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Business as Usual: CEO Sister Linda Yankoski

Business as Usual

Business as Usual welcomes Sister Linda Yankoski, President/CEO of Holy Family Institute, to discuss how addressing equity in education can lead to a more vibrant workforce.

By using a personalized, hands-on and technology-rich approach, Sister Yanoski will detail how the Holy Family Institute's Nazareth Prep is reinventing education critical to building and maintaining a diverse, competitive Pittsburgh workforce. Nazareth Prep is an independent Catholic high school that provides an affordable, progressive education that is real-world rigorous.

She will also discuss how secondary education and colleges need to rethink curriculum as entry-level jobs, technical and digital skills now outnumber all other skills combined in job descriptions across virtually every sector of the economy.






So good afternoon, everyone. This is Audrey Russo, President and CEO and welcome to business as usual. It might be a President's Day in a federal holiday, but we couldn't miss a chance to speak with someone who is just going to blow your mind. If you don't know her sister, Linda Jankowski, but I call her sister Linda. And I think that's what most people do. But in a minute, I'll set you up. So you can hear more from her. But I just want to remind everyone that we have muted your microphones. And this is not an opportunity for you to sell your wares. This is an opportunity to only focus on our guests. That's it, just ask questions, participate, listen, and today will be fabulous as as just hold on to your seat belts, get some lunch, and I know that you will find this highly interesting. So today, as always, is sponsored by Huntington bank. They're longtime friends of the tech Council and have helped us with many experiments that we run, we're approaching a year doing these daily calls. And it just never ceases to amaze me the amount of people both in Pittsburgh and around who care about this region are doing amazing things. 40 by 80 is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Pittsburgh tech Council. And that's where we focus on workforce development as well as entrepreneurship. So let's not wait one moment further, we have sister Linda, and you know, my New York accent comes out SR I go sista, please take no offense to that. But I am very honored to have you join us today just for a lot of reasons. But you know, you you have been a legend in this region. And you know, you will tell me to stop and say, Oh, no, no, but there are some things about to before we jump into Holy Family Institute and all the things that you're doing that I just want to give some highlights up. So Sister, sister, sorry about that. Sister, Linda, is a member of the congregation of Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth has over 40 years of experience, I find that hard to believe 40 years. So in executive management of the Holy Family Institute, and she's responsible for everything, she's responsible for the operations, and its subsidiaries, which some of you might know, it's the Holy Family Foundation, and Nazareth prep. She's going to talk about that in a minute. But the combined budgets of these entities is about $25 million, with a staff of nearly 400 people. She oversees the operation of a wide continuum programs, which hopefully will get to, to meet the needs and families in western Pennsylvania, but she's also done some global things. And maybe we'll get a chance to talk about that. So she has a bachelor's degree in social work from the U of pet. She has a Master's from an administration in the University of Notre Dame, and a doctorate in education from Duquesne University. So her research includes you can imagine anything in nonprofit in I think it's in education and poverty and disparity. She serves on the boards of sister, they have Bauman foundation as an Emiratis, member of the Duquesne University Board of Trustees, and the mentoring partnership of the Board of Trustees. Listen, she has won awards, she is recognized, she is recognized across the region and across the United States. I am going to lose my breath if I keep going on. But the importance of me sharing that with you is that we have someone here in our region who is just doing fascinating, important, and providing sometimes provocative work, then she knows it. And she has kept steadfast in the years that she's been at the helm of this organization. And we're gonna jump in So did I do justice?

Oh, my goodness gracious Audrey now Now, right now no stop.

I did my research and I wanted to make sure that I captured as much of it as I can.

Let's talk about Pittsburgh and the kids and families. Let's do that.

So let's talk about Holy Family and talk about the subsidiaries. So you know, the mission, the work, and even how you're doing right now, like all that you've been through, so start ever you want in there.

Okay. Well, you know, Holy Family Institute's been around 120 years started off as an orphanage. Actually, the sisters found a place on the Ohio banks of the Ohio River. Our history books, say a villa on the banks of the Ohio was supposed to be a place of retreat for the sisters. Our founders purchased this home. The sisters were living there and in 1900 there was a fire in The parish of St. Stanislaus, which is at the strip. I don't know what it's called today, but it was st stands and we were at Polish Hill, a family had three children left orphaned parents died. The priests knowing there were nuns with nothing to do brought the kids, Stoli family, and we started as an orphanage right then and there during the World Wars, flu epidemics. And then those epidemics, industrial revolution, we could have up to 400 children living here, many of whom were not true orphans. But if you're an immigrant family, and you came here and you lost a spouse, and you had five kids, you had to go to work, you didn't know what to do with the children, they came to Holy Family, you took the kids when somebody from the old country came over to help, or you got remarried, or sometimes you started a new family and left those children. So poverty, lack of family supports part of our beginning. But over the course of the century, we changed to meet the changing needs of the community. And so today, we provide about 14 different services, energy assistance, drug and alcohol counseling, outpatient mental health counseling. We serve 30,000, client customers of Duquesne light to help them pay their bills, which has been very difficult during these COVID times. So we've we've continued to provide services, as the community needs services, we we not only run Nazareth prep, we have a school for kids K through 12, who aren't making it in the public schools who need special education, alternative education. But about seven years, eight years ago, the board god bless their hearts, decided to take the risk with me to start a school for kids who couldn't afford traditional Catholic tuition. So we launched Nazareth prep, it's a school for children, students of all faiths, all backgrounds, and today we have 200 students, a majority of whom are African American.

Wow. So how have you been this last year? What changes like if you were just to take a moment right now, what have been some of the, you know, profound changes,

I think just like most other organizations and companies in Pittsburgh, we had to jump in and do everything basically online. We were starting to see that with the high school and the special ed program. So we thought we were going to do a dry run. Everybody was coming to school on Monday, Tuesday, the kids would all stay home and turn on their Chromebooks. And everything shut down that Sunday, that Monday, so we were somewhat ready. But we had to jump into virtual education for all of our programs, and most of our counseling programs, because folks were not able to come to the various sites we have for counseling. On the other hand, we are one of the largest providers of services for abused children in in the Allegheny County area. We need to monitor families with who have children at home, that program never stopped. Because when you have a child is at risk for abuse, you still have to show up. So God bless every every counselor for in home counseling, just continue to go to the homes and provide services now in the spring and summer. It was great. We could meet outside, they could they could come to the door, we could have our sessions. But as the winter and the came on, we still had to go we still have to go to the homes, we still are doing our home visiting.

So nothing has stopped. You haven't stopped but as the demand increased,

well, the the demand has increased but we're not. It has increased but you can't meet it always given the structure of virtual sessions and signing up and getting through. So we've been managing it. We're concerned about some of our fee for service programs because they're not meeting the same level of ours. We've lost some revenue. Challenging going forward. Our schools, we've kept him in session as soon as we could open them up this fall. So we've been having face to face educational sessions for most of the kids. What to get when we got to after the first nine weeks at Nazareth prep the kids were getting a little mask tired, tired of not being in self contained classrooms. So for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, we did do virtual learning to give them a break but they're back in school now. The juniors and seniors every day freshmen and sophomores are hybrid. Some days in some days learning virtually but we haven't stopped

So one thing I want to share with everyone is that we and just in full disclosure and candor, we have had a relationship with Nazareth. Now Nazareth prep, Holy Family, for internships, we've had, I think at least two interns who stay with us for about three years each. And there they, I think they, what's the criteria they've been with us, like all through high school,

pretty much I mean, our students, the Nazareth prep students, the way we're able to pay for our high school is that all of our students do an internship one day a week at a local company, and the companies that help pay the tuition, if they're nonprofits than what the companies do, or the organizations do is help us with, sometimes in kind services, and additional supports, but our goal is to have a paid internship for every student eventually, to keep the high school self sufficient. But every student works one day a week, and the majority of our black students, it's been really, really very challenging me, they're the kids who don't have networks, they don't have social networks, their parents don't have them. And for the most part, they are going to work at majority white companies. And they don't see a whole lot of people that look like them. So we have decided in these, these, the last year and this year, well before COVID, that we're going to hold the ninth graders back, because it's really tough to be 14 and walking into a company and experience cultural situations that are not very pleasant sometimes. You know, kids, that microaggressions and macro aggressions that happen to adult African Americans in this community, also happen to kids. And so we are looking hard at that, and how we might change the internship program and provide additional support for the black kids who are working sometimes, again, the only black person in the department?

Well, you know, we have learned so much, if I can just just press against that a little bit. At the tech Council, we have learned a tremendous amount from the interns that we've had, because one is you develop a relationship because it's not just one year. So you develop a relationship. And I can remember that our first intern, whose family I think was was Hispanic, they were from Mexico, and no one spoke English in the home and he was actually working, really great guy and he had melt had never been true for Manny's no lesson on an airplane. And we had a trip that was planned to go to I think john deere in the Midwest, and we hired a private jet that all the companies paid for. And he got to go on the trip. And, you know, the stories and the opportunities that he had, I think really not only exposed him and increased his network, but it helped us it helped all of us who were there all the robotics companies that join that flight, saw what it would be like to just reach out and help someone. And it doesn't take that much. I'm not saying you need to take them on a private jet. But it so happened that happened. And he was at the right time in the right place. But we have another student that we have now that Brian Kennedy on our team has really taken you know, sort of under his wing, but to tell you the truth, Brian has probably learned more from him than he has learned from from all of us. And that's opening our networks and keeping him connected and, and him giving us feedback, he gives us a lot of a lot of great feedback on things that we never would have thought of. So for those of you I am just going to tell you it myself, Brian Kennedy, anyone on my team can talk to you about the importance of these internships that it's mutually beneficial. And if you can create an environment that's, that's open enough, it's really easy to gain a lot of positives for both the individual and your team by doing this work and your team is is also very helpful, Linda. So in terms of the assimilation and the inclusion. That's been phenomenal. But I do want to give a shout out to sister Linda said that our first intern is now working at an MSA mind safety appliance. And they are going to help him with going school. Right. I just can't believe it. I mean, I can't believe it. But it's just been it's just remarkable. So I wanted to give that that holler out just to tell everyone that this relationship while while sister Linda is really, you know, talking about the importance of people coming into an all white environment. What does that mean? How do you do it? I can tell you you if you keep your eyes open, you will learn a lot from each and every one of these these kids that are in high school.

Oh, I can tell you that it's it's been life changing for so many students. I had a student in the first couple years we needed to have companies We're really forgiving because all we had were ninth graders then we had ninth and 10th graders as we built up the school. And I'll never forget one of the ninth graders who was going to one of the banks. And you know, he was just not getting his homework done. And we were arguing over grades. And he was, you know, it, he had potential, but he just wasn't living up to it. So after about three months at the bank, they put him on a project to create a marketing campaign for reasons you should come to this bank. And he had the idea to take a have a coffee stain with a coffee cup on a postcard, I don't know the whole details, but they loved it. They used it. And this kid's life turned around. All of a sudden, he started to talk to the people at work and said, How do I get a job like this? Where did you go to school? What do I need to know? He turned his life around, turned his grades around, and now I kid I wanted to throw into the river is now in college. And while nuns might have been able to do that in the old days, but we can't do that, but do that anymore. Can't do that anymore. He's, he's doing exceptionally well. We have a student who graduated from right from Nazareth prep, take a job with Duquesne light, the only African American student in their boot camp. And he started get $70,000. He's 19. And it's it can change a family. Right? And we are all of our students are drug tested. We work with them. We have career coaches, they are babysat at work. We have kids, I'll never forget, when we first started, I asked the kids what is HR stand for? They told me hit and run, home runs. They all know now It means human resources. They all know what a VIP is professional improvement plan. The kids get it. They're not there. We don't want them to be babysat. They need to do the job, stay off their cell phones, develop those work skills, the soft skills that everybody most employers say to us, if we can get us an employee, who knows who has ambition, knows how to show up, ask questions be critical thinkers, they'll train them. And so that's part of what our kids get all four years of high school. And these are kids who can be the diversity pipeline for companies as our kids, and we want to keep them in Pittsburgh, we need these graduates to stay here become the next generation of leaders. And that's going to take the next 10 to 15 years. If we can give them the chance now.

So you two things I want to cover. One is you mentioned something briefly and I want to get back to that you said you were thinking about holding some students back and you were talking about the problems and some of the organizations and you related to white organizations. And then second, I want to talk about apprenticeships.

Okay, so, you know, for some of the students, you know, we need, they're meant that experience in the company. So it's meaningful. And there are times when you know, you see it in schools, we have it in our own school, we are revamping our curriculum, it needs to be culturally relevant. Oftentimes, there's a huge gap between the the achievement of white kids in schools and black kids, we see it all through Allegheny County in 42 different school districts, we have schools where the black and white student gap is tremendous. Most kids don't get to go black kids are enrolled in AP courses. Well, we just started an initiative with Notre Dame, and we brought AP to our high school. So we now have AP classes for our students, because we want them to get what they would get in any other private school. And so we need to give our freshmen a little bit more opportunity to catch up, develop some skills in terms of self assurance, because when you're scared, you walk into a place and you'd rather get kicked out. So I'll stay on my phone, or I won't follow instructions, or I'll do things because I'd rather be kicked out then feel like I can't perform and we don't want that to happen to the students. So we're taking a little break with our freshmen for right now. Plus, it's doubled. We now have a waiting list. For students who want to come to the school, then we can accommodate right now. So we have to build a building and some classrooms. And we're, we're working on that right now. So that's what's happening there. And then we are creating pre apprenticeship programs. So we have one in mechatronics with mine safety appliance. They've had such good experience with our kids, they want to double the number of kids they take as interns, they've had four they want to go to eight, because the kids can graduate move into something like mechatronics and into their apprenticeship program. Carlos college started a apprenticeship program for early childhood. So we have students who want to follow that career path. So we are there pre apprenticeship program where we can get kids interested early on the younger, the better, because, you know, we've had the trades come in and talk to the kids about great jobs, what you can do, but they're when they're seniors in high school. Well, they've already made up their minds about what they want to do or where they might want to go next. And that sometimes is perhaps too late. So our goal is to, to involve these kids early on in sophomore junior and senior years, in pre apprenticeship programs, so that when they graduate, they've looked at a lot of different opportunities. They're not just considering only college, or an associate's degree, but they might want to explore something around technology. Let's face it, every job description you look at, they want people who have background in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, mobile app development. I mean, it's amazing. And kids are always coming out of high school or even college with these skills.

You're exactly right. So what what would you like to tell the tech community in terms I mean, you've been, you've been very vocal around the disparities of, of race. And even the most recent report around maternal health for black women in Pittsburgh.

It's it's a challenge here in Pittsburgh. But here, we need the tech community more than any other community to work with high schools, any high school and help the students get a foot in the door, because often, they don't have that opportunity. And if they can, we had a kid, freshmen who went to K and L gates, they put them in the IT department. Oh, he latched on to that he learned so much, that by the end of that year, they hired him directly for the summer. And the kid loved it, he had never been exposed to an IT department and technology and what that might mean, we had kids who started to design websites for other nonprofits as part of their high school projects, we need mentors, and we would love to see interns from our high school in every tech company out there, because that's a great opportunity for students to explore that as a career opportunity. And they need mentors. I mean, we've had kids who've never, we had to go to their homes and install the internet with kids who don't have it at home. We had, we've got we give every kid a Chromebook in our high school, so that they begin to develop those skill sets. But we've had kids, you know, kids who are playing with this when they're seven and eight years old, and nine years old, our kids are are behind, they don't get that they're getting them now at 14, or they get a little bit of work in some of the high schools, but I mean grade schools, depending on where they come from. But we're finding so many of these kids come to us without the skills that most other kids or families just take for granted. So the technology sector is huge in Pittsburgh, we want to see our kids eventually get some of the jobs and provide some diversity in the sector. And you know, these are the kids who can do that. If given half a chance,

how you made, you know, an inference about sometimes these kids go into environments where there's no one there that looks like them. And so what what support Do you think we need? Well, I

think it's a matter of and we provide that will provide training at our place, we talk to folks about what it's like, you know, to get a little bit of information about their background, their culture, what's going on in their families. And, and not look at them as as a problem, but see them as potential because they look different. And they sometimes don't have the same articulation skills as expected in a, that's been white norms for how we talk, to just have a sense of understanding and just approach them without judgment. And you'll find out that there's they're bright, they have interests and they can they learn to they call it code switching. But these are young people who deserve an opportunity and a chance to have the same and we as a community need a middle and upper middle class of black folks. We need that to happen in this community. It benefits everyone. So I we can help folks do that. And some of the best mentors have been there have been white supervisors who they've come to their basketball games. They call them after work. They've helped them With a project, so I'm not saying it can't happen, it's just that we have to have people who understand because we've also had kids who were just given, you know, empty the trash, you know, deliver pencils, those kinds of things that are meaningful. And that's not the best use of their time nor the company's time. Yeah,

that's absolutely right. I think there's a question there. But I think it's quick, Jonathan. Right.

Absolutely. I love your energy and passion, sister Linda, such cool stuff. So Steve Irwin wants to know, are you finding that the kind of broadband access your students have at home is a significant impediment to their growth and advancement in school?

Someone answered, okay.

Yeah, it is, sometimes it is a challenge, what we do is we try to work on that with them and make sure it does happen. But you know, they're also kids, oh, gee, my internet went down, I can't log on today. Well, we don't take this either as a as an excuse to it.

So there was a project, that one our current intern did just forever everyone to get an idea. And I'm not gonna say his name, but he's awesome. His project is to bring in a VC to meet companies virtual Now, obviously, virtually. And he also has planned a business as usual, one of these noon time events. So he has had a chance to understand what it is to make a cold call what it is to make a pitch, how to understand he has sat with me numerous times on calls where I'm actually talking to someone and I think he was part of the outreach. And Brian jumped in on Amazon Launchpad. So yeah, with Amazon Launchpad, out on the west coast. And he actually gave me feedback about some of the questions that I actually asked. So it's been talked about boldness, he's, he's been great. He actually had a date for them to traveled Amazon, Amazon Launchpad. And with COVID, you know, everything has changed, right? So he planned a business as usual with one of the region's podcasters and, and marketing guys, Aaron Watson. So you know, he had to go outside of his comfort zone, you know, quite often. And the point that I'm sharing is not to boast about the tech Council. But just to say, all of you can do this, this isn't, this isn't something like that. So tricky. We just figured out what what could we do that could add value, and that he could find meaning from and it's never easy. It's not like just snap your fingers. But in terms of patience, and seeing the world from another person's eyes is invaluable.

Thank you Audrina does, you folks have done a great job with our students, and a lot of companies have what's nice, now, we can combine a new company with a company that's been doing it, we can share ideas and activities. So we get the finance group to get together and say, here's what we've done with our interns. And you know, so companies can share ideas, we provide support, we try to make it as easy as we can for the organization to take a student so that it's meaningful for the organization, as well as the student. And as I said, you're you're turning lives around and you don't even realize at what depth that this is having experience on students who will have it with them for the rest of their lives.

It's quite an impact. So what do you want to say now, as we wrap up, I know there are so many wrap up,

I'm hoping that other companies might open their doors to students in the future. And if they want to, I'm sure they'll be able to find me and, or anyone on my team. But I also want you to have this sense that, you know, we really as a community need to, to, you know, try to heal some of these, you know, divisions and, and, and unite, I think if there's ever a place that can do it. It's Mr. Rogers, Pittsburgh. And this is an opportunity for all of us to make a difference in the lives of young people in our town. And I find it here in Pittsburgh, I love Pittsburgh. I'm grateful that I had to come here to do my religious studies, and I never left and I just want to thank everyone who has supported us over the years. And we look forward to being part of this community for the next 100 years.

Well, let me just one thing you didn't add that you're running a capital campaign right now, right?

Yeah, I didn't think I was allowed to do that. Yes. Oh,

okay. Never mind. If there's lots of opportunities to make can contribute. Oh, boy, oh, excelling sister, I'm

always telling my kids need a building. We've been going to Duquesne University everywhere else. To use labs, we don't have chemistry. So,

yes. If you want to reach her, she's easy to find. We put the link out. I think we linked out with one of your staff as well. Thank you so much. I'm glad you're staying safe. We need you for another 40 years. helm. So thank you so much.

Thank you. Thank you for having me. Appreciate it. Bye Bye. Hi.

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