FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellowship Program

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.

 

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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.

swsg-post

 

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.

Why I Chose to Work at Riverkeeper

Growing up in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State, my summers were spentJen bb swimming in the freshwater, glacially formed lakes, and climbing gorges waterfalls feeding these waterbodies. My earliest memories are chasing fish through the clear water, catching crayfish, and counting water snails. My adventures in, on, and around the Finger Lakes taught me a deep respect and reverence for nature, and a love for water. These strong convictions inspired me to join the local swim team, and spend my summers supervising swimmers as they enjoyed the beautiful waters of Canandiagua Lake.

On a grey summer day in 2009, my parents loaded us into their minivan, and told my younger sister and me that we were headed to Dimock, PA to “see what this fracking thing is about”. Little did I know this spontaneous trip would  drastically change the course of my educational and professional trajectory. Having just learned about hydraulic fracturing, my parents decided we would go see the process firsthand in a community on the frontline. Like my parents, we were not sure what we were going to encounter upon arrival in Dimock. At a basic level, we had learned hydraulic fracturing, an industrial process of extracting natural gas from shale deposits used millions of gallons of water, explosives, and thousands of gallons of chemicals-literally “fracturing” the ground underneath communities.

Jen mapWe spent the ominously grey afternoon driving through the tiny township of Dimock, PA, seeing the tall drill rigs, large clearings made to accommodate the drill pads, and “produced water” in the containment pools. Partway through the afternoon, my parents quietly mentioned fracking could potentially come to our region, and industrialize the natural landscape and cause millions of gallons of fresh Finger Lakes water to be withdrawn, mixed with thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals, and used in fracking.

Driving back home along the banks of Canandaigua and Seneca Lakes, I could too easily imagine industrialization of these lakesides. Immediately upon returning home, I googled “Fracking New York State”, desperate to learn more and see what could be done to prevent fracking from coming to my home. The first result was the Riverkeeper website, with updated information on the science, policy, and process. From that day on, Riverkeeper had been on my radar, first as a resource, then later as an organization I would be honored to work for.Jen Frack

Over the next several years, I would go from a passive environmentalist high school student, to a knowledgeable campus and community activist in Geneseo fighting like hell to educate the public and ensure fracking did not become a reality in New York State.

Nearly 6-years later, New York State has a ban on fracking, and I’ve had the incredible opportunity to join the staff at Riverkeeper as an FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow, coordinating the Riverkeeper Sweep, and educating schools and communities on issues threatening the Hudson River. My determination to advocate for the environment and my respect for Riverkeeper continues to grow each day, and remain humble and immensely thankful for this opportunity.

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.

Refining Your Core Values

I’ll never forget that first retreat with the Fellowship in the fall of 2012. As we all sat down in JumpStart’s conference room in midtown Manhattan, we introduced ourselves and the mission of our host organizations. I do remember those introductions to my new-found colleagues well, but perhaps what struck me the most about this first meeting—believe it or not—was the décor of the conference room. Surrounding JumpStart’s walls were huge posters that stated its values: learning, connection, joy, and determination were among them.

As we traveled from Philadelphia to New York City and Boston, I saw how other excellent, youth-serving organizations articulated their core values and lived them out well beyond the classroom walls. In their cubicles they crafted impactful narratives for funding, and in meetings they discussed how their specific projects reflected the nature of the organization’s mission. Each organization provided living proof that core values matter for all people at all positions. They were the guiding force for the organization’s culture.

If successful non-profit organizations take the time to craft its core values and make every effort to live out these values within each facet of their work, then surely as a Fellow it was important for me to consIMG_6175ider the guiding principles of my own career trajectory. Many of us have a sense of the driving factors that motivate our decisions, but have you taken the time to intentionally write them down? Have you reflected upon them in the light of your professional decisions? Doing so can help you not only to live more fully into your own life, but can also help you to clearly see why your specific function within your organization matters. Here are a few guiding questions to help you craft your own core values:

  • What have been the most life-giving projects of the past year?
  • What are the strengths that your teammates consistently call out in your work?
  • What are the areas of your job that give you life?
  • What led you to pursue a job at your organization?
  • What are the challenges your organization is facing?

Once you’ve jotted down a few answers to these questions, it’s time to start connecting the dots. What are the common threads between your answers? How might your strengths meet the greatest needs in your organization? By mulling over such questions during the Fellowship, I am now able to articulate my own core values—leadership, togetherness, empathy, and hope—that guide me in my pursuits for equity and justice. More specifically, my own core values have led me to Princeton Theological Seminary where I am strengthening my theological and organizational skills to lead within faith-based organizations.

The opportunity to see myriad strong non-profit organizations intentionally live into their core values helped me to refine my own and thoughtfully consider the guiding principles of my career. The moments of reflection we give ourselves throughout our career can tremendously help us to be the best version of ourselves so that we can better serve those around us. I have the Fellowship to thank for that valuable lesson!

Kayla Peck is a Masters of Divinity student at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, NJ. She enjoys studying the intersection of spirituality and social justice. This coming year, she will serve at a local episcopal church as they seek to be a good neighbor within their community. More specifically, she will help with a variety of community outreach opportunities, including representing the church on the city’s affordable housing committee. When she isn’t studying, she is planning her upcoming wedding, learning how to knit, and hiking in the Adirondacks. Kayla was a 2012-14 Fellow at Strong Women, Strong Girls in Boston. She occasionally tweets glimpses of her journey at @kaylajpeck.