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September 26, 2007
Bitsie Clark is well-known as a New Haven Alderwoman for Ward 7 since 2003 and lived in New Haven since her graduation from Vassar College in 1953, to be with her husband while he studied at Yale Law School. Shortly thereafter she took a position with Girl Scouts of America, supported by United Way of Greater New Haven, organizing, training, and employing the troop leaders for the region. Bitsie says it was here that she learned some valuable lessons that have helped her throughout her life such as how to effectively teach and find a person’s strengths, lessons that cannot by learned in a classroom.
After ten years of working for Girl Scouts, Bitsie took time off to raise a family. During this time, she continued to be active in the community as President of the Girl Scouts Council as well as serving on United Way of Greater New Haven’s Board of Directors. Years later, Bitsie became recognizable to many as the director of the Arts Council in New Haven, where she worked for twenty years. Since her retirement, Bitsie has been more involved than ever as a member of the Greater New Haven Convention and Visitors Bureau, president of the Audubon Court Condominium Association, on the boards of the Shubert Theater and the International Arts and Ideas Festival, and, of course, as an alderwoman.
Recently, Bitsie has dedicated some of her time to United Way of Greater New Haven through the volunteer-led grant review process, which evaluates applications received by the non-profit community and designates the donations received throughout the year to the non-profits in need based upon the priority areas. “I was dealing with things I knew nothing about,” said Bitsie of the grant review process. “Prior to this experience, I was so involved in the arts that I didn’t realize just how many wonderful social services there were in our area.”
Bitsie volunteered for the grant review process because of her earlier volunteer involvement in the priority area selection. Through a lot of dedication and many committee meetings, she helped to establish United Way of Greater New Haven’s community action plan that, using data from a recent needs assessment, identified critical areas of focus from which United Way funding decisions would be made. The grant review volunteers looked at these priority areas and the goals attached to them and then evaluated non-profit organizations based upon their ability to address those main problems. Bitsie says she continued to volunteer through the grant review process because she was committed and wanted to see the process through to the end.
"It was fascinating. They paired us with people we didn’t know and some of them are now very close friends. We had the chance to visit as many organizations as we wanted or had the time to and the whole process was flexible. Visiting the organizations was very interesting. I was often impressed by how well the staff managed, despite meager facilities. You could sense where their hearts were and the amount of energy they had. The final meeting, where decisions were made, was so intense. Everyone was extremely passionate and with a few words, could sway the crowd’s opinion. We all wished there was more money to give away, but I think we came out of the process with the best judgments we could have made. "
Seventy-five volunteers and nine United Way of Greater New Haven staff members participated in the 2007-2008 Grant Review Process. The reviewers were responsible for reading and evaluating 8-10 applications as well as conducting 2-4 site visits. Applications were assigned to a volunteer based upon expertise, interest, and avoiding conflicts of interest. Each of the 126 applications that were received from Greater New Haven non-profit organizations were reviewed by at least 5 volunteers. In the end, $1.5 million dollars was distributed to non-profit organizations in Greater New Haven.
Company/Position and Volunteer Activities
I have been a New Haven alderwoman since 2003 and chair of the Youth Services committee. I was the director of the Arts Council for 20 years prior to my retirement. I attended Vassar College and I am also on the Greater New Haven Convention and Visitors Bureau, on the board of the International Arts and Ideas Festival, on the board for the Shubert Theater, and president of the Audubon Court Condominium Association.
I first came to New Haven right out of college, when my husband was studying at Yale Law. At that time I took a job working for the Girl Scouts of America and was there for 10 years where I learned some of the most valuable lessons that have helped me through my life. The Girl Scouts was a United Way agency and I organized, trained, and employed the troop leaders.
Two of the most crucial things I have learned are “start where you are.” This means that you should find out as much about the person that you are working with as possible. That way, you can relate things to their experiences and you know how far you can push them. You should also know that “feelings are facts.” If someone feels something, you can’t tell them that they are wrong. You can give them evidence that might change their mind, but you can’t simply disagree with them.
After the Girl Scouts I took 16 years off to raise my family. During this time I remained heavily involved with volunteering. I was the President of the Girl Scout Council and served on the United Way Board of Directors.
Why did you choose to be a part of the Grant Review process?
I was involved in selecting the Priority Areas and had participated in many meetings. I felt that the Priority Area selection was a wonderful way to engage the community and it helped to recruit for the Grant Review Process. Often times organizations will ask for people to participate in their grant review process and people will come in without knowing what the problems are. I participated in the Grant Review Process because I was already committed and wanted to see it out to the end.
They asked me if I would do it again this year, and unfortunately my term is up for Alderman and I need to campaign during the same time period. Otherwise, I would have liked to do it again.
How did the process impact your views of the community?
I was dealing with stuff that I knew nothing about. Prior to this experience, I was so involved in the arts that I didn’t realize just how many wonderful social services were in our area. It truly expanded my knowledge of the community and all of its opportunities.
Was there any part of the process that you found particularly rewarding?
It was fascinating. They paired us with people that we didn’t know and some of them are now very close friends. We had the chance to visit the organizations and the whole process was very flexible. We read to learn about many of them, but we could also visit as many of the organizations as we wanted or had the time to.
Visiting the organizations was very interesting. We met the staff and the board and saw the facilities. I was often impressed by how much the staff managed with facilities that weren’t great. You could sense where their hearts were and the amount of energy that they had.
The final meeting when the decisions were made for the grants was quite intense. So many people were so passionate and with a few words, had the power to sway the crowd and change decisions.
All in all, it was an enormous amount of work, but also very rewarding and satisfying for all of the reasons above, especially for the friends I have made.
I was struck by how seriously everyone took the process. Usually, some people are more committed than others, but that wasn’t so here, and we had very large groups of people. We all wished there was more money to give away, but I think that we came out of the process with very good judgments made.
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