Beyond the Fellowship

Nothing Short of Life-Changing: A Reflection on Two Years as a Fellow at NYC Audubon

When I began my fellowship on July 12, 2022, I knew I was interested in the world of urban wildlife, but lacked direction and a point of view. Not to mention, I knew nothing about birds. Throughout my time with NYC Audubon, I have been given opportunities to learn about urban wild bird conservation, develop my own perspective and questions, and practice my developing expertise as a social scientist of urban wildlife conservation.

My position at NYC Audubon has been split into two distinct but related halves: Advocacy and Engagement. These halves have also served as a distinction between my Special Project and Direct Service work. My Special Project has been developing NYC Audubon’s advocacy initiatives for city- and state-level bird-friendly legislation. My Direct Service work has involved engaging directly with the public at NYC Audubon’s seasonal environmental center on Governors Island. 

My experience as an FAO Schwarz Fellow and a member of the team at NYC Audubon has been nothing short of life-changing.

Over the past two years, I have built out advocacy campaigns, organized rallies, testified at New York City Council, worked with elected officials, and engaged thousands of New Yorkers in taking action for wild birds. I am most proud of my work with Dustin Partridge, PhD—NYC Audubon’s Director of Conservation and Science—to research and write a guidance memo on drone light shows for the Mayor’s Office, which will soon be drafted into city-wide legislation to protect birds and people from the harmful effects of artificial light at night. I have also developed, coordinated, and conducted nature—and conservation—related programming for children and families on Governors Island and developed the analytical groundwork with which to measure progress as NYC Audubon continues developing bird outings and programming that engage the whole city and reflect the organization’s commitment to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. 

With the development of experience and knowledge from the Fellowship, I acquired research assistantships with faculty from Rutgers University and Colorado State University to better understand the formation of hemispheric approaches to shorebird conservation, which will result in at least one published academic paper, a conference presentation in Canada, and a research trip to observe shorebird migration—and the people who study it—at the Delaware Bay this May. And, after a long and tasking application process, I am thrilled and honored to begin my PhD in Environmental Psychology at The Graduate Center at CUNY this fall. I plan to study the political ecology of queer cruising geographies in New York City as habitat for wild birds and sites of contestation between people and institutions/agencies. I will also continue to work at NYC Audubon part-time in a new role mainly devoted to advocacy.

My experience as an FAO Schwarz Fellow and a member of the team at NYC Audubon has been nothing short of life-changing. I’m looking forward to seeing the ways in which this experience continues to guide me in my career.


Picture of Jesse McLaughlin

Jesse McLaughlin

Jesse (he/him) is the Advocacy & Engagement FAO Schwarz Fellow at NYC Bird Alliance (formerly NYC Audubon).


From Volunteer to Fellow: Reflecting on My Reading Partners Fellowship Experience 

Back in college, I wanted to get more involved with my community and give back. I stumbled across a VolunteerMatch posting from Reading Partners. I went to volunteer at an elementary school in Queens. Every Thursday for about a year, I would trek to the school after college classes and work with a 7-year-old student who was sweet and sometimes got frustrated with the difficulties of learning something.

Fast forward to graduation time in 2018, my supervisor at Baruch College recommended an opportunity through the career portal at school. When I logged in to my account, I was surprised to find Reading Partners on the screen. I felt like I was coming back to a familiar place. This was the start of becoming part of a cohort of fellows and the start of my professional career.

At Reading Partners, I gained experience working with a multitude of elementary school students and supported their learning growth around their literacy skills. As a fellow, I was able to provide service to the schools in South Jamaica, Queens. My work also involved recruiting volunteers, which became an area of interest of mine, and I went to work for two other non-profit organizations in this area of work. I was a volunteer coordinator for three years after my fellowship experience and honed my skill set in this area.

Currently, I work as the Foundation Programs Coordinator at the ICSC Foundation. After working for three years in volunteer management, I wanted to pivot my next step in an area of non-profit that I had worked closely with but never taken a leadership role in. And I love it. I enjoy working with students as we connect them with scholarship and mentorship opportunities. I still work with volunteers, as it is key to our work. I hope to grow in the programmatic area of my work for years to come. Furthermore, I thank the fellowship for supporting my growth and my career as I progress in the landscape of mission-driven organizations.

Picture of Erika Apupalo

Erika Apupalo

Erika (she/her) is the Foundation Programs Coordinator at the ICSC Foundation. She was a Fellow at Reading Partners New York City from 2018-2020.


Q&A with Fellowship Alums

Each year, as a part of our newsletter, we ask alums to reflect on a series of questions about the Fellowship and social impact. Check out their responses below, and be sure to continue on to read the full newsletter!

What advice would you give current or soon-to-be alumni Fellows as they're beginning their careers?

Clara Monk ‘22: Ask people you look up to at your org to have coffee with you! While they might not initiate and ask you, in my experience they are always happy to be asked and willing to chat. It’s been a great way for me to build relationships and get career advice!

Molly Blake ‘19: There is no time like the present to try everything. I just switched careers and it is still so exciting and thrilling every single day. Don’t be afraid to shadow people, ask for help, network, and try everything. It is never too late. 

H’Abigail Mlo ‘22: Find joy, rest, and community outside of work. 

Jen Benson ‘17: Over the last two years you’ve set strong foundations to continue to grow your careers. Lean on your experiences, cohort, network, and learnings from the Fellowship, and don’t be afraid to reach for the positions, organizations, and work of your dreams. 

Sara Wilson ‘13: Be kind to yourself, and reflect on your professional goals and aspirations. 

Samantha Perlman ‘19: Be open to new opportunities, be willing to take risks and follow your interests and passion. Your career is just beginning and the FAO community is here to support you as you flourish.

Bianca van Heydoorn ‘09: Experiment early and often in your career. Be willing to make mistakes so that you stay in the practice of innovating and out of what can become a familiar rut. 

Joyce Kim ‘20: Seek out opportunities to try new tasks or roles even if it’s not something that’s officially a part of your job description so that you can have a better understanding of what you enjoy in your work!

Michael McNeill-Martinez ‘14: Be available, open-minded, and build a network of people whose perspectives you appreciate

Lauren Brincat ‘12: Maintain and grow your professional connections and never underestimate the power of a written thank you.

Khari Graves ‘17: Don’t be afraid to call on and leverage the network you have built both through the Fellowship and your organization. Even if it is an alum you have never met before, they are almost always more than willing to help you in any way they can.

Allie Negron ‘18: Don’t be afraid to ask questions, stay curious, and make suggestions! I was promoted within my current organization out of a need to formalize and professionalize the management of the Agency’s project pipeline. While I didn’t necessarily have a ton of project management experience, I had ideas for how we could improve the current process and be clearer and more transparent in our communication. If a responsibility or role you want doesn’t already exist, see how you might be able to carve your own path!

Meredith Jones ‘21: When I think back to my first few years after graduating college, the one thing I wish I’d done differently was to be more patient. It’s a weird time and it’s ok to just let it be weird! Things will change, and while it’s important to plan, you really never know what might come your way. 

Barbyose Noisette ‘09: Become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Sometimes embracing discomfort is a catalyst for significant growth.

Joanna Steinberg ‘08: Let your direct service and special project work inform the other! The fellowship provides an amazing opportunity to develop skills and experience in both of these areas.

Abi Mlo ‘22: Since joining TPL, I have learned and grown immensely. Prior to the fellowship, I’d never worked in this field. Now, I can’t imagine not working towards environmental justice in some capacity. Before completing the fellowship, TPL offered me to stay on and I’m thankful I did. I have led new projects and programs, built new partnerships, and strengthened existing ones. 

Karen Wilber ‘18: One thing that the fellowship helped me do is always think about what I wanted to learn next and how my skills could help my organization grow. This mindset has helped me to continue expanding my skillset in a way that has led to career growth as I’ve stayed at my host organization now for more than 5 years after my fellowship concluded!

Serena Salgado ‘22: Working for a non-profit before becoming a social impact consultant gave me so much context for the work I’m doing now and made me realize that I wanted to remain in the social impact space for my career!

Ellie Sanchez ‘17: I never expected to step into a career in politics/government, but my experience with the fellowship definitely helped me grow and showcase leadership and project management skills that made the transition into this world seamless. I hope that my experience can show current and future fellows that the opportunities after the fellowship are endless, and you can leverage the skills you learn here in a multitude of ways.

Khari Graves ‘17: The fellowship influenced my career path by showing me that the theories and ideas that I studied in school could be applied in a vast number of ways to support my community in their everyday life and material reality. It gave me a chance to grow existing skills and learn new ones in a setting that was incredibly supportive. To this day, I am still supported in my professional and community work by colleagues from my FAO placement. 

Kayla Jones ‘19: The fellowship connected me to other like-minded social impact leaders and accelerated my career growth. It felt great to gain such extensive community engagement and advocacy experience as part of my first job out of college. I went to graduate school after finishing the fellowship and decided to stay within the social impact sector because of my experience at Jumpstart. I look back at my time in the fellowship with fondness because I got the unique opportunity to help so many children and families throughout NYC.

Sara Wilson ‘13: Book banning, reproductive rights, and climate change are important social challenges to solve since they have much larger impacts on society. 

Nicholas Mitch ‘20: I believe it’s always important to take a systems approach to considering the context and effect of our work. To create equitable change, we need to understand the forces that shape the physical, economic, and social environments of which we’re part. 

Sarah Kacevich ‘16: Humans’ relationships with the environment currently need a lot of healing. When we investigate the deep interconnections between racism, slavery, capitalism, and environmental exploitation, it becomes clear that we must work together to envision a future that centers a more just and reciprocal relationship between humans and the Earth.

Ryan Corrigan ‘25: The most important thing to address is economic inequality. It bleeds through everything from access to education, the ability to pressure the government to make positive change, the ability to live a safe and secure life, and it maintains the power structures that reinforce climate change and racial inequity. 

Michael McNeill-Martinez ‘14: Both validating and appreciating identity, and what that means for people from all walks of life. 

Jahmali Matthews ‘23: I am committed to solving social challenges revolving around addressing the root causes of classroom inequality and dismantling systemic barriers that hinder the educational and societal progress of working-class individuals. By advocating for equitable access to education, resources, and opportunities, I believe we can contribute to a more just and inclusive society where everyone has the chance to fulfill their potential.

Sara Wilson ‘13: Frontiers in Social Innovation: The Essential Handbook for Creating, Deploying, and Sustaining Creative Solutions to Systemic Problems – was an interesting read. 

Mariah Peebles ‘11: I highly recommend Matthew Desmond’s new book Poverty, By America–there is a great episode of the podcast Vibe Check where they interview Desmond and discuss the main themes of his latest book. It is so good! 

Michael McNeill-Martinez ‘14: “Becoming a Totally Inclusive School” by Angeline Aow, Sadie Hollins and Stephen Whitehead 

Adriana Moran Garcia ‘22: Currently reading the 100 Year War on Palestine 

Jesse McLaughlin ‘24: The most interesting book related to social impact and my work in the environmental field that I’ve read recently is Decolonizing Extinction by Juno Salazar Parreñas. This book traces the ways in which colonialism, decolonization, and indigeneity shape more-than-human relations at orangutan rehabilitation centers on Borneo. Parreñas asks, “could conservation biology turn away from ultimately violent investments in population growth and embrace a feminist sense of welfare, even if it means experiencing loss and pain.”

Kira Azulay ‘23: The most interesting book I have read recently is Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. As the Museum of Science focuses on climate change, it was helpful to me to learn about different ways of interacting with and understanding nature and the place of humans within the natural world. 

Sarika Tatineni Doppalapudi ‘25: One of my favorite books I’ve ever read is “In Search of Our Mothers Gardens: Womanist Prose” by Alice Walker. I first read this book seven years ago, and it has come to shape much of my work. “In Search of Our Mothers Gardens” is a collection of essays, reviews, and speeches, and there are two essays I revisit frequently. Alice Walker’s writings in “In Search of Our Mothers Gardens” and “Looking for Zora” challenge our notions of what archives can, and should, look like, and the importance of finding holistic ways to archive the work and lives of those who have been historically left out of traditional archival spaces.


Alumni Fellows

2024 Annual Fellowship Newsletter

Each year, Fellowship alums share personal and professional updates, which make up our annual newsletter. Fellows from cohorts since 2008 share what they’re up to, from promotions to new roles, and from new degrees to new family members. 

Here’s a taste of what alums have achieved:

  • Became an executive director
  • Started a new role in restorative justice
  • Moved from Serbia to Zambia
  • Finishing their Master in Social Work
  • Starting an MBA in July

… and so much more! Read our latest Fellowship newsletter to learn more about what our amazing alumni are up to across the spectrum of social impact, and beyond!



A Strong Foundation: How the FAO Schwarz Fellowship Shaped My Career

Seven years since graduating from the FAO Schwarz Fellowship and 9 years since the start of my fellowship, the formative experiences, support system, and friendships developed within the fellowship have been foundational for finding and building my professional path.

The value most visible from the surface is a means of accessing a two-year, salaried, entry-level position at a leading non-profit organization. Finding entry-level jobs in the social impact, education, or environmental non-profit space is extremely challenging. Following a long and challenging search, I was hired in 2015 for an FAO Schwarz Fellowship at Riverkeeper, a non-profit organization with a mission to protect and restore the Hudson River from source to sea. After graduating from the fellowship in 2017, I remained on staff at Riverkeeper in various advocacy, volunteer management, and community engagement focused positions for another 5 years. My passion for environmental advocacy, community engagement, and the Hudson River watershed was fully realized while at Riverkeeper and has remained my focus ever since. The FAO Schwarz Fellowship program not only provided an opportunity to enter my desired field, but also provided opportunities for professional development, reflection, and an invaluable cohort experience.

Reflecting upon my almost decade-long career, the influence of the FAO Schwarz Fellowship is clear. I’ve been better positioned to navigate the professional landscape, including salary and benefit negotiations, job applications, creating job descriptions and hiring, and project management.

Below the surface, the FAO Schwarz Fellowship is much more than a means of entering the non-profit sector. 

What isn’t as visible is the relationships you grow within the fellowship network and through the cohort experience. Each year, 6-7 fellows are hired to work at youth- or young-adult-serving nonprofits in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, creating a cohort who goes through the program together and connects through formal methods such as planning and experiencing retreats, working on shared projects within the fellowship, professional development sessions, and informal means inside and outside of retreats. By spending time together, fellows develop friendships within their cohort, and within the cohorts above and below them. These relationships have been invaluable both to my professional development and to me personally—from having understanding and listening ears to talk through how to navigate the dynamics of professional environments, to sharing time-management tools, to finding life-long friends.

Another major component of relationship building within the FAO Fellowship is mentorship: each incoming fellow is paired with an alumni fellow who often shares a career focus. Alumni mentors provide advice, share about their career paths, and support the fellows in thinking through career next steps. These relationships often continue beyond the fellowship, with mentees and mentors connecting at bi-annual reunions and keeping in touch over the years.

The Executive Director of the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation is a tremendous resource. Priscilla has a deep well of advice, support, and kindness to offer as fellows navigate their fellowship roles, but also as alumni navigate future career moves within and outside the nonprofit sector. Priscilla’s support and advice have been invaluable—and her relationships with the alumni network allow her to make networking connections between fellows and alumni.

The Fellowship retreats, which take place twice each year and rotate between the cities where fellows live and work (New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia) are a blend of experiencing the work of each host organization, professional development sessions shaped by the needs and interests of the fellows, and unstructured time for the fellows to connect. Examples of professional development sessions include: disability accessibility and inclusivity at museums, how direct service and systems change work complement each other, personal mission statement development, exploration of leadership styles, and more.

Reflecting upon my almost decade-long career, the influence of the FAO Schwarz Fellowship is clear. I’ve been better positioned to navigate the professional landscape, including salary and benefit negotiations, job applications, creating job descriptions and hiring, and project management.

Advice from Priscilla and others in the FAO network helped inform my decision to return to school part-time in 2019 to pursue a Masters of Environmental Policy at Bard College, which I completed while working full-time.

More recently, in July of 2023, I became the new Director of Environmental Action at the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a regional environmental non-profit organization with a mission to protect the Hudson River by inspiring lifelong stewardship of the river and its tributaries through education and advocacy. My role sits at the nexus of advocacy and community engagement—collaborating with communities, individuals, and other organizations to protect the Hudson River, and is one I hope to hold for years to come.

Whether I’m between jobs, hiring interns, managing advocacy campaigns, or educating the public, the foundational skills and experiences I had during my time as a FAO Fellow have been foundational to my career, and personal and professional development.

Picture of Jen Benson

Jen Benson

Jen Benson (she/her) is the Director of Environmental Action at the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a regional environmental non-profit organization with a mission to protect the Hudson River by inspiring lifelong stewardship of the river and its tributaries through education and advocacy.


Taking Notes From Birds: They Change Their Behaviors Based on the Season, Why Shouldn’t We?

I went for a walk in my local park the other day, and took out my earbuds (something I, and most people my age, rarely do when not accompanied by others). Immediately, I noticed how eerily quiet it was. Gone were the various bird calls that I had tried to identify with my newfound passion for birds and birding this past summer. Instead, I was met with occasional squirrel chatter and the sounds of children on the playground. 

It took me a couple of seconds to realize that we had reached the end of fall bird migration season, the time of the year when approximately half of the world’s birds fly south in search of food, water, shelter, and in some cases to escape the extreme conditions that can come with winter. Although many aspects of bird migration are still not fully understood, it is widely believed that they know to start relocating when the days start to get shorter.

For those of us who are stuck in place for winter, what can we do to make it more bearable?

I was explaining the phenomenon of migration and how birds know to start their often long and treacherous journey to a group of second graders just a couple of days after we set our clocks back an hour. It was then that I finally made a connection between the frustration I had been expressing to friends about the days becoming shorter (especially when one doesn’t want to wake up at 5am to get some sunlight) and birds’ behavior in the winter.

Even though it gets dark earlier in the day in winter every single year, I still find myself shocked when it starts to get dark at 5pm in November. Every year, I have the same conversations, complaining about the lack of sunlight after work days and the impact it has on mental health. However, it seems that many people are finally starting to take a hint from birds and start changing their behaviors in the winter to make the best of the darkest and coldest months of the year.

While some of us are able to migrate to warmer places in the South, like the birds, for the winter–such as many east coast grandparents wintering in Florida for the winter–not all of us have that luxury. For those of us who are stuck in place for winter, what can we do to make it more bearable? 

One recent trend that has been going around social media is “hygge.” This term refers to “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being,” and is widespread throughout Scandinavian culture, originating in Denmark. This idea of adapting your behavior in the winter and slowing down seems to go against the current worldwide spread of hustling all the time and keeping a rigid routine, despite the weather, temperature, or number of daylight hours; but it completely aligns with the natural world.

Although migrating birds are the first natural phenomenon of response to seasonal change that comes to my mind, those who don’t work in the world of birds may think of others first. For example, many animals hibernate in the winter–slowing down their heart rates and essentially sleeping the entire season away. Many trees lose their leaves and seem to be almost dead before coming back to life in the spring. 

While humans may not be able to take it to this extreme, we can take this advice from nature and slow our pace for the winter months. Maybe this means adjusting our schedules so that we are awake earlier in the morning and go to sleep earlier to allow for more daylight hours outside of the work day. Maybe this means taking our meetings as walking meetings so that we can spend more time outside in the sunlight. Or maybe, taking a note from the concept of hygge, it means leaning into colder months by warming our homes with candles, warm drinks, fires in the fireplace, and fuzzy blankets. 

Whatever taking cues from the natural world means to you this winter season, I would suggest at least taking a gander at it–the birds have certainly been around a lot longer than we have, and I think we could stand to learn a thing or two from them. 



Altman, A. (2016, December 18). The Year of Hygge, the Danish Obsession with Getting Cozy. The New Yorker.

Runwall, P. (2021, May 5). Bird migration is one of nature’s great wonders. Here’s how they do it. National Geographic.

Picture of Sophie Becker-Klein

Sophie Becker-Klein

Sophie Becker-Klein (she/her) is FAO Schwarz Fellow at Audubon Mid-Atlantic's Discovery Center in Philadelphia.


Vanessa poses with members of The Food Project's Dirt Crew in a community garden they built.

Tips for Starting Life in a New City

When moving to a new place fresh out of college, there are many tasks to keep in mind, some essential and some less urgent. Although there are plenty of lists like this one out there, I wanted to build advice for incoming Fellows based on what I learned from my own personal experience starting the Fellowship — both through mistakes made and personal successes. So here are some things you may want to keep in mind when joining the FAO Schwarz Fellowship!

The experience of beginning again in a city can teach you so much about yourself and what you want out of future living experiences

1. Set up your new Primary Care Provider early

While establishing your healthcare in a new place might be an obvious important step to settling in, it is helpful to prioritize this process in your list of tasks after moving in. Personally, I put off choosing my Primary Care Provider until maybe the second or third month I spent in Boston. Unfortunately, I got quite a rude awakening when I found that new patients can face waiting times up to six months for an initial appointment with an available clinician.


2. Consider subletting housing before signing a lease

When moving to a completely new city, it can be difficult to get all the information you might want about your future housing — while video tours and roommate interviews can give you a better sense, nothing can teach you about a new city as well as living there. Signing onto temporary housing, such as a sublet, allows you to try out a location, and scope out the rest of the city, without committing to a full, year-long lease right away.

In Boston, the majority of apartment leases have a September 1st start date, so I sublet a room for my first summer before finding longer term housing. This gave me the chance to see which neighborhood I might like best here, factoring in my commute, things to do in the area, and neighborhoods with more young people to get to know.


3. Study the local metro map

For the first few months of living in Boston, I would spend parts of my daily commute looking over the map of our subway and bus system, the MBTA, while listening to music. Even though it was not the most entertaining way to pass the time, it gave me a good sense of how to get around Boston early on during my time here.

Then, a couple of months after I moved to Boston, the MBTA had a sudden emergency shutdown during my commute home, stranding me downtown. This forced me to quickly find a different route home, amidst the masses of other commuters also trying to get on board temporary shuttles. Since I had been often studying the metro map during my commutes, I was able to jump onto one of these shuttles with a destination of a station that I had never been to but vaguely knew was close enough to home.


4. Regularly visit spaces that reflect your interests

One of the best ways to make friends and build community in a new place is to often go to places built around your personal interests and hobbies. If you enjoy sports, join a sports league. If you like gardening, join a community garden near you or volunteer at a local growing center. Additionally, I like keeping an eye out for posters around the city with information about public events I might be interested in. Even if I cannot make a specific event, I will usually follow their socials to keep updated on future events.


5. Take walks off your normal route

I would have never found some of my favorite places to visit in Boston if not for random walks off my usual path. For example, I discovered my favorite store, a secondhand craft supply store, after accidentally taking a wrong turn on the way to buy groceries. Now, I try to often take walks around the neighborhood where I have not been before to find new places and foods to try.


Moving to a new city can certainly be an overwhelming experience, especially if, like me, you have never lived in a large city before. However, trying early on to familiarize yourself with both the unique and mundane aspects of your new home — as outlined in the tips listed above — can help you start to feel more comfortable sooner and to make the most out of city living. Plus, the experience of beginning again in a city can teach you so much about yourself and what you want out of future living experiences. Personally, I have learned from my time in Boston how much I appreciate living in a walkable neighborhood and having regular access to outdoor spaces. Thanks to this opportunity, I now know more of the values I would like to see in the next place I live. So while moving can be a great challenge, it also provides a valuable experience that is well worth starting anew.

Picture of Vanessa Barragán

Vanessa Barragán

Vanessa (she/her) is the Build-a-Garden Manager and FAO Schwarz Fellow at The Food Project in Boston.


Liana speaking at the graduation ceremony in Israel of one of Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation's Executive Leadership Program cohorts.

Nurturing Tomorrow’s Visionaries: Running a Fellowship Program for Executive Leaders

In a world driven by innovation, leadership, and social impact, the role of executive leaders has never been more crucial. These leaders, armed with the vision and expertise to drive change, play a pivotal role in shaping the future of organizations, communities, and industries.

Recognizing this, fellowship programs for executive leaders have emerged as a powerful platform to cultivate and unleash the potential of these remarkable individuals. Drawing inspiration from my own transformative journey as a FAO Schwarz Fellow, I have embarked on a mission to curate and facilitate fellowship experiences that empower professional leaders to drive positive change in the world. In this blog post, I will delve into what it takes to run a fellowship program for executive leaders and how being part of a family foundation adds a unique dimension to this endeavor.

Running a fellowship program is a labor of love that requires dedication, thoughtful design, and a deep commitment to empowering individuals to make a difference.

A Personal Journey: From Fellow to Facilitator

My personal journey into the world of fellowship programs began with my participation in the FAO Schwarz Fellowship Program, an initiative of the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation . I was a Fellow in the 3rd  cohort of the Fellowship, from 2008-2010. I was the first Fellow at Jumpstart for Young Children in Boston and the experience was nothing short of transformative. The program offered me unparalleled opportunities to learn, grow, and engage in meaningful work that aligned with my passion for social impact and early childhood education. Through mentorship, hands-on experience, and exposure to various sectors, I honed my leadership skills and gained insights that have stayed with me throughout my career. 

This firsthand encounter with the power of fellowships planted a seed that would later grow into my aspiration to provide similar opportunities to other leaders. I later ran a highly selective teen fellowship program, and now serve as the Associate Director of the Mandel Institute for Nonprofit Leadership as part of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation. Our mission is to strengthen the capacities of talented professionals who lead or have the potential to lead- important nonprofit institutions. We run fellowships for executives as well as educators and cultural producers.

Running a Fellowship Program: Key Ingredients

1. Purposeful Design: A successful fellowship program begins with a well-crafted design that aligns with the mission of the organization and the needs of the fellows. It is essential to structure the program in a way that fosters experiential learning, personal growth, and a deep sense of community. Defining the goals of the fellowship for the participants is crucial.

2. Selecting Fellows: Selecting Fellows: Implementing a variety of applicant selection methods, such as applications with written and video components, structured interviews, and a time for group process helps identify a pool of candidates that can show their individuality. It is important to look for diversity among fellows in order to enrich the learning environment and broaden perspectives.

3. Mentorship and Networking: One of the cornerstones of a fellowship program is the opportunity for fellows to connect with seasoned mentors and build a robust professional network. These relationships offer guidance, insights, and connections that can propel fellows’ careers and impact to new heights.

4. Cross-Sector Exposure: To equip leaders with a holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities in various sectors, it’s important to expose them to a diverse range of experiences. This might include rotations across departments, engagement with community stakeholders, and collaboration with partner organizations.

5. Ongoing Learning: The journey of a leader is a continuous one. Providing access to ongoing learning opportunities, workshops, and resources ensures that fellows remain at the cutting edge of their respective fields and continue to drive innovation and change. Including content on leadership models and methods is important. 

Family Foundation and Fellowships

Being part of a family foundation adds a unique dimension to the fellowship experience. Family foundations are often deeply rooted in values, purpose, and a commitment to social impact. This shared ethos creates a sense of belonging and purpose that resonates deeply with fellows, fostering a strong sense of community and connection.

Family foundations also offer a nurturing environment that encourages fellows to explore their passions, take risks, and think outside the box. A family foundation’s long-term perspective and dedication to positive change provide fellows with the support and resources needed to bring their visions to life.

Running a fellowship program for professionals is a labor of love that requires dedication, thoughtful design, and a deep commitment to empowering individuals to make a difference. Drawing inspiration from my own fellowship experience and the guiding principles of a family foundation helps me immensely in my work. I am better able to work with my team to create transformative opportunities for leaders to unleash their potential, drive innovation, and create lasting social impact. As nonprofit professionals continue to pave the way for the next generation of visionary leaders, we should celebrate the power of fellowships and the incredible journey of personal and professional growth they offer.

Picture of Liana Brodsky

Liana Brodsky

Liana Brodsky (she/her) is the Associate Director of the Mandel Institute for Nonprofit Leadership, part of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation.


Significant and Measurable Growth: Reflecting on My Two-Year Fellowship

Approaching the end of my Fellowship, I have had several opportunities to reflect on the soft and hard skills I have gained from this experience and have been most struck with the significant and measurable growth I have seen in many parts of my professional and personal journey. This experience has afforded me incredible opportunity and leadership in programs and advocacy impacting children and families of New York City, while learning from a powerful community of advocates relentlessly invested in improving the lives of children through robust early learning opportunities. 

The Fellowhsip was a fantastic opportunity to remain in my passion area at the intersection of direct service and policy, while growing the skills I needed to be a more capable advocate and professional.

My direct service work through Jumpstart’s Community Impact team wove direct service components with helpful elements of strategic planning, development work, and more. We focused on expanding the role of Jumpstart services to fit specified community needs, to broaden our scope of service and connect with community partners in schools and beyond. Through the team I have gained valuable experience by planning and executing the Family Academy series with schools in several New York neighborhoods, navigating both a virtual and in-person programming format that created opportunities that engaged many families and caregivers as they built early literacy skills alongside their children. These events were some of the most impactful of my Fellowship, helping to build deep bonds with families, children, and school-based professionals who helped to support and implement our programing.

Additionally, participating in strategic planning through NY community coalitions like City’s First Readers and the Reads Initiative sharpened my skills in advocacy and coalition-building for more effective direct-service programming, gave me additional experience in supporting the grant and funding cycle for programming, and created lasting relationships with a powerful community of advocates.

Through my special project work in the Policy and Government Relations team, I have gained experience in both lobbying and advocacy for issues impacting the early childhood education field and was given incredible opportunity for leadership in supporting our New York Policy agenda build-out. The most impactful parts of this work over the last year have included the roll out of a bill supporting the Federal Work Study community service set-aside, including the exciting introduction of our bill in the 2023 House of Representatives legislative session. Supporting our team from the preliminary stages of drafting our legislation, to lobbying for the role of paid community service with legislators and using coalition- building skills to support and convene a broad coalition of organizational support around our initiative, made for an exciting experience that has reaffirmed my passion for policy advocacy and collective action. 

Beyond direct experiences in work, relations with both colleagues and mentors played a powerful role in my development as a Fellow. My supervisors and teams became excellent sources of support and leadership and took an important role in allowing me to discover my unique interests in our work, take leadership in key projects, while problem solving around challenges. Having these integral relationships early in my career with senior level professionals offered great opporunities for leadership and to learn from the stories, experiences, and support of those around me. These lasting connections will continue to empower my work beyond my current organization as I continue in educational advocacy. 

Beyond this, working in the education policy arena was a power experience to witness collective power in action. Working with coaltions of advocates, organizations, and program managers across New York City was not only a heartening experience to see the power of our collective voice and programming to improve access to education and resources for families, but to see the ability of groups to leverage the voices of educators, families, and organizations for real and measurable change. These lessons in the role of mentorship, the power of collective action and the skills I have taken from key projects will stay with me through the course of my career.

With incredible support and advice from the Jumpstart community and from the Fellowship, post-Fellowship I will be entering graduate school, pursuing a Masters in Educational Policy Studies from Boston University as a Martin Luther King Jr. Fellow. While completing my degree, I will continue to work in the educational advocacy sector as an Organizer while continuing to build skills in data analysis, policy management, and advocacy through my studies. I am honored to have gained such valuable experience, realtionships, and insight during these first two years in my career. The Fellowhsip was a fantastic opportunity to remain in my passion area at the intersection of direct service and policy, while growing the skills I needed to be a more capable advocate and professional.

Picture of Jasmin Norford

Jasmin Norford

Jasmin (she/her) is the FAO Schwarz Fellow at Jumpstart in New York City.