Leadership / 02.04.20
Tickets for Kids Provides Event Access for All Youth
Image courtesy of Tickets for Kids
Through partnerships with a wide range of youth-serving organizations, Tickets for Kids has strived to make trips to stadiums, arenas, zoos, museums, concert halls and more a part of every child’s experience, whether they are at-risk, impoverished or disabled. Executive Director Jason Riley says the goal is not just to reward good behavior, but to spark interests, ignite passions and shape futures without limits.
Tickets for Kids has distributed 3.2 million tickets to disadvantaged youth since its founding in 1994. Last year alone, it doled out approximately 206,600 tickets to more than 2,200 events in 40 states. Riley calls that “a great start.”
Riley has been at its helm for the past five years. In that time, more and more communities and community groups have started to look to the organization as a leader in connecting unused ticket opportunities to the kids who could benefit most from them.
So, how does it work? “We don’t determine the actual kids who receive the tickets,” Riley says. “We do all our distribution through a partnership network with youth-serving nonprofit organizations. What qualifies these organizations to become partners of Tickets for Kids is they are serving at least 70% low-income or at-risk youth. They, in turn, request tickets from us when they see what we have available. We do require feedback from every experience. And in the post-event reports, we ask them to report on how they are using the opportunities. What we’ve found is 35%-plus are using them to incentivize positive behaviors or advance educational outcomes. Others are using them simply as an opportunity to expose a child to a fun experience at a time when they are experiencing so much other trauma in their lives. At the most basic level, it’s exposure to new experiences.”
When Riley joined the organization, he recalls the biggest challenge being that there was no shortage of opportunity, either from those who controlled the ticket inventory and wanted to be involved or on the part of the kids and the social service agencies that stood to benefit from the experiences. “Our challenge today is how to figure out how we can continue to grow in a responsible way and in a way that we will be able to sustain as an organization long-term,” he says. “In 2019, we adopted a new strategic plan that sought to address that particular challenge. In doing so, we identified four markets where we’re really going to focus our energy over the course of the next three to five years for targeted growth.”
They include New York City, where Tickets for Kids has been operating in since 2011; Western Pennsylvania, where the group was originally founded; Minnesota’s Twin Cities; and the Florida Suncoast, specifically the Tampa Bay market.
Riley, who previously served as Chief Program Officer for Eisenhower Fellowships, says, “Whenever we get opportunities in a new city, we ask, ‘Is anybody else doing this?’ And then we seek to partner with them on ticket distribution. In the Twin Cities, we merged an organization called Tickets for Tots into Tickets for Kids in 2017. We had been partnering with them for years. With Tickets for Tots, it just made sense for the two organizations ultimately to combine. We now have a really good network of resources and partners there, and we want to continue to build that.”
He adds, “On the Tampa Bay front, the original founders of Tickets for Kids now reside permanently in Sarasota. Also, one of our national ticket partners that has helped us grow organically over the years is based there, Feld Entertainment. Feld runs Monster Jam®, Disney on Ice and several other shows. We partner with them across the country. But the most important factor is that in January 2019, we merged New York-based Seats of Dreams into Tickets for Kids. They also had strong partnerships in Tampa Bay, including with the Rays baseball team.”
It’s in Tickets for Kids’ founding market that the organization is in the early stages of one of its most intriguing initiatives. The TFK ConnectAbility Program aims to create and expand its partnerships with ticket providers and social service agencies that service children, teenagers and young adults up to the age of 25 with developmental disabilities. Participating agencies must be in Western Pennsylvania.
“The kids who are being served by our partner organizations, they’re all either facing poverty or unstable housing or other forms of trauma in their lives,” Riley says. “What we saw from our service population is that it included kids with autism and other developmental disabilities who, for a number of reasons, are not able to take advantage of the experiences. So, we started asking ourselves internally as a staff, ‘Are there things we can be doing to better serve this particular cohort of our partner agencies?’ We started looking around and seeing what our ticket partners were doing, because we would occasionally get offers for sensory-friendly performances and things of that nature. What we saw was that all our ticket partners were being really intentional about how they were creating the space and the resources necessary for this particular population to enjoy their experiences and benefit from them.”
He continues, “So, we launched The TFK ConnectAbility Program specific to growing the outreach that we do to acquire tickets for that audience and to meet the need of our social service partners that are working specifically with that population. Our target here in the Western Pennsylvania region is to double the number of opportunities we are providing for kids with autism and other development disabilities in the first year. What we want to see is how we can not only continue to grow it here, but also replicate this program in the other markets where we have a presence.”
The TFK ConnectAbility Program was one of the initiatives Riley was touting when he attended the International Ticketing Association’s recent 41st Annual Conference & Exhibition in New York City last month. Riley says he’s been “really energized” ever since returning from the four-day event. “I walked away thinking, ‘Why haven’t we been coming to this sooner?’ That was our first experience at INTIX. What struck me the most is it really did feel like an incredibly welcoming community. It was easy to talk to folks. Everybody welcomed the newcomers. And I was really impressed by the amount of conversation centered around inclusivity and making sure the ticketed experiences we’re talking about are experiences that are accessible to everybody.”
He even had a favorite anecdote he shared with some at the show about the difference Tickets for Kids was able to make in one special kid’s life. “There was this one child; he was nonverbal, and he got tickets to go see a [Tampa Bay Rays] Major League Baseball game. His chaperones told us that he had spent days beforehand watching footage from games, watching how people reacted in the stands. So, when he got to the game, the Rays hit a home run and he jumped up and started cheering on the team, using his words. The way his family put it: ‘You didn’t just give him an experience; you gave him his voice.’ That was very powerful for me and my staff to hear.”
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Tags: Sports , Music , Theater , Musicals , Leadership