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.

 

Developing a Nonprofit Leader

dsc_7756-wmMy initial love for nonprofit work came from my early involvement in a high school program, called Upward Bound, that worked to prepare low-income, first-generation students for college.  Through the program I spent my high school summers on various college campuses, like Harvey Mudd College and Georgetown University, gaining professional skills at major internships, like at a biochemistry lab at UCSD and in the Finance Division of the Library of Congress, and honing my networking skills throughout all of these experiences.

When I graduated from the program, with an acceptance to my alma mater, UCLA, I realized how life changing that experience was, how incredibly inspired I was by my Upward Bound advisors who were all successful people of color, and how critical nonprofits are in providing major opportunities for urban youth.

With this in mind, I got involved with education-based nonprofits, like Jumpstart and City Year, providing day-to-day educational resources to youth in under resourced communities like mine through direct service. Although, I was very proud of my work  and could see the impact I was making on my students, I knew that I wanted to learn more and do more beyond direct-service. I wanted to work to develop stronger programs, advise on curriculum, and develop workshops for volunteers. I wanted to reach more students at a higher capacity.

DSC_2151.jpgBecoming an FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow fed all of my professional desires. Through my experience with the fellowship, and my organization, I have developed many skills. For instance, deconstructing and reconstructing a Cultural Competency training for over 300 college volunteers, delivering productive and solution-oriented feedback, and simply not being afraid to have six meetings in one day over the phone (millennial anxieties are hard to kick). I have been able to take a lot of what I learned through my “on the ground” nonprofit experiences, and put them to use on an organizational level. I don’t think I could have conducted workshops on the importance of building relationships with students as effectively if I had not myself spent four years supporting classrooms.

There is still so much I don’t know, and even if I do know it, I can always get better. Still, I am willing to continue to grow as a nonprofit leader, and will continue developing valuable skills, and work hard to deliver urban youth the resources they need not only to survive, but to thrive.

Ellie Sanchez is an FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow at Massachusetts Generation Citizen. In her role as Program Associate,  she works to increase civic-engagement amongst marginalized youth by providing training and quality assurance for College Volunteers to ensure the highest-quality action civics programming is delivered to students in  Massachusetts.

New year, same game: Staying on with Strong Women, Strong Girls

When people ask me how my “new job” with Strong Women, Strong Girls is going, I tell them that almost nothing has changed! I was the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow for 2014-2016 at Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) in Boston, and officially ended my fellowship in June 2016. The previous fall, conversations with my supervisors began about what it would be like for me to stay on in a long-term staff role following the end of my fellowship. Eventually, things became official, and in June, I became a Program Manager with SWSG. In this role, I continue with the same responsibilities that I had during the second year of my fellowship: Managing partnership with SWSG’s college- and university-based chapters, elementary schools, and community centers; leading SWSG’s Junior Mentor Program; coordinating relationships with peer organizations; contributing to our research project on girls’ experiences with mental health and body image; and supporting mentor training, special events, and Development.

All in all, the transition was very natural. Fortuitously, the transition happened to coincide with my three-week vacation to Colombia. I left Boston as an FAO Fellow, and returned as a Program Manager. It was the longest vacation I had taken since beginning my fellowship, and allowed me valuable time to reflect on my experience with SWSG thus far and my intentions going forward. There is nothing like explaining your job in Spanish in a completely different cultural setting to help you pause and reflect!

There are two significant differences that I would note between my pre- and post-fellowship experiences: A greater sense of confidence and security, and deeper consideration of my next career steps. As a fellow, I was constantly taking on new projects and roles as I shifted from a Development- and adult volunteer-focused role in my first year, to a program management-focused position in my second year. I was always the “new person,” and always learning. Now as a Program Manager, I am certainly still learning; however, I have the familiarity and trust of established relationships in the community, greater certainty in my skills, and greater efficiency. I continue to be challenged by staff transitions and the growth of SWSG initiatives; yet, it takes me less time to get up-to-speed.

In terms of my perspective on next steps, the offer from SWSG to stay on as a Program Manager really forced me to consider and re-consider my aspirations. Before a staff departure started the conversation about me staying on, I had envisioned graduate school being my destination post-fellowship. Since undergrad, I’ve been interested in pursuing a Masters in Social Work, but decided to get some work experience before going back to school. Both while at SWSG and in my previous job, my supervisors have primarily been social workers, and I have really enjoyed learning from their approach. When I was offered the Program Manager role, I reasoned that some additional, deeper exposure at SWSG would only help me strengthen my future academic experience. Plus, I could save more money to have while in school (and living off loans!), and put me on track to get an even better job after completing my Master’s degree. Now, in my third year with SWSG, the question I am considering is simply when—and where—to go back to school, and what kind of Social Work, Education, and/or Nonprofit Leadership program is the best fit for me.

Working at Strong Women, Strong Girls has been an absolutely unexpected blessing, challenge, growth opportunity, and true joy in my life, and I am proud to be working here for a third year.

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Here I am with SWSG staff and a family that is part of our Junior Mentor program at Jump into Peace, an event in August 2016 organized by the office of Boston City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Presley to promote peace and girlhood.

 

Sarah Kacevich is the Program Manager for  Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) in Boston, an organization that empowers girls to imagine a broader future through a curriculum grounded in female role models and delivered by college women, who are themselves mentored by professional women. Outside of work, she loves to hike, run, do yoga, make art, cook, and travel. She is a Class of ’16 FAO Schwarz Alumni Fellow.

 

Why I Chose to Work For uAspire

I grew up in a household with a mother who was very on top of my college application and
financial aid processes- so much so that I didn’t have to do much more than log into my student portal and accept my financial aid package each year. It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I started to understand allie-graduationthe time, commitment, and knowledge that goes into submitting financial aid forms.

Today, I realize just how fortunate I was to have this built-in mentor, my mother, guide me through the tedious, multi-step college application and financial aid processes. Due to the fact that I can now appreciate just how fortunate I was I also realize that there are many students that may not have a parent, legal guardian, older sibling, friend, etc. to serve as their guide towards reaching postsecondary education.

I decided to work for uAspire because I want to help students with dreams of going to college, reach their goals. But as many, if not all Americans know, post-secondary education does not come cheap. The realization that going to college can become very expensive is stressful in and of itself, and that coupled with trying to find a way to make it affordable can be extremely overwhelming, especially while juggling school work, applying to college, and a plethora of other responsibilities. I am by no means the only person that can or will help a student make it to college, but I enjoy doing what I can to make the college-going process more digestible for students.

allie-uaspireI am a firm believer in the idea that education is right and not a privilege. Students that put in the hard work and effort in school to go to college shouldn’t be stopped short because of high cost. I feel very fortunate to be able to meet and work with seniors and learn about their dreams for college and beyond. While I may only provide them a tidbit of knowledge and a few tools, the students take what they learn and run with it. I am only part of their journey for a small fraction of time, but it is incredible to witness students take ownership and control of their futures and not let obstacles stop them from achieving their goals. Working at uAspire provides me with the opportunity to meet and work with motivated, inspirational students, while simultaneously helping to ensure that higher education is attainable for everyone– I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and for the students I’m getting to meet along the way.

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.

Three Tips for Current FAO Fellows from a Supreme Fellow

Fall has begun, which means it’s time to congratulate our first years as they transition to the second year of the fellowship alongside welcoming our newest cohort of FAO Fellows!

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As a Supreme Fellow, I would like to extend my congratulations and welcome by complying with my millennial ways and writing a Buzzfeed-esque blog post highlighting 3 tips I wish I would have known when I started the FAO fellowship two years ago.

Your education continues — push yourself to learn as much as you can even when it is outside of your own “expertise”.

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By the time I was a senior in college, I was already itching to leave the classroom and begin my career as a young professional. The discussions and content I picked up in the classroom seemed detached from the real world. The minute I began working at my fellowship site, I began to gain a different form of education; I learned about systemic issues like high school access in New York City as well as more subtle yet enriching skills such as how to manage college students or my personal favorite, how to create organized systems between your personal life and work life. #worklifebalanceisreal

One way I continued to pick up this unofficial professional development was by signing up for any opportunity I could get in my new job. Extra work event where I would support with registration? I am there. A team member from the operations department needs support? Sure, I can help! In these moments I was able to observe how events worked, why operations is the foundation to any organization and what specific projects I enjoyed.

Quick random tip: Don’t be afraid to ask questions! As a fellow this is your moment to ask, given that you can use the fellowship as an excuse to learn more about the organization. People love to talk about themselves and their work!

Take yourself seriously by calculating and documenting your work outcomes.

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By the second year of my fellowship, my responsibilities extended much farther than the original job description. My work expanded into recruitment, sustaining school partnerships and writing a semester’s worth of curriculum; valuable skills I am grateful for practicing.

Because I was so immersed in my work, when I started polishing my resume it was hard to think of all of my professional outcomes. So tip #2: As you work on these additional projects and continue to develop your professional skills, write them down onto your resume and make sure to add your results!

Organizations today are goal-focused and are looking for the quantitative impact you made with your work. For example, on my resume, instead of Wrote and instructed 8th grade curriculum; I typed: Wrote, developed and instructed 8th grade curriculum composed of a total of 12 workshops (over 18 hours of instruction) with the goal to produce top quality high school applications. Organizations want to hear that you are all about results. Let the numbers speak for your work.

Use your network within the FAO fellowship!

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Do not get it wrong. Just because I am writing advice to you today doesn’t mean that I have it all figured out. During my fellowship, I struggled with creating a work/life balance, learning how to manage up, and everything in between.

Fortunately, I had another fellow in my cohort that worked at my same organization which helped a lot when I needed to talk to someone. This experience taught me that if you ever have these struggles, do not hesitate to use your network because you are not alone. The first network you automatically have when you are a part of this fellowship is your FAO crew, current cohort and alums! Invite someone to coffee or reach out through an email; our FAO fellowship community is always out to support a fellow!

Good luck!

Gabriella Gómez is the Academic Coordinator at the Harlem RBI South Bronx site, a year round development program that incorporates academic, social-emotional and baseball/softball enrichment. During her fellowship, Gaby worked at Breakthrough New York as the High School Placement Coordinator. When she is not writing curriculum, visiting schools, or facilitating workshops with her middle schoolers, she can be found carefully updating her Spotify playlist, working on her bullet journal or playing with her most adorable 2-year-old nephew, Diego.

Featured Fellow: Khari Graves

What is your organization and title?

I am a Youth Leadership Coordinator/ Farm to School Consultant for The Food Trust in Philadelphia, PA.

Where did you attend college and what did you study?

I got my BA in Philosophy from Millersville University.

Can you summarize the work you do at your fellowship?

As a Youth Leadership Coordinator, I help to establish and maintain in-school programming for middle and high school students in Philadelphia public and charter schools geared around health, wellness, and food systems. As a member of our farm to school team, I help educate schools, communities, and individuals on the benefits, both nutritional and academic, of farm to school programming. I also provide information on farm to school happenings in Philadelphia and the Mid-Atlantic region as a whole and help advocate for statewide farm to school policy.

What brought you to nonprofit work?

Growing up with a mother in the culinary industry and a dad that couldn’t cook cook at all, I always loved cooking and knew the benefit of being able to cook, especially for yourself. I knew I always wanted to somehow work with food, but knew I wanted to do so in a way that could benefit people that don’t have the money to pay $50 + for one meal. Given this, I decided I wanted to help people get great food at an affordable price.

However, I soon realizAAEAAQAAAAAAAAhiAAAAJDhkYTk0M2FiLTI1NWUtNGY5NC1iZDM1LWQ4YWQzMjFhMzg4MQed that allowing people to have great restaurant food did little to combat the fact that many people (and entire under-served communities) don’t even have decent, fresh food on a daily basis for them and their families. This, coupled with my academic background in philosophy, particularly ethics, led me to begin pursuing food justice. In food justice, I saw a way to not only work with food, but to use food as a means of socioeconomic empowerment and liberation for some of the city’s most marginalized and disregarded people and communities. Before even learning about the fellowship, I knew I wanted to work closely with The Food Trust, a locally and nationally renowned nonprofit and leader in the food justice movement, as it would give me a chance to fight for everyone’s right to healthy and affordable food at a local level in my hometown and nationally.

What was the most exciting thing you did in your first month/first year at your organization?

Our HYPE Middle School Summit. It was the first major project I worked on at The Food Trust, and one of the most important events of the calendar year. Seeing how excited and engaged the youth were truly made all the hard work leading up to the event worth it.

What’s one thing you did in the first month of your fellowship that you recommend all new nonprofit employees do?

I’d recommend that all new nonprofit workers ask a more senior co-worker what the most important/their personal favorite book is about the type of work your organization does, and read it. It will give you a deeper understanding of your organization’s mission in a broader context than you may see at the moment.

What advice do you have for current college seniors as they begin their job search?

I would advise seniors to apply fearlessly when it comes to jobs. Given the big societal focus on GPAs and test scores and the fact that you’ll soon be stepping out into the unknown post-grad “real world”, one’s final year of college is often a time of great anxiety and self-critique. Many times this stops students from applying for awesome jobs and other opportunities they’re interested in because they feel like their performance in college doesn’t qualify them. I would advise seniors to pursue these opportunities anyway, and at least give themselves a chance for a job they truly want.

What’s your favorite thing to do in your city when you have a free evening?

I love going to see live music. Whether it’s a major artist in a big venue, small scale bar performances, or DIY house shows, catching a live performance is one of my favorite things to do.

If you had to decide today, what would you do after you complete your Fellowship?

If I had to decide today, I would choose to continue working here at The Food Trust. The opportunity to work in the field I’ve always wanted to with an organization widely considered to be an authority and one of the leaders in food justice, is one I truly treasure.

Khari Graves is an FAO Family Foundation Fellow at the Philadelphia Food Trust. He provides support to HYPE councils throughout the city and works on various local farm to school initiatives and projects including the Philadelphia School District’s Harvest of the Month program.