Jul 26, 2011
Dan Forman is a non-profit director who is dedicated to making New Orleans a better and more livable place. Through his career and his volunteer work, he has displayed his commitment to ensuring that the future of the city is one that allows anyone and everyone the ability to chase their dreams. He was born and raised in New Orleans and spent time living in Boston, Los Angeles, and Nashville, but could not resist moving home.
He has been involved as a volunteer with the Young Leadership Council since 2005 and served as the President of the Board of Directors in 2010. After working for large corporations during his early professional career, he transitioned to a non-profit startup in 2009 and joined the founding team of the Lagniappe Project, an organization that is opening new charter schools and supporting organizations in the Tremé neighborhood. He is the father of three boys ages 5, 4 and 2. Good Nola sat down with Dan, and learned why, with leaders like him, New Orleans’ future is in good hands:
Good Nola: Going back a few years, after leaving New Orleans for college, how did you end up back here? How did you first become involved with the YLC?
Dan Forman: My wife Cat and I moved back to New Orleans in early 2005 when we were expecting our first child. My company at the time, Lamar Advertising, graciously moved me to the New Orleans market so that we could be closer to family.
I first became involved with the YLC around this time because of their “Proud to Call it Home” campaign. Lamar Advertising donated billboards to the campaign and that’s how I got to know the leaders of the YLC including executive director Gerald Duhon and president Lee Reid. I was really motivated by the “Proud” campaign and I think it took on an entirely new meaning after Hurricane Katrina.
GN: Tell me about your overall experience with the YLC: different projects you’ve worked on, why you stayed involved, how you became a member of the Board of Directors.
DF: In late 2005, the YLC served as an outlet for young professionals to get involved with the recovery efforts in New Orleans. I think most of us who decided to remain in New Orleans during this transitional time were operating in a constant mode of feeling overwhelmed, surviving mentally by taking it one day at a time.
The YLC put some definition and structure around our desire to pitch in and get involved. In the YLC, we really leaned on each other to make it through this time and we could literally see the impact that we were making in the community through our projects. The small accomplishments that we made as an organization kept us motivated. I will always be grateful for the strength that I received from my YLC peers during this time.
After volunteering for YLC projects in 2005, I joined the board of directors in 2006 and was asked to manage the transition of Wednesday at the Square from the Downtown Development District. We felt that by resurrecting this popular musical series, it could lift the spirits of our community while serving as a fundraising and promotional opportunity for our other YLC projects. I think YLC Wednesday at the Square was the first major musical series to return to New Orleans after the hurricane. There was not much going on in the city at that time for entertainment and local culture. I remember seeing people cry in the audience during that first concert. Wednesday at the Square has since become the YLC’s biggest fundraising event and a springtime tradition in downtown New Orleans.
GN: Being part of the YLC for so long, there must be something great about it: what is the single most important reason young professionals should become involved?
DF: The YLC is the voice of the young professional community in New Orleans. Many established leaders have come up through our ranks over the past 25 years and remain highly supportive of our mission. An example of this is how Mayor Landrieu, a former YLC member, selected many of us to assist with his transition in 2010. Since taking office, he has called on our organization to assist with a number of projects.
It’s cliché, but you are only young once and it’s amazing how busy (and wonderful) life gets once you have children. Get involved now! Anyone who is motivated by our mission of leadership opportunity creation can get involved. The time I have invested in this organization has paid great dividends and it has given so much more back than I have put in. I feel that it is truly a blessing that I have been able to serve with the great people in this organization. I would especially like to thank Erica Woodley, Semmes Walmsley, Joe Giarrusso, Derrick Rogers, Matt Treuting, Alyssa Wenck, and Amy Collins. These are some current leaders of the YLC who inspire me on a regular basis.
GN: Shifting gears, where does your interest in non-profit work stem from? How did it turn from an interest to a passion to wanting to start a school?
DF: My interest and passion is about being a part of a team that makes an impact in the community. The fact is that I am very serious about my role at the Lagniappe Project. I feel that, if we do it properly, we could potentially reshape the future of education nationally and set new standards on how our government invests in children. We are working to document hard data to show that an increased financial investment in children of low-income families will help generate more productive and resilient citizens long-term.
I was inspired by the vision of our board chairman Ray Smart and I was seeking an opportunity to have a mission-driven career that would allow me to contribute to the community while still supporting my family. Again, I am so fortunate to work with a team that focuses on creatively fostering and utilizing the strengths of each member. The best part is seeing the impact that we are making on families in the Tremé neighborhood.
GN: How did you help make Lagniappe Academies a reality? Who are the key people who made it possible?
DF: I give all the credit for making Lagniappe Academies a reality to our school leaders Joe Daschbach and Kendall Petri and founding staff members Lauren Ulf, Julia Takada and Yoshekia Brown. I joined the team to support them and their vision for the organization.
I can tell you that we’ve come a long way in a very short period of time. Starting a charter school in New Orleans is a very tedious and intricate process. We are grateful for our wonderful community partners and highly supportive board of directors. Thanks to these friends of our organization, we have a small but functional new campus and by the end of this year, we’ll be working with over 100 families, mostly from the Treme’/7th Ward neighborhood.
GN: What are the long-term goals for Lagniappe Academies? What is your vision for the future of education in New Orleans, and how does Lagniappe Project contribute to this?
DF: The Lagniappe Project exists to support Lagniappe Academies and provide a long-term vision and strategy for the growth of the organization. We are also responsible for community partnerships, organizational alliances, fundraising, and program creation and implementation. We have solid plans for expansion to multiple school campuses over the next few years and, based on need, the possible development of health and wellness facilities, community centers, and recreational facilities.
Our school is based on a model of Positive Psychology and strengths-based education. Our organization identifies the strengths of each student and family that we work with and creates an individualized program that fosters these strengths. Parents often acknowledge that, to this point, their experiences in this city with public education have not always been the best and that they are looking for better opportunities for their children. Our program is entirely about providing a solid education and building resiliency in these families so that they can thrive in adverse situations.
GN: What advice do you have for people chasing a dream?
DF: I try to be open to new experiences and to live life with gratitude. It is my experience that sometimes our minds shut down new opportunities before we really have the chance to try them. I have learned that it is not until we’re out of our comfort zone that we can really find out who we are and what our strengths are. Willingness is the key but sometimes it’s painfully difficult.
I have incredible role models in my life like my parents and grandparents who have encouraged me over the years to always remain open to new opportunities and experiences. I am also grateful to be surrounded by cultural diversity and friends from different backgrounds who teach me new things all of the time.
To me, the people of New Orleans define resiliency and strength. I am constantly grateful that I get to live in this truly amazing city and that my children will be able to grow up as contributing members of this community.
GN: Anything else that you want to add?
DF: My grandmother, Nat Forman, moved to Tampa after losing her home in Hurricane Katrina. Before moving, she regularly volunteered at a number of local organizations and she taught me the importance of being active in the community. Granny, if you’re reading this, we miss you in New Orleans. I hope that you are feeling up for a visit home soon. We’ll split Domilise’s shrimp and roast beef po-boys, get a Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, and go for a nature walk just like we used to.
And with that, I hope everyone who left New Orleans after Katrina, whether by choice or by force, comes home soon and that we have made you proud of our city over these last few years.