularly now," she said.
Daniel-McCarter had been the Alliance's policy director before taking over as executive director in July 2016. At that time, he became the first openly transgender leader of a major LGBT nonprofit in Illinois. Morten said that he excelled at both of his positions.
"We love Owen, and we love the work that he's done for the Alliance, and so this is a very bittersweet sort of transition," she said. "We've had just tremendous success with some of our advocacy work over the past couple of years and that has been directly as a result of some of Owen's work."
Morten credited Daniel-McCarter with building strong relationships with the ACLU and Lambda Legal. In particular, she highlighted Daniel-McCarter's work with the District 211 case, where a trans student was prohibited from using the locker room corresponding with her gender identity.
"He is just a really outstanding coalition builder," Morten said. "He plays nicely with others, and I think that's why he saw the results that we did in the advocacy work."
Reached via email, Daniel-McCarter said his reasons for leaving the Alliance were personal, but echoed Morten's pride over tripling the amount of individual donor support and increasing new grant funding. He also said he was particularly proud of the organization's first-ever Safe Schools Symposium this past fall. "As someone who believes that bringing people together to build trust is critical to the strength of our movements, I am a big fan of the conference/skillshare/teach-in modeland our Symposium did just that," he wrote.
The Alliance's interim director will be Mac Grambauer, who Morten described as a consultant with a long history of working with the organization. Morten said that Laura McAlpinewho heads McAlpine Consulting for Growth, LLC, and is a co-founder of the Alliancewill be facilitating the strategic exploration process. Morten anticipates the Alliance first finding the partner organization before settling on a permanent executive director, but is thankful that both McAlpine and Grambauer are deeply familiar with the cause.
"I think it's really important for people to know that the work continues, that the Alliance has not and will not stop doing any of the very important work for young people in schools," Morten said. "And we'll certainly continue with our policy and advocacy works. That has become a hallmark of the organization, and that's going to continue."