Laying the Foundation for Long-standing Nonprofit Programming

Photo Credit: Kenneth Dixon

Photo Credit: Kenneth Dixon

I found a passion for educating and supporting others in service of our communities. Working with YSS as a program coordinating fellow has been such an incredible opportunity to bring this passion into a professional setting.

Throughout my collegiate career I have had so many great opportunities to serve as a leader in work which has meant a lot to me. Particularly as VP of Leadership for my service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega (APO) and as Education Director for the Society Advocating Gender Equity (SAGE) at Iowa State, I found a passion for educating and supporting others in service of our communities. Working with YSS as a program coordinating fellow has been such an incredible opportunity to bring this passion into a professional setting. 

Since the 1970’s YSS has provided vital supports and resources to youth across the state through residential shelters, mentorship, after school programs, and addiction treatment. To support the individuals who make these necessary programs possible, YSS decided, as a part of a larger strategic plan, to create YSS University. This initiative is intended to provide trainings and programming relevant to issues facing Iowa youth in an increasingly accessible and effective way. The project will first be implemented to better support staff at YSS in getting the training they want and need, and is intended to expand and grow into a resource for volunteers and community members as well.

Working to support and develop education/training initiatives is something I love to do and find to be very important work. While in both SAGE and APO, the leadership roles I took on were created during my time with the organizations and I was the first to fill them. In both circumstances I personally experienced and witnessed a significant change in how the membership of each felt about and engaged with the organizations. With this added infrastructure, engagement, and information we felt more confident and more excited to participate in different service and activism projects.

In those roles I saw the incredible value of initiatives, like YSS University, in creating a more cohesive, committed, and confident team. Creating these types of roles and programs also involve huge culture shifts which, while beneficial can be very difficult to accomplish and maintain. I stepped down from my roles at the end of the year and saw this difficulty first hand. In SAGE, no one filled the role of Education Director and it ceased to exist. We had not effectively accomplished the culture shift. I realized a new role, project, or initiative needed to be both accessible and interesting to others for it to be sustainable. In APO, the VP of Leadership continues to be an important part of the executive team because we had outlined the role’s specific responsibilities, invited membership to attend executive meetings, and had effectively advertised how someone could make the role their own. 

I will be using the lessons I learned from these experiences in my work on YSS University. Infrastructure and accessibility are at the forefront of my mind as I am creating and finding tools and resources to ensure YSS University will be a program that is effective, enjoyable to participate in, and can be evaluated and improved. I will be researching Learning Management Systems, developing evaluation materials , and creating a course catalog and handbooks to improve the organization of information, streamline training completion and certification, and support professional development at YSS. 

YSS University is an incredible opportunity and I want to make sure the tools and resources I am creating and organizing can help this project reach its full potential. I strongly believe YSS University will have an incredible impact in strengthening YSS as an organization and Iowa communities at large in supporting and empowering tomorrow's youth. I am so excited and grateful to be a part of it!

Danny Cook


Danny grew up in Des Moines, Iowa and will be graduating from Iowa State University in the fall of 2019 with degrees in Women and Gender Studies and Communications. In their time at Iowa State University, they have had many opportunities to support feminist and political activism and work with other passionate young adults. They are looking forward to utilizing the knowledge and tools they have gained from their time at Iowa State to empower others, particularly young adults and younger generations to live authentically and be involved in causes that are meaningful to them.

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