Retreat Reflections: A Second-Year Fellow’s Final Retreat

As a second-year Fellow at Breakthrough Greater Boston, it can be easy to get absorbed in fulfilling direct and special project work. However, the FAO Schwarz Fellowship’s bi-annual retreat provides structured time to ensure Fellows get the most out of our unique professional experience, complete with cohort bonding opportunities, professional development, and city exploration. While I usually look forward to each chance we get to gather as a complete cohort, the Spring 2024 Fellowship retreat was particularly special to me. Not only did we witness the 2024 total solar eclipse as a cohort at the Museum of Science, but it also marked my final retreat as my Fellowship draws to a close. Given that my first-ever retreat took place in Boston in 2022, this Boston retreat felt like a full-circle moment for me.

With each organization intentionally crafting professional development sessions with a diverse set of organizational leaders, I naturally found myself reflecting with other Fellows about how the experience or frameworks we had just heard could influence our professional and personal trajectories.

As a second-year, Boston-based Fellow co-leading the visit to my own host organization, I kept thinking back to the first time the cohort visited Breakthrough two years ago. Since Juan, another Fellow at Breakthrough, and I joined the Fellowship just after the retreat planning phase had concluded, we had minimal involvement in the overall planning or facilitation of our organization visit. This time around, Juan and I were involved at every stage. Crafting the Fellowship’s stop at our org was also a very reflective process as we worked together to decide which aspect of Breakthrough’s expansive program we wanted to offer to our cohort.

In the end, we organized a restorative justice circle practice, inviting all Fellows to participate. Each participant introduced an item of personal significance before transitioning into a Q&A session with organizational leaders. The day concluded with a professional development session titled “Why College Success?” During this session, we provided a platform for Fellows to reflect on their college experiences and to underscore the necessity for our direct service as college success coaches. We also explored the various social barriers that impact the experiences of underrepresented minorities in higher education.

The “Why College Success” presentation was a personal highlight of the retreat for me. While my passion for eliminating classroom inequity led me to my Fellowship at Breakthrough, I’m not as close to the research aspect I was passionate about in undergrad—I now find myself addressing educational inequity research’s findings first-hand. Being able to connect the dots between social capital discrepancies, financial barriers, social belonging, and discrimination to the nuanced experiences of my caseload of Breakthrough alumni regrounded me in my motivations to expand educational equity. Aside from being able to reach back into my undergraduate passions, engaging all the Fellows in an exciting reflective discussion felt rewarding, since the room reflected my own passions. 

Aside from leading the Breakthrough site visit, returning to the same host organizations that we spent time with on my first retreat as a first-year Fellow also provided me with a chance to reflect on who I was two years ago and where I want to be two years from now. With each organization intentionally crafting and weaving professional development and Q&A sessions with a diverse set of organizational leaders, I naturally found myself reflecting with other Fellows between the sessions about how the experience or frameworks we had just heard could influence our professional and personal trajectories.

In my reflections, I found myself frequently returning to my interactions with members of research and evaluation teams. While my interest was initially sparked on the New York retreat in the Fall when visiting Jumpstart, visiting the Museum of Science and engaging in a Team-Based Inquiry workshop reignited this interest. Team-Based Inquiry (TBI) is an approach to research and evaluation that emphasizes collaboration among a group of individuals, such as museum visitors. The session provided a professional environment where my foundational knowledge felt directly applicable. The less formal process of evaluating programming interests me as a satisfying overlap of my passion for qualitative research and nonprofit work.

Being able to engage in first-hand observations proved to be incredibly valuable for me. It allowed me to immerse myself in my intersection of interests and gain direct insight into how visitors interacted with different exhibits while I engaged with them myself. Throughout sessions like the TBI workshop, I found myself especially aware of and grateful for the network of professionals that this Fellowship equips me with, as I am connected to people who enable me to further explore and discuss potential avenues in program evaluation.

My final retreat encapsulated the essence of my Fellowship journey—a transformative blend of personal growth, professional development, and meaningful connections. Looking ahead, I carry a renewed sense of purpose and a stronger commitment to positively impacting my community and any future collectives I join after my Fellowship!

Picture of Jahmali Matthews

Jahmali Matthews

Jahmali (she/her) is the Marketing & Communications FAO Schwarz Fellow Breakthrough Greater Boston.


Recap: New York City Fall 2023 Retreat

Boston and Philadelphia Fellows traveled to New York for the Fall 2023 retreat in October for five days of professional development and exciting social impact experiences at New York City host organizations. After arriving on Monday morning, the Fellows made their way to the Whitney Museum where they engaged in team building exercises led by Philadelphia Fellows Sophie and Kayla.

After a delicious pizza lunch, Whitney Fellow Sarika led a tour of Ruth Asawa Through Line: an exhibition highlighting drawing as the through line in Asawa’s work. Fellows were able to familiarize themselves with the more than one hundred works, many of which have never been exhibited before now. Following the tour, Fellows participated in a discussion with Adam Weinberg, Director of the Whitney Museum on his penultimate day in the role.

Whitney Fellow Sarika and Dyemma Simmons, Director of Social Impact, facilitated a session on Disability, Accessibility, and Inclusivity at the Whitney for the Fellows. To finish out the day, the Fellows had the opportunity to explore Henry Taylor: B Side: an exhibition recommended to the Fellows by Adam Weinberg. 

On Tuesday, the Fellows set sail to Governors Island to explore the work of New York City Audubon. The day began with a scenic ferry ride and an Island welcome from Jessica Wilson, Executive Director of NYC Audubon. NYC Audubon Fellow Jesse then led a tour of the organization’s seasonal environmental center, including the building’s bird-friendly glass displays. Fellows then had the opportunity to hear from Jessica Wilson, Executive Director, Saman Mahmood, Director of Advocacy and Engagement, and Roslyn Rivas, Public Programs Manager in a career-focused panel discussion followed by lunch at an Island eatery.

Afterwards, Fellows competed in an Island-wide scavenger hunt inspired by NYC Audubon Artist in Residence Carolyn Monastra’s Divergence of Birds exhibit. After traipsing the 172-acre urban island, Fellows headed back to Manhattan to explore Chinatown and Little Italy. Fellows ended the day with a Cantonese, family-style dinner.

On Wednesday, the Fellows began the day at Jumpstart with a discussion with Kate Warren Barnes, Vice President of Policy and Government Relations, focusing on how Jumpstart’s direct service and systems change efforts work in conjunction. Fellows were then led in an interactive session with Anita Emama, Director of Education & Research. Finally, Adanech Makey, Director of Civic Engagement & Advocacy, led the Fellows in a “Developing Ourselves as Community Change Agents” training.

Following the site visit to Jumpstart, Fellows walked the Highline to lunch at Chelsea Market with the option to listen to a queer history audio tour created by the Whitney Museum. Fellows then enjoyed a guided tour of Inheritance, a Whitney museum exhibition, led by exhibition curator Rujeko Hockley. Fellows closed out the day with an alt-text writing workshop led by Whitney Fellow Sarika. 

On Thursday, Fellows started the day at Year Up with an overview of the organization at the national level led by Malik Williams, Associate Director of Program. Fellows then evaluated the elevator pitches of 16 Year Up trainees followed by a networking session with trainees. Wil Valezquez, Program Director and Nadine Sylvester, Site Director led Fellows in a debrief of Thursday Forum and Year Up model. 

Next up, Fellows headed to the Museum of the City of New York for a guided “field trip” of the Museum’s centennial exhibition This is New York: 100 Years of Art and Pop Culture led by MCNY Fellow Natalia. The Fellows had the chance to hear from Stephanie Wilchfort, Director of MCNY about the mission and history of MCNY and her own career path. Wrapping up at the Museum, Fellows wrote their “personal mission statements” and explored more of the exhibitions.

Thursday evening was full of celebration as the Fellows connected with Fellowship alumni and trustees at a gathering at the FAO Schwarz toy store at Rockefeller Center. Current and former Fellows bonded over shared experiences and found connections in interests and career paths. 

On Friday, Fellows returned to Year Up for a morning of professional development led by Malik Williams. The Fellows identified their personal leadership style and explored their strengths and challenges as a leader. Finally, the cohorts gathered for a group reflection on the retreat before heading back to their respective cities after a long but rewarding week.

Picture of Jesse McLaughlin

Jesse McLaughlin

Jesse McLaughlin (he/him) is the Advocacy & Engagement Associate FAO Schwarz Fellow at NYC Audubon in New York City.


Juan and Nia work with clay at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia

Listening Partnerships: Making Space for Grounding and Reflection

One of the many perks of the Fellowship is having a community that shares in each other’s growth and learning as we navigate our various fields in the nonprofit sector. One way the Fellowship helps to facilitate this is through listening partnerships. We use this time to meet with another Fellow to connect and discuss how we’re feeling about our time within and outside of our host organizations.

Having this space allows for a time of reflection that can often get lost when you’re deep in your work. It’s a great time to center and ground yourself in the reason why you initially chose to join the nonprofit sector in the first place.

These conversations have really helped open myself up to thinking about my future beyond the Fellowship, but also how I can best make use of my time in the Fellowship.

The time I’ve spent with my listening partners have been refreshing breaths of air. A lot of the time, while there is a structure that we can follow, conversations usually start in finding comfort talking with someone that has shared experiences, later trailing off to new and deeper conversations.

The listening partnerships give structure to what is an inherent human trait: listening. By creating a space for meaningful listening, the Fellowship is being very intentional in the way we are introduced into spaces with our cohort, building important relationships and making deep connections. While there is structure around the listening partnerships, it isn’t something that has a rigidity that inhibits the potential for fluid and natural conversation and connection. Rather, it serves to prevent the potential for oppressive power dynamics to be introduced into the space.

I think it’s also important to name how these listening partnerships can serve as a vehicle for radical transformation. Naturally, this space opens itself up for the potential to share your experiences on a deeper level. These conversations have really helped open myself up to thinking about my future beyond the Fellowship, but also how I can best make use of my time in the Fellowship.

The best case of this can be found in my two most recent listening partnerships, one with Sophie (a first year Fellow at Audubon Mid-Atlantic) and another with Jasmin (a second-year Fellow at Jumpstart). I found myself leaving our time together with important takeaways. During my conversation with Sophie, in the midst of sharing both our personal and professional updates, I found myself truly taking the time to think and process the work that I’m actively doing. Having Sophie as my listening partner allowed me to ground myself in my work and really take a few steps back to reflect and engage with the past and present experiences I’ve had during the Fellowship.

At Breakthrough, I can sometimes find myself deeply focused on a task that I can forget to take a step back to actually reflect on all that I’m experiencing on a macro level. This isn’t to say that Breakthrough hasn’t provided me with rich and meaningful opportunities–in fact, Breakthrough has helped me learn and grow in a number of ways in a short span of time. Whether that be checking in with college students, assisting in afterschool programming, meeting and planning with our alumni committee, or sorting and updating our database. Talking with Sophie during our listening partnerships, however, I was able to step outside of my work at Breakthrough and see things at a higher level, and think about how my work there contributes to my life story, and start to question what it means for me to be in the position that I am and what I will be doing with the experiences I’m having in my future. It also helps to think outside of the framework of education, since most of our Fellows are working in different areas across the nonprofit sector, it’s interesting to see how we’re all contributing to our respective communities but in different ways.

With Jasmin as my listening partner, our conversation eased itself into talking about what her time after the Fellowship will look like. It made me start thinking about what path I’ll choose to undertake post-Fellowship. Jasmin mentioned how she will be pursuing graduate school and it made me start thinking about how much I would enjoy going back to school to get my master’s, potentially in a field related to advancing my career in nonprofits. 

These two conversations so far have grounded me both in the spaces I find myself in presently, and in my thoughts about my future beyond the Fellowship. They’ve sparked ideas on the multiple avenues I can pursue and helped me process how the work I’m doing now can be influential and play a part in whatever I aspire to accomplish in life.

Picture of Juan Mojica

Juan Mojica

Juan Mojica (he/him) is the College Success & Alumni Coordinator FAO Schwarz Fellow at Breakthrough Greater Boston.


Snapshots from the 2023 Philadelphia Professional Development Retreat

Current Fellows gathered in Philadelphia for three days of professional development and  immersion in social impact work.

The Fellows traveled from New York City and Boston to Philadelphia for the spring retreat in April. After arriving on Wednesday, Fellows headed to The Clay Studio where they had a rooftop lunch and reconnected with the cohort.

After lunch, Fellows went on a tour of the studio with Jennifer Martin, the Executive Director of The Clay Studio and then attended a professional development presentation with Adrienne Justice, Community Engagement Manager about the importance of social-emotional learning in curriculum development.

Fellows then transitioned into a ceramics workshop where they explored their identity and social-emotional themes. To finish out the day Fellows interacted with the after-school program and engaged in a project together where students and Fellows made tiles to be made into a collaborative piece. 

On Thursday, the Fellows visited The Discovery Center to engage with Audubon Mid-Atlantic. The day began with a bird walk where we explored Audubon grounds and identified birds with Center Manager Damien Ruffner. Fellows then engaged in conversation with Suzanne Biemiller, Executive Director and Angie Wenger, Director for Southeastern Pennsylvania Centers. Afterwards, Fellows participated in a mussel measuring workshop where they learned how mussels were used in watershed education. We then traveled to Reading Terminal for lunch and city exploration.

Some of the sites we visited were City Hall and Love Park. One Fellow noted that “the bonding time and conversations were so crucial in building relationships” Fellows returned to Audubon Mid-Atlantic for team building activities with Outward Bound and canoeing on the Strawberry Mansion Reservoir. 

Thursday evening was full of celebration and connection as the graduation for second-year fellows commenced. Speeches were held and graduation books given to Fellows as they reflected on their experiences in the Fellowship. This led into the alumni dinner where current fellows connected with alumni Fellows in Philadelphia. The dinner was illuminating as  alumni Fellows to share their career journey, current Fellows found points of connection and collaboration among organizations. As one Fellow said, “I feel like during this retreat we bonded as a group, and the activities played a big part in that.”

On Friday, Fellows returned to The Clay Studio for wheel throwing and reflections on the retreat before heading back to their respective cities after a tiring, but inspiring week.


Picture of Kayla Johnson

Kayla Johnson

Kayla Johnson (she/they) is the After-School Program Coordinator and FAO Schwarz Fellow at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia.

A Look Inside a Virtual Training Session with Host Organization, NYC Audubon

In early February, I had the privilege of leading a virtual training session for the other Fellows on the work of my host organization, NYC Audubon. Prior to the session, I worked with Priscilla Cohen, Executive Director of the Fellowship, and my supervisor Jessica Wilson, Executive Director of NYC Audubon, to craft an engaging hour and a half training that would give Fellows the ability to understand and articulate the mission of the organization and what they can do to help wild birds in their host cities.

In preparation for the virtual training session, I asked the other Fellows to spend 15 minutes looking for birds outside, encouraging them to take a photo or draw, if they’d like. I also asked them to reflect on the geographic landmarks of their “life journey.” For example, I was curious to hear where they were born, where they grew up, where they went to college, etc.

I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to share the work of my host organization with the other Fellows and broaden their perspectives to the incredible world of birds.

On the day of the virtual training session, Jessica started things off by giving context to the work of NYC Audubon and why understanding wildlife and habitat conservation as social justice is integral to the success of the movement. Once Fellows were settled in, they were prompted to map their “life journeys” on a shared Jamboard world map. We then spoke as a group about our geographical connections and the ways in which those journeys – much like the journeys of migratory birds – had been thrilling or surprising or difficult.

Fellows were then led through the seasonal migration of an Ovenbird (lovingly named Dimitri), through the Atlantic Flyway, the migration path that connects each of the three host cities: Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Along the way, Fellows shared descriptions, photos, and sketches of birds they noticed on their individual bird outings. Boston Fellow, Kira Azulay (Museum of Science), saw Double-crested Cormorants resting on wood pilings. Philadelphia Fellow, Sophie Becker-Klein (Audubon Mid-Atlantic) saw wintering Hooded Mergansers while walking the Discovery Center’s trails. And New York Fellow, Jasmin Norford (Jumpstart), saw the ubiquitous Rock Pigeon.

Along his migration, Dimitri the Ovenbird came up against several challenges, such as navigating Artificial Light at Night (ALAN), habitat loss, and glass windows. In response to these threats, the Fellows brainstormed ways they can help birds in each of the Fellowship host cities.

I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to share the work of my host organization with the other Fellows and broaden their perspectives to the incredible world of birds.

Picture of Jesse McLaughlin

Jesse McLaughlin

Jesse McLaughlin (he/him) is the Advocacy & Engagement Associate FAO Schwarz Fellow at NYC Audubon in New York City.


Abi reads a children's book to a Fellow at Reading Partners NYC.

Dear Future Fellow

H'Abigail Mlo (Fellowship '22) shares her perspective and advice with college seniors.

Dear Future Fellow,

Whether you’ve received an offer or are a prospective applicant: congratulations! You’ve come a long way from where you started, a doe-eyed college first-year, and you should be proud. You’ve worked hard, spent countless hours across countless desks, offices, and libraries, to be here. You’ve turned your tassel, or you’re about to, on an accomplished college career. The question of “What’s next?” has come up again and again from friends, family members, and professors. They mean well, but I’m sure it’s only making you more nervous for the future. I’ve been there.

Rather than describe my FAO Schwarz Fellowship in a single word, I’ll use three: challenging, fulfilling, and necessary.

If I could describe my senior year in a word, it would be frenzy. Not only did my year stop short because of the pandemic, but I was also juggling several things at once. Classes, work-study, an internship, an honors thesis, two student leadership roles, and, of course, job applications. Seemingly everyone around me had secured jobs by winter break. Perhaps you can relate. Prior to submitting my application for the FAO Schwarz Fellow role at Trust for Public Land, I submitted applications for six other fellowships and three full-time roles.

By April, I’d heard back from all but two organizations with a rejection. I received an offer from TPL that month. Also that month, I moved from my college dorm to my parent’s house. There, I completed my classes and internship, defended my honor’s thesis, and ultimately graduated college. I started the Fellowship soon after.

Rather than describe my FAO Schwarz Fellowship in a single word, I’ll use three: challenging, fulfilling, and necessary. Though these last two years have been challenging, I’ve had a fulfilling experience that has been necessary for my growth as a leader. I’ve learned so much about the field of environment and land protection, and about myself. I’m in a role I never imagined myself in–because I didn’t previously know it existed–and living in a city that I love. This is thanks to Trust for Public Land and the FAO Schwarz Fellowship.

Now, when asked, “What’s next?” I can proudly say I’m staying on at Trust for Public Land, taking on the position of Stewardship and Engagement Coordinator. I will also be closely connected with the Fellowship as an alumni mentor to an incoming Fellow.

I’m thankful to have grown alongside a cohort of incredible Fellows and to have met them in person recently for our retreat. My alumni mentor, Jen Benson, has been of immense support to me, as has the Fellowship director, Priscilla Cohen.

My advice is to cherish these next few years. Whether you’re in a Fellowship or with another employer, build strong connections within your organization and the community around you. Take advantage of the resources offered by your organization and the Fellowship, whether it’s a workshop, conference, or a coffee chat with someone you admire. Seek out learning opportunities, or ask for them. Lean into discomfort and into challenge. Take time off and rest for the sake of rest.

I’ve come a long way since June 1, 2020, just as you will in the years after you graduate. Trust me when I say time flies.

Good luck,


Picture of H'Abigail Mlo

H'Abigail Mlo

Abi completed her FAO Fellowship with The Trust for Public Land in Philadelphia in June of 2022. She has remained with the organization as Stewardship and Engagement Coordinator.

A graphic of the new Fellows

FAO Schwarz Fellowship Program announces recipients of 2022–2024 Fellowship Awards

BOSTON — MAY 12, 2022 The FAO Schwarz Family Foundation has announced the names of the seven recipients of the 2022 FAO Schwarz Fellowship in social impact.

The Foundation supports a new cohort of outstanding recent college graduates with paid, two-year Fellowship positions each year. Fellows work at leading nonprofit organizations in three cities. Alumni of the Fellowship program go on to hold leadership roles at nonprofit or public service organizations and programs, attend prestigious graduate programs, and start their own organizations. This selective, domestic Fellowship is one of a few programs of its kind focused on social impact leadership.

“We are so impressed with this cohort’s dedication to social equity, and the breadth and depth of their experiences."

In Boston, Vanessa Barragán (Pacific Grove, CA), a Biology & Society and English major from Cornell University will be a Fellow at The Food Project. Jahmali Matthews (Boston, MA), a Sociology and Creative Writing major from Hamilton College, and Juan Mojica (Dallas, TX) an Anthropology major and Race and Ethnicity studies minor from Southwestern University, will be Fellows at Breakthrough Greater Boston. 

In New York City, Jesse McLaughlin (Brooklyn, NY), who graduated in January from  New York University  with an Animal Studies, Philosophy of Science, and the Art Practice major, will work at New York City Audubon, and Natalia Wang (Chicago, IL) an Art History major and Chemistry, Art Theory & Practice minor from Northwestern University, will be at the Museum of the City of New York.

Kayla Johnson (Philadelphia, PA), a Human Development & Community Engagement major from Temple University will join The Clay Studio in Philadelphia for her Fellowship. Sophie Becker-Klein (Hockessin, DE), an Environmental Science major and Education Studies minor from American University will join Audubon Mid Atlantic, also in Philadelphia.

The Fellowship program seeks recent college graduates interested in developing their potential as leaders in the world of equity and social impact. The program provides each Fellow with a two-year paid position at a leading nonprofit host organization where they gain skills, expertise, and knowledge. The Fellowship also includes professional development experiences such as retreats, mentoring, and networking.

Jason Kelly Roberts, Associate Director with the Office of Fellowships at Northwestern University, says of the Fellowship program, “I love to recommend the FAO Schwarz Fellowship to my students–the Fellowship truly values the role of mentorship and community as students make the transition from full-time student to full-time professional. FAO leads the way in providing a foundation for growth and offers recipients an experience no other domestic fellowship program can match.”

“We are so impressed with this cohort’s dedication to social equity, and the breadth and depth of their experiences,” said Priscilla Cohen, Executive Director of the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation. “In partnership with our host organizations, we work to design transformative experiences that allow our Fellows to develop into social impact leaders. We look forward to watching them grow over the next two years, and to see the impact they make at their host organizations.”

About the 2022-2024 Host Organizations


Audubon Mid-Atlantic’s mission—like that of its parent organization, the National Audubon Society—is to protect the places that people and birds need today and tomorrow, through science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation.

Breakthrough Greater Boston (BTGB) empowers educational experiences for traditionally underrepresented students on their path to college and is also the largest pre-professional teacher training program in the country.

As artists, advocates, and educators, The Clay Studio is committed to ensuring the space, support, and inspiration necessary for expression and mastery in the ceramic arts. 

The Food Project’s mission is to create a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable food system.

The Museum of the City of New York fosters an understanding of the distinctive nature of urban life in the world’s most influential metropolis through engaging visitors in celebration, documentation, and interpretation of the city’s past, present, and future.

New York City Audubon is a grassroots community that works for the protection of wild birds and habitats in the five boroughs, improving the lives of New Yorkers.


A group of fellows smiling and dressed warmly standing on a beach- Nick, Joyce, Lauren, Erika, and Annie

Shared Knowledge, Experiences and Titles: Navigating the Fellowship as a Cohort

During the last few months of senior year, I made sure to internalize and grow comfortable with the fact that my first job out of college would neither be perfect nor easy. Regardless of what might come next, I knew this next chapter would require a transition out of the lifestyle I’d enjoyed for the past 16 years as a student, and I wanted to give myself grace with that thought in mind. READ MORE