Youth Odyssey always has our antennae up for new candidates for our Board of Directors. If selected, we give them a few months to get acquainted with being on the board and seeing all that Youth Odyssey entails, at which point, I get the privilege to interview them. The goal is to get to know them better and see what brought them to Youth Odyssey and hear their ideas for our organizations future.
This time I got to interview Mark Silva, our newest board member and a Kiwanis board member as well. Mark was “born and raised in Corpus Christi with a modest upbringing.” In 1988, Mark decided to join Navy where he traveled all over the world (including Antarctica) working in the Oceanography and Meteorology fields. He chose to end his military career in 1992 to start his professional career in hospitality, working with tourism here in Corpus Christi. From there Mark branched out into management in the wireless industry and stuck with it for about 20 years, gaining the title of Regional Manager for South Texas (San Antonio all the way down to the border). Because of his job, Mark was on the road a lot and that didn’t allow him the chance to get involved with the community. Due to his desire to travel less and be more involved with the Corpus Christi community, five-years ago, Mark opened up a State Farm agency and has been actively involved with the Corpus community ever since. Having older kids (17 and 20) of his own, and having been involved with them as their soccer and baseball coaches, Mark wanted to focus his attentions on working with youth again in some aspect. That is how he came to be a part of the Kiwanis Club Board of Directors. Interestingly enough, that’s where Youth Odyssey comes into play.
Mark was (and is) enjoying his time working with Kiwanis but still had the desire to get even more involved and to do even more. One day, at one of Kiwanis’ meetings, Becky, Youth Odyssey’s Executive Director, came to share Youth Odyssey’s mission, impact, and to see if they’d be interested in working with us on various projects/missions. Mark “was inspired.” Mark expressed to me that he “knew [Youth Odyssey] was out there but had no idea how many kids hadn’t seen the beach or been to the bay of Corpus Christi, or even seen a cow.” That’s what hit a nerve with Mark because he said that he and his friends “used to joke about that growing up; that our furthest vacation spot was Robstown but it was kind of a reality which is why we joked about it. When Becky mentioned (those statistics) it really triggered a lot of memories for me and I wanted to see what I could do to get involved.” Mark told me that what Youth Odyssey is currently doing, is more than he was actually aware of.
He then reflected on a story from his youth of when he was in high school and went to Leakey, Texas, near Concan, with his family and family friends. While they were there, along the Frio River, they shared with Mark that that trip was the first time they’d been outside of Corpus Christi and the first time they had seen water like that in nature (they had never been to the local beach here either). After the Kiwanis meeting, Mark talked to Becky and said he’d love to help out in any way he could. Since we were (and are) looking for more board members she threw out the idea and, after working around each others schedules, Mark became an official board member in August of 2016!
During our conversation, Mark told me what he loves most about our program is how it’s progressive and set up like “a little teaser. Where, if you do a small part, you get to a bigger ‘prize’ and, if you get to that point, you can get to a yet bigger ‘prize’ and that the ‘prizes’ are still a task that needs to be performed and are looked forward to by our participants.” In program terms, the work starts at PTC’s (Portable Team Challenges a.k.a. on-site programs) and if they do well on that level they get invited to the attend our ropes courses and, if they do well on the ropes course, they get invited to go on our AWT’s (Adventure Wilderness Trips a.k.a. our camping trips). Every step in Youth Odyssey builds upon the next step, and the better our participants grasp the concepts the more opportunities they have, which is an area of passion for Mark.
He let me know that, earlier that day, he completed a presentation at the Early Educational School at Texas A&M- Corpus Christi, through Kiwanis, who sponsors the Terrific Kids. The presentation was held for age groups pre K-5th grade and he asked them all “what does it take to be a Terrific Kid?” After they answered the question he followed up by saying “when you’re a terrific kid and, if you keep it up, you’ll become a terrific adult and the world needs a lot of terrific adults.” Mark believes that’s what Youth Odyssey is doing, helping to equip kids with the tools they need to become “terrific”. Afterwards Mark explained “There are so many people who want to leave Corpus Christi and I think that we lose a lot of good people here because of it. I feel we need to create more good kids and students because that creates more young adults who will create more young professionals who will create a better society for us here in Corpus Christi.”
Mark had mentioned that he enjoys being on the board but wants to get more involved, physically, with our programming process, actually seeing how things are run instead of just hearing about it. When I asked him to elaborate on what he meant by that, Mark told me that he’d “love to see a program in person.” But Mark doesn’t want to jump in and see ropes courses before he sees the on-site teambuilding sessions because, in his opinion, “it’d be cheating to only show up to the bigger, more ‘cool’ stuff like a camping trip or ropes course because that’s something that the youth work towards and is a step further than the on-site programs.” Mark wants to see the progression from step one all the way to the camping trips so he can “really see what’s going on at each level; start with [PTC’s], then go to a ropes course, then attend/observe how our camps work.” When Mark expressed that thought process to me it made a lot of sense and I appreciated that he had put in that much thought into how he could get more hands-on with Youth Odyssey.
It was at that time where Mark asked when and where we do our after school programs. When I told him, Mark started looking at his schedule and was determined to find a date that would allow him to visit a program. After a few minutes of double checking, we decided he would attend my Martin Middle School program the week after Spring Break. As instructed by Mark, I “hassled” him with reminders so he wouldn’t forget. Sure enough, on Wednesday, Mark showed up to the program and was able to see the groups progress during a communication and teamwork game. He enjoyed the experience and liked how you could see the progression in behavior just through witnessing one activity. At the start of the activity that Mark saw, the youth were being more silly and not focusing but, after they gained a better understanding of the activity, at the end they were more focused and were communicating better as a team. Mark was “impressed” with the program and is eager to come to more programs and other Youth Odyssey activities.
After we nailed down a the date for the Martin visit, I asked him where he would like to see Youth Odyssey going in the future. Mark explained to me that he likes our partnership with CCISD (Corpus Christi Independent School District) but he would like us to have more staff so we can expand into other districts as well “who are asking, if not begging, us to go to their schools.” We, as an organization, agree with Mark and have actually hired two more full time staff to help with the growing demand for our programs. We are also renovating our ropes course which will allow us to generate more revenue that we can use to further our reach and mission. Ultimately, Mark would love us to become a large enough operation to expand into Kingsville and Alice but understands that we have to meet the need here first.
Mark also has a goal of each staff member having one title and one job. As anyone who has worked for or in a small company would know, each member of the company (or organization) wears many different hats. Mark pointed out that I serve as Events/Media Director but I still run programs and, to that he said “let’s manage Youth Odyssey like a large business and departmentalize jobs. The bulk of the staff are running programs and let’s do that and have someone in charge of it. Someone who is doing marketing, which includes a host of things, but at the end of the day they are the ones who are asking for money and getting donors and going to events so they can be present in the community.” He’d also be happy if we could secure a full time grant writer, but followed up by stating “that these things take time” and he understands it can’t all happen over night.
Because of his grand plan of being able to run Youth Odyssey as a large nonprofit, I was curious as to how long he envisioned himself being on the Youth Odyssey board. Without hesitation Mark said “I’d like to stay on the board for as long as they’d have me!” Since he plans on sticking around for the long haul, I was also wondering what he saw his role as within our Board of Directors. Mark said he adds “a different perspective, and more of a corporate mindset who tends to think big and aspire to growth.” He would be able to assist Youth Odyssey in setting up the parameters on how we need to grow. “A nonprofit doesn’t mean you don’t charge a premium price for a premium product and we have a premium product so let’s charge what we’re worth.” In summation, Mark brings his “business mindset and ability to acquire a mass amount of piñatas (for our 20th Birthday Fiesta)” to the table and we couldn’t be more excited about it.
For the last bit of my interview with Mark it turned into a sort of brainstorming session where we started spit balling ideas on what Youth Odyssey could get into down the road. We discussed getting programs back in to high schools, possibly partnering up with some private schools to gain more revenue. We even discussed a summer camp style camping trip for our Spring Break and Thanksgiving trips, where we open it up, not just our youth leaders but other youth as well that, like our summer camps, would be another way we can spread awareness within the community of our mission while also gaining more funds for program expansions.
It was already clear to me, but reinforced during my interview, that Mark has an amazing heart and passion for working with youth and wanting to propel them to being the best they can be. He had so many great ideas for where to take Youth Odyssey I couldn’t even list them all in this blog or it’d be much longer. It seems that Mark will be sticking around with Youth Odyssey for a good while longer and hopefully we will be able to see his ideas and vision become a reality. I know I can’t wait to find out and see where he helps propel Youth Odyssey into being the best nonprofit it can be!