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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, Jainwantie 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.”

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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.