2016 Fellows

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.

 

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How to Stress Less Over Project Management: The RACI Tool

Remember the days of working on group projects in school? If you’re like me, you might have felt like no one had any idea what his or her role was. You might have even gotten stuck doing all of the work because you were worried that no one else would take responsibility or were afraid to ask for help. Maybe you came to dread group projects. Nowadays, does your professional life ever feel like that?

When I first started my FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellowship at Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) in Boston, we were undergoing several leadership transitions. Roles were unclear, and projects sometimes stalled or petered out entirely. Luckily, when our current Executive Director came on board, she introduced our transition-weary team to a project management tool with a somewhat conspicuous name that has since helped us immensely: RACI.

RACI is an acronym for the words “Responsible, “Accountable,” “Consulted,” and “Informed.” Below is a quick summary of what that all means (you might notice that it should really be called “ARCI”).

  • ACCOUNTABLE: Ultimately accountable for the success of a project, program, event, or goal. S/he may or may not be responsible for carrying it out in a hands-on way.
  • RESPONSIBLE: Responsible for implementation. There may be more than one R, and an A may also be an R.
  • CONSULTED: Someone who is consulted for her/his opinion, but not expected to be involved in carrying out a project.
  • INFORMED: Simply needs to be informed of progress and/or outcomes.

Here’s a quick example: Say you are the Program Director of a year-long program for teenage girls. You’re nearing the end of the school year, and are planning a celebratory event for the girls. You are overseeing a team of one staff person, whom you supervise, and three volunteers. All of you are involved in the event planning in a hands-on way.

  • A: You as the Program Director are accountable for the event’s success.
  • R: You, the staff member, and the three volunteers are all Rs.
  • C: Your Executive Director is not involved in-depth, but you need to consult her here and there to make sure you are staying in line with the event budget. Plus, she is helping you secure a venue through her sponsorship connections.
  • I: Given the culture of your specific organization, your Board Chair only really needs to be informed of the date, time, and location (if she wants to come) or simply of how the event went after the fact.

Since learning about the tool and applying it to all areas of our team’s work, I’ve become somewhat of a RACI evangelist (as have other staff and volunteers within SWSG!). I’ve implemented it when planning events with a team of volunteers; when navigating community partnerships that me, my supervisor, and her supervisor are all involved in; and when simply looking to designate someone who was in charge of something, big or small. (“Who’s the ‘A’ on opening the mail?”)

What’s so great about RACI? Simply identifying roles—what they mean, how they differ, and how they interact—for a project, program, or goal, is immensely clarifying and tension relieving. It’s also simply helpful to provide your team with a common language to refer to understood norms for roles. As a person who is young IMG_82981or simply new to an organization, it can be tough to decipher when you are and are not in charge of something unless it’s spelled out. It can work the other way around, too. For example, does your Development Director really need to be “responsible” for overseeing your program’s field trips? Nope, she’s more like an “I” or even a “C.” Keep that micro-management in check! Supervising staff or volunteers and want to set expectations around their role? Draft a RACI, get their input, make sure they buy into it, and use it to hold them accountable.

Clarity and communication, paired with the right amount of detail and structure, equals less stress, more progress and more goals met. Have you or will you put RACI to the test after reading this? Let me know how it goes!

Sarah Kacevich is the FAO Fellow and Program Associate with 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. At SWSG, she oversees three college chapters and 35 partner program sites, leads the pilot Junior Mentor Program, and manages partnerships with other nonprofits. Outside of work, she loves to hike, run, do yoga, make art, cook, and travel.

Staying Grounded: A Visit to Recess

“Hi, my name is Tristan. I’m going to be one of your Junior Coaches today.”

When I spent a day on the recess yard at the Trotter Innovation K-8 School the other day, all of the Junior Coach 5th grade leaders were helpful. They came out pretty much on time for their recess shifts, helped get the first graders playing kickball and running relay races, and helped set up the volleyball net. But Junior Coach Tristan stuck out ahead of the rest.

That was our first interaction and it was him who took initiative to come up and confidently introduce himself to me when I hadn’t even realized he’d come outside yet. We’d spent a lot of time at the Junior Coach Leadership Convention over February Vacation talking with these young leaders about how to introduce yourself, and it made me beyond proud to see it in action. But it only got better from there.

“What do you like about being a JC?” I asked him, as we started setting up for fourth grade recess.

“Well, last year I was a bad kid. Now I get to help. I like being viewedIMG_0819 as a good kid now.”

Sometimes the words we use to talk about our work become jargon. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said to someone who asked about my job that we help kids who have a hard time succeeding during the regular school day have a chance to shine and develop leadership skills through our Junior Coach Leadership Development Program. However, it means something entirely different to hear that sentiment coming from the genuine lips of a fifth grader. He was viewed as a bad kid, but he worked hard, learned a lot from Coach TK, and is able to be helpful now. Able to be viewed as a good kid.

It’s a very unique space I get to be in as the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow at Playworks. I get to work closely with upper-level staff, meet funders, and develop my skills in my special project work. I also, though, get to spend time with awesome young people like Junior Coach Tristan and get regular human reminders of why it is we do the work we do. I don’t just hear the stories our development staff tell that may have happened a week, a month or a year ago – I get to go experience them and help those young people continue to develop.

As I reflect on the first year of my fellowship, the most poignant thing I’ve learned is about myself. As I make moves toward the upper level of nonprofit management, it’s essential that I keep that connection to the ground-level work. I can’t imagine a week where I don’t see the people we serve in person, hear about how they’re doing, and remember how much we all have to learn from each other.

Dawn Lavallee is the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow at Playworks Massachusetts, a national nonprofit working to change school culture by leveraging the power of safe, fun, and healthy play at school every day. As the Junior Coach Alumni coordinator, she works to launch 5th grade leaders into a successful middle school career. She also works to bring valuable social and emotional skills to the children of Massachusetts through play.

Helping Creative Minds Flourish

Last Spring I worked with a group of twelfth grade students on a project aimed at exploring the environmental impacts and opportunities of an upcoming park space coming to the neighborhood around their school. The goal of this workshop was to investigate relevant issues through art making.

I began the term with high hopes for student lead investigation, generative art making, and youth driven momentum.  It came as a big shock when the answer to the question “what do you want to make?” was “we have no idea”.  Half way through the term I honestly thought I had failed, as week after week we wrestled through the same conversations about environmental science and waded through endless drawings of the same puffy clouds and bubbly hearts. And I found myself increasingly distressed and uncertain of how to engage students in creating something new.  Suddenly it hit me that I’d been trying so hard to push for student driven investigation that my students felt lost and without direction.

From then on we dove into our content with a clear road map to get where we needed to go.  We began exploring four themes for environmental action happening in the park: ABSORB, CONNECT, COOL, and RE-USE.  For each theme, students produced drawings using the exquisite corpse method Margaret Pic(this is a classic drawing exercise that originated in the Surrealist movement of the early 20th century, where participants begin a drawing on a page and then fold over the section they’ve drawn so the next person can add without knowing what came before).  In this structure, the students were suddenly able to flourish. And it wasn’t that they were defined by the structure—rather they were freed by it to really explore their own potential as artists.  I realized that giving them structure didn’t mean taking away their voice, just giving them a path to start walking down.  In giving my students a platform to find their feet, I also eased some of my own tension in the classroom and was able to relax into each class knowing that everything was moving forward I could begin to calm down and chat with my students about their upcoming transitions to college and all the big, exciting changes about to happen in their lives.

By the end of the term, the students were actually producing art work; artwork that wasn’t just beautiful but showed an understanding of real issues. In our last class, we tackled the core theme “CONNECT” (as in connecting people to nature and fostering stewardship of the environment).  There was one piece in particular that took the whole group’s breath away—when we opened it up multiple students immediately asked if they could have a copy for their dorm room next year.  In this moment it was clear that the students had grown to connect themselves to their art and to their world.

The drawings that the students made last Spring, and the conversations we shared about how to think through the changes in their environment were compiled into an interactive map which will be printed and distributed to the community at the dedication of the park (also my first time making something that will be used in public space like this!).  It is so inspiring to see that from those who don’t consider themselves artists, such beautiful things can come out that change everything.

I would encourage anyone who thinks that they’re “not an artist” or “can’t draw” to give it another shot—you just might surprise yourself.

Margaret Kearney is an FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow at the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.  She works with the Restored Spaces Initiative, the program’s “art-based approach to integrating the activities of city agencies, community organizations, and residents as we collectively transform schools, recreation centers, and commercial corridors into models for sustainable revitalization.”

Conquering Millennial Anxieties: Lessons from service

I have never been a fan of phone calls.JOE

My childhood anxiety around the idea of picking up the phone and dialing family members or girls I liked only increased as texting grew popular and threw the original form of communication out into the retro dump of futility. So when one of the high school seniors I was working with called my cell phone, I was scared. Had she already heard bad news from one of her early action schools? Did I forget to mention a scholarship deadline? What potential maelstrom had befallen us?

Instead, she announced through tear-filled elation that she had received the Posse Scholarship, a full-tuition ride that also served as a gateway to a “posse” of other students attending the same school that would stay with her as she traversed her four years of higher education. Moreover, this scholarship was to Brandeis University, a strong academic institution and one she had been eyeing throughout the college process.

Though I was undoubtedly proud of her incredible accomplishment, what made me the most emotional was the fact that she continued to thank me, as if I were the one who made the decision or carried the brunt of the work. I responded with incredulity, pushing the onus back on her and congratulating her again and again for the incredible journey ahead of her. But what this interaction cemented for me was the impact moments like these—and the journeys required to get there—have on our students.

It comes as no surprise that getting to college can prove to be extremely hard for the population of students we serve; the combination of institutionally-driven restrictions, financial burdens, and implicit feelings of mediocrity causes many young scholars to falter and doubt their potential. As a first-generation man of color from an underserved community in Los Angeles, I have felt these uncertainties creep up at the most inopportune moments. Without reassurance from trusted sources, these suspicions can derail and destroy students’ paths to successes.

This is the reason I came Breakthrough New York as an FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow in the first place—to allow the fresh ideas of our next generation of leaders to flourish and mature as they traverse an environment that sometimes seeks to reject or stifle. To be completely transparent, this job can be difficult sometimes; serving students of all needs demands an attention to detail and a perseverance that can sometimes be exhausting. But when you get to witness moments like these, feel the emotions shine through with every letter of admission or internship acceptance, any doubt or frustration once had fades away.

It’s why I do what I do. And it’s why even when I feel my heart flutter, when a student calls, I pick up the phone.

 

Joseph Rosales is the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow and High School Coordinator for Breakthrough New York, a college success program that works with high-achieving, underserved students from across New York City. Using his own experiences as a first-gen student of color, he supports high school students in any way they need in an effort to help prepare them for the educational road ahead.