Author: faoschwarzfellowship

Trash Academy: Understanding Trash through Participatory Action Research

My name is Ciara Williams and I am the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow with Mural Arts’ Restored Spaces Initiative in Philadelphia, PA. Restored Spaces uses socially-engaged public art as a platform for neighborhood change. Our projects use innovative approaches to community engagement; one approach is similar to participatory action research because of it’s collaborative and action-oriented approach to meaning-making. When starting our projects, it’s important for us to get a sense of the trades, skills, social relationships, resources, and cultural traditions that can shape our projects. We also seek to understand the activities, social relationships, and material resources our projects can possibly support or make possible. Essentially and ideally, we become engaged in a process of collective imagining and re-imagining of the environment through the creation of public art and the redevelopment of public space. Trash Academy, like many of our other projects, is informed by this model of community engagement and art making.

Trash Academy is a collaborative effort to understand and address the issue of trash in Philadelphia. We use creative, arts based solutions like teach-ins, student designed games and activities, and public art installations. Trash Academy is structured as a “collaboratory” between community members, business owners, artists, environmental activist, and youth. In summary, Trash Academy is designed to connect individuals and communities to resources that are already out there. We then work with those most directly impacted by the issue of trash in order to generate, test, and share new solutions. Through our efforts, we seek to understand trash as it is experienced locally; so people’s on-the-ground experiences and how they may relate to larger systems of production, consumption and disposal. This is accomplished through surveys, interviews, and casual conversation at our local events.

We are committed to the development of youth and community as researchers. To develop as leaders and experts in trash, participants produce art that is meant to educate our audience and spark conversation about how trash is managed. While we are engaged in the research and data collection phase, we create games and activities designed to share what we have learned. An example of this is the Trashmobile. The Trashmobile is a mobile educational tool created to meet people where they are. We are invited to events all across Philadelphia to engage people around the issue of trash. When it comes to equity and the principles of environmental justice, it is important that those who are the most impacted are directly involved in understanding and addressing the issue of trash. Participatory action research and the Trashmobile brings us closer to our goals of inclusion and civic participation. These tools allows us to understand the nuances in how people experience trash while also creating opportunities for people to become more directly involved.

Why I Chose To Work For Playworks

Growing up in a small town, recess was the best part of the day. I was able to run around outside with all of my classmates and play my favorite sports and tag games. As I grew older, I realized that recess was not only a time to run around, but it was a crucial part of the day. At recess, clicks were formed, discrimination happened based on gender and abilities, and safety became an issue. When I continued to play sports throughout middle and high school, I realized that being discriminated against or excluded from something that you did not excel in was an awful feeling. As I was searching for opportunities after graduation I knew I wanted to work for a nonprofit that had an extreme passion for helping kids. I came across Playworks, and after my group interview I was immediately hooked.

The culture at Playworks is like no other culture that I have ever come across. High fives, good jobs, and recess is just the start of it. I constantly feel like my voice is being heard and collaboration is strongly encouraged. When I was thinking about the type of work that I wanted to get into, I knew I wanted to be a part of a community. Playworks has given me the community that I need to feel supported and appreciated, while still giving me the opportunity to learn something new everyday. I could not be happier to be in this line of work.

Throughout my time as a Playworks coach and now embarking on this fellowship journey, I have realized how important the culture of an organization is to me. Healthy play, healthy community, respect, and inclusion are the four values that Playworks abides by. I grew up in a healthy community, I went to college in a healthy community, and I now work in a healthy community. This is a characteristic that I always want to have in my daily life. When I feel like I am part of a healthy community, I believe that I feel stronger and more confident with my decisions. Being a part of Playworks and the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellowship community has taught me about creating long lasting relationships with the people around me. All of this has led to being in a healthy community and learning from others. Working for Playworks has changed my view on working, and giving back and I am excited to see what the future holds!

Welcoming Our Newest Cohort of Fellows!

Today kicks off our fall retreat in Boston! We are so excited to reconnect and share out learnings from each of our organizations. This will be our newest cohort of fellows first FAO retreat! Below you can get to know the newest FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellows a bit better:

Molly Blake

Molly works at Playworks New England, where half of her role is devoted to serving as a Meet Molly New FAO Fellow (1)Senior Program Coordinator at all Playworks based partner schools. The other half of her role is devoted to developing Playworks family engagement plan and improving their college volunteer strategy.

When asked what she was most looking forward to during her tenure as a FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow, Molly said: “I am looking forward to helping with the community engagement and social-emotional learning aspects of the Playworks programming. I am also looking forward to building relationships with the other fellows along with deepening my leadership skills.”


Samantha Perlman 

Samantha works at Generation Citizen in Boston, where half of her role is devoted to direct service activities that focus on empowering Generation Citizen’s young people. The other half of her role will be devoted to long-term organizational strengthening.

Meet Samantha New FAO Fellow (1)When asked what she was most looking forward to during her tenure as a FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow, Samantha said: “Being a FAO Fellow excites me because I have the opportunity to connect and collaborate with a great cohort of motivated and dynamic young leaders in the non-profit field. I am thrilled to be working at Generation Citizen as this organization encompasses my previous experience in education and government. I cannot imagine a more perfect match and I look forward to putting my interests into action!”


Pam Martinez

Pam works at Playworks Pennsylvania, where half of her role is devoted to consulting,Meet Pam New FAO Fellow (1) supporting, and co-facilitating at Playworks partner schools. The other half of her role is devoted to developing marketing, brand building, and recruitment initiatives.

When asked what she was most looking forward to during her tenure as a FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow, Pam said: “I am looking forward to strengthening the program within our Playworks schools by building closer relationships with the community. I also look forward to meeting the other fellows and furthering my professional growth.”


Jaiwantie Manni

Jaiwantie works at Museum of the City of New York, where half of her role is devoted to Meet Jaiwantie New FAO Fellowteaching existing school and summer field trips. The other half of her role is devoted to assisting with the creation, implementation, and marketing of Family and Community Engagement Programs for the Center.

When asked what she was most looking forward to during her tenure as a FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow, Jaiwantie said: “Creating STEM programs for the Museum of the City of New York as well as being involved with and helping with the Family and Community Engagement Program. I am most excited about meeting the students, teachers, and families of New York and learning more about the city I grew up in.”


Kayla Jones

Kayla works at Jumpstart, where half of her role is devoted to coordinating & delivering Jumpstart Community events throughout NYC. The other half of her role is devoted to Meet Kayla New FAO Fellowbuilding capacity in Jumpstart’s new Policy & Government Relations department.

When asked what she was most looking forward to during her tenure as a FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow, Kayla said: “Being raised around educators inspired my passion for working in the field of education. This fellowship allows me to both serve in communities that need equitable educational opportunities and slowly deconstruct the policies that created these disparities in the first place. Working at Jumpstart combines my interests in community engagement and policy work, and I welcome the new experiences and connections I’ll make during my time here.”

Keeping and Utilizing the Fellowship Network

We’ve all heard about how invaluable our network is and how nobody finds a job without LinkedIn these days. And, in some ways, staying in touch is far easier for our generation than those who came before us. But how many of your Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections would you feel comfortable calling up on a whim? Or asking if you could come take their portrait like this artist did? Luckily, we all have some sort of network we’ve built that we do feel comfortable reaching out to, and that’s a good place to start. There are certainly innumerable resources out there about how to best build and foster your network, but I’m hoping to share a few quick things I’ve learned in the time since completing my FAO Fellowship.

CONNECT WITH INTERESTS

If you feel comfortable enough to reach out to someone via email or the phone, chances are you also know something about their interests. One of the best go-to ways to stay connected with someone or to start an email that contains an ask is to include something you’ve heard or seen lately that you think they would be interested in. Just listened to a podcast about an organization like theirs? Read a news article that was about their hometown? Share a link and let them know you were thinking of them. (Quick tip: make sure this isn’t about their sector being a total scam or their hometown mayor laundering money… positive is always better).

DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK…

It’s cliché for a reason: the worst someone can do is say no (or, more likely, not respond to your email). The important thing is to be clear about what you’re asking for and try to ask for something that won’t be a huge inconvenience. If you’re reaching out to try to further your career or ask for help, you should be the one doing most of the work. If you’re hoping to meet up, pick a location convenient for them and offer specific times. If you’re interested in their field of work and you’ve already heard all about their job, search LinkedIn for someone they know in a position you would be interested in and ask for an email introduction. Better yet, offer to send a paragraph for them to include in an email introduction. I won’t go into it here, but Vu Le has some great advice for you once you’ve secured that coffee date. Also, be sure to say thank you to both the person you met with and the person who arranged it. They’ll be happy to know you followed through and connected with someone in their network.

EVEN WHEN IT’S BEEN AWHILE

One of my personal struggles is staying in regular contact with those in my network. I try to follow great tips like using holidays as an excuse to reach out and being intentional about refreshing my network, but I never do it as often as I should. A couple experiences over the past few years, however, have taught me that shouldn’t stop you from reaching out when an opportunity presents itself. If there’s a job posting at an organization where someone in your network used to work or you’re thinking about transitioning to a new field where an old fellowship connection has experience, it’s worth reaching out even if you haven’t stayed in touch. And if you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to be up front about how long it’s been and give a reminder of how you know one another. Chances are, they will be able and willing to help if you approach with a manageable ask. Even if they aren’t, this can serve as a great touch point. Take the opportunity to reconnect and catch up.

Overall, I’ve learned in recent years not to think of my network as something separate from the rest of my life. The people I completed my FAO Fellowship with, the Executive Directors I met on retreats, the fellowship Trustees I met at dinner, they are all people I have something in common with. They serve as resources for me, just as I can be a resource to them. And if I ever get too hesitant about reaching out, I think about whether what I’m asking for is something I’d be willing to do if the situation were reversed. Staying connected with your network, both personally and professionally, will be beneficial to your career and to your life. The best time to start is now.

Dawn casual head shotDawn Lavallee is a 2018 MBA Candidate in the Public and Nonprofit MBA program at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. During her fellowship, Dawn worked at Playworks New England developing Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum and helping young Playworks Junior Coaches to make a successful transition to middle school. When she’s not doing classwork, she can be found running, hiking, crafting, or volunteering with local nonprofits.

A Look at uAspire’s Afford & Succeed Programs

At uAspire we work to ensure that all young people have the financial information and resources necessary to find an affordable path to – and through – a postsecondary education. We strive to accomplish this goal through a variety of means: in-person andAllie Karen Holiday Party virtual (texting) advising with high school and postsecondary students, training guidance counselors and in-school practitioners, and through policy work.

Both Allie and Karen advise students virtually and in-person, but Allie works with high school students and Karen works with postsecondary students! Below they outline how they support students to and through postsecondary plans through their respective programs, Afford and Succeed:  

uAspire’s Afford Program 

College Affordability Advisors in the Afford Program work one-on-one with high school students to provide them with the tools to successfully navigate and manage the multi-step financial aid process. Rather than filling out a financial aid application, like the FAFSA, for students, we aim to empower them to be self-advocates and take ownership of their financial aid process and journey to postsecondary plans. In deciding upon postsecondary plans we encourage students to consider cost and affordability, in addition to other factors like program/ college fit. Deciding on postsecondary plans can sometimes be challenging, confusing, and overwhelming, we try to serve as sounding boards for students to consider their different options and think critically about next steps. Once seniors graduate from high school, we spend the summer months texting them through our Summer College Connect (SCC) program to ensure they are ready to start college in the fall!

uAspire’s Succeed Program

The Succeed Program serves students who have graduated from high school, whether they are enrolled in a college or not. Succeed students can be anywhere in the state or country, therefore our communication with them starts via text. We send out reminders and important financial aid deadlines every few weeks, and we respond to students to support them with their individual needs. Advisors also support students in-person or via phone calls. Because financial aid must be renewed every year and is subject to change based on factors such as student/family income and GPA requirements, affordability is a major factor in college persistence for many students.

Allie Negron is the FAO Schwarz Marketing & Communications Fellow at uAspire. In this role, she spreads awareness about uAspire’s work and college affordability news. In the other half of her role, she serves as a College Affordability Advisor, where she works with Boston Public School students to guide them through every step of the financial aid process.

Karen Wilber is the FAO Schwarz Succeed Fellow at uAspire. In her role, she is a member of the team that develops curriculum for the Succeed Program and is a College Affordability Advisor serving postsecondary students.

 

3 Ways the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellowship Made Me a Better Leader

Special Project: coordinating the annual Riverkeeper Sweep. For my special project in my first year at Riverkeeper I worked closely with the Director of Community Engagement to coordinate the 6th Annual Riverkeeper Sweep, our day of service for the Hudson River and its tributaries. Previously I had the opportunity to coordinate small straightforward events like campus film screenings, community rallies, and service projects, but had never organized an event on such a considerable scale. At first the prospect of coordinating an event of this scale felt impossible.

How would I keep track of 109 locations, over 100 registration pages, and ensure each Sweep Leader had the training, materials, skills, and volunteers necessary for a successful project?

Under the guidance of the Director of Community Engagement, Dana Gulley, I learned to manage moving parts such as tide dependent cleanup times, waivers, data management, Sweep Leader training, and successfully collaborating with 164 individual leaders. With Dana’s partnership and a strong plan with weekly deadlines, we achieved the most successful Riverkeeper Sweep yet, with 109 Sweep projects, and 2,200 volunteers across NYC and the Hudson Valley who removed 48 tons of debris and plant to maintain over 800 trees and shrubs.

Building on the skills I learned last year, I was the primary organizer of the 2017 Riverkeeper Sweep, which achieved a count of 101 projects from Brooklyn to the Adirondacks with over 1,300 participating volunteers.

Direct Service: supporting Riverkeeper campaigns. The drinking water contamination crisis in Newburgh, New York has allowed me to grow my skills as a community organizer, by developing a comprehensive outreach plan, building relationships with new partners, and executing strategic community education and outreach. These efforts have helped raise awareness about toxic chemical contamination to Newburgh’s drinking water supply, pressure the Department of Health to conduct blood testing, and to spread the word about the blood testing program. Working with communities such as Newburgh has taught me to think outside the box and find non-traditional partners, outreach methods, and the responsibility to amplify existing community voices. It’s easy to step into a situation and make your voice or the voice of your organization the center of attention. What’s instead needed, is to listen and learn from the community you are serving and amplify their concerns and goals.

Goal setting and prioritizing professionally AND personally. Since the start of my Fellowship at Riverkeeper my work schedule has included weekend events and night meetings across New York City and the Hudson Valley. In the beginning it was easy to orient my life around my job and the challenging expectations I was working to meet while unknowingly neglecting personal goals. Quickly I learned the value of prioritizing during work and personal time and having goals in both areas of my life. Last winter I set a goal to climb all 46 Adirondack high peaks over the next few summers while acquiring the necessary skills and gear. With this goal in mind, I’ve prioritized incorporating almost daily exercise and frequent weekend hikes into my weekly plan. Prioritizing exercise has allowed me to be more focused in the office, and I have climbed 9/46 peaks with 5-10 more planned for summer 2017.

Jen Benson is an FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow at Riverkeeper. As the Education and Outreach Coordinator, she creates opportunities to increase youth environmental awareness and engagement with the Hudson River. She also works to support campaign and programmatic initiatives, and helps coordinate the Riverkeeper Sweep.

Social Justice in Our Work

Among the vast selection of picture books in the Reading Partners Library at PS 3 is Margaree King Miller’s, Granddaddy’s Gift. Miller’s book tells the story of a young black girl, Little Joe, growing up in Mississippi during the 1960s. Little Joe watches her grandfather fight for black voters rights and learns the value of education and advocacy. Told from the perspective of Little Joe, the last page of the book reads:

“Grandaddy had taught me to stand up for things, even if I was scared, and always to be proud. His gift never left me. At the top of the courthouse steps, Granddaddy took my hand. We had come a long way. We still had a long way to go.”

As I’ve embarked on the beginning of my Fellowship, Granddaddy’s message resoGranddaddy's Giftnates deeply with the ways I approach my work at my host organization. Reading Partners is a literacy nonprofit that provides individualized tutoring to early, struggling readers. Due to the fact I work directly with many young children of color, I want to find ways that I can stand up as an advocate for our students and apply social justice to my work.

All of the current Fellows have grappled with standing up for under served youth in some way or another as we push forward for equity in our roles. This year, we have focused on applying social justice to our work during our retreats, delving into the implications that our work has on current issues of racial justice. Through various workshops led by our fellows, we are analyzing the systemic forms of societal oppression that we must navigate in order to best serve the communities we work with. During our fall retreat in Philadelphia, we explored our work through the lens of the Black Lives Matter movement in order to discuss ways our organizations can resist racial injustice. At our upcoming spring retreat, we will be continuing this conversation by examining our organizations’ missions and strategizing for cultural competency in our programs. One of our Fellows will also lead a session on the Nonprofit Industrial Complex to explore the role that nonprofits play in the greater economic and social scene.

The Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC) brings to light the phenomenon in which nonprofits must often appeal to the agendas of funders in order to receive grants and sustain their organizations. As more nonprofits apply for the funding, social justice initiatives can take the back burner to business operations. Here arises a dilemma in which an organization may stray from its intended mission. In turn, a nonprofit may enact initiatives or say-all solutions for the communities it serves without taking into account the real issues that need to be addressed. This session will be focused on the ways that we can work with our organizations to subvert and challenge the NPIC. With these different factors in play, from institutionalized racism and classism to economic structures of neoliberalism, the Fellows have a sense of urgency to committing to anti-racism and social justice.
Although all of us have different paths as to how we ended up at the FAO Schwarz Family
Foundation Fellowship, I think that there is one core value that connects all of us in some capacity. We all have a passion for enacting change through leadership and standing up for the youth we work with. The current fellows are sensitive to the current events that shape our society and have given a lot of thought to the ways that we can approach our work and to fight oppression. Therefore, I urge you to take into account the ways in which you can stand up for anti-racism and equality in your workplaces and in your personal lives. Even when we are scared or confused, it’s vital for all of us to remember Granddaddy’s message and to stand up for what we believe is right and just. Although I think that we still have a long way to go, we are on the right path to fostering bright futures for our country’s next generation of leaders.

Claudia von Nostitz is the FAO Schwarz Fellow at Reading Partners in New York. She is a literacy tutor in two elementary schools in Brooklyn and develops city-wide strategies to engage the communities around the schools Reading Partners serves. Claudia seeks to build sustainable partnerships that will help support and empower the students that she works with.