Social Impact

Fellowship Alums Share Social Impact Resources

We asked current and alum Fellows to share their perspectives on their careers, social challenges, and resources that have influenced them in their careers, and more broadly, the world of social impact. This is the final part of a four-part series.

What is the most interesting book you’ve read or podcast you’ve listened to on social impact?

Julia MacMahon ‘10: 

I just finished listening to season 5 of Scene on Radio: “The Repair”, which explores the roots of the climate crisis and what went wrong with our (the West’s) relationship with the natural world. It’s really thought-provoking and has helped me to place a lot of my feelings of ambivalence about the modern world and how many of our systems function.

Jesse McLaughlin ‘24:

Staying with the Trouble by Donna Haraway is a potent reminder of the interconnectedness of all creatures (human and non-human) in the messy struggle for justice and equity on a damaged planet.

Kayla Hopgood ‘14:

An important read for me was Words for a Dying World: Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church. The author, Hannah Malcolm, basically makes the argument that in order to make any sort of meaningful impact on the climate crisis we need to learn how to grieve. Proper grief should propel us to act. When we consider social impact we do need to consider the philosophical, religious, and psychological underpinnings many of our greatest injustices carry. That’s part of the work I do as a minister. 

Ciara Williams ‘18:

I really enjoyed the book Prison Land: Mapping Carceral Power across Neoliberal America by Brett Story. I also enjoy The Red Nation podcast hosted by Nick Estes and Jen Marley.

Quick Recommendations

Fellows shared so many great recommendations, we had to include more!

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba – Recommended by Jen Benson ‘17, Lauren Hurley ‘20

“My most recent favorite podcasts is a two-parter from Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast about Immunity to Change with Lisa Lahey. It’s not necessarily specific to social impact, but it just a fantastic walkthrough of how to set realistic and impactful goals and then actually accomplish them.” – Recommended by Dawn Lavalle ‘16

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer—beautiful and eye-opening book!” – Recommended by Charlotte Blackman ‘22

Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown (as well as the podcast they co-host with their sister, Autumn Brown, called “How to Survive the End of the World”). – Recommended by Sarah Kacevich

“If you’re interested in starting up a business, I recommend reading The Lapsed Anarchists Guide to Building a Better Business by Ari Weinzweig.” – Recommended by Emily Vikre ‘08

“I listen to a podcast called Code Switch that tackles topics around race, ethnicity, and pop culture.” – Recommended by Nia Atkins ‘23

“I highly recommend listening to Maintenance Phase, which deconstructs the research behind science and health fads, and talks a lot about anti-fat bias.” – Recommended by Mariah Peebles ‘11

Fellowship Alums Discuss Social Challenges

We asked current and alum Fellows to share their perspectives on their careers, social challenges, and resources that have influenced them in their careers, and more broadly, the world of social impact. This is the third in a four-part series.

What social challenges do you believe are the most important to solve?

Nick Mitch ‘20: 

No matter what specific sector you’re working in, I think it is critically important to consider how the built environment shapes outcomes. Too often, we take this context for granted and miss opportunities for more transformative change.

Michael McNeill-Martinez ‘14:

Access to resources that make people feel safe, supported, healthy, and more educated have all taken a hit in the last 5-7 years due to a variety of factors. This is especially crucial for young people who already have to deal with their own challenges in self-discovery and reflection as they mature and try to navigate modern society. We need to ensure that a myriad of programs are in place to ensure that there is equity for all, and people can move forward feeling a sense of fulfillment and long-term stability. 

Serena Salgado ‘22:

I think one of the most important social challenges to solve actually has to do with the way social impact is funded. It’s clear that many of the world’s wealthiest people like the idea of funding organizations but just how to do it (and maximize impact while doing so) is such a huge question. How do we direct wealth into the hands of community leaders without attaching so many strings? Let me know when you find out! 

SHARE THIS STORY

Fellowship Alums Discuss Their Career Paths

We asked current and alum Fellows to share their perspectives on their careers, social challenges, and resources that have influenced them in their careers, and more broadly, the world of social impact. This is the second in a four-part series.

Tell us a little about your career path after the Fellowship. How did the Fellowship experience influence your career path?


Joe Rosales ‘16: 

My Fellowship at Breakthrough New York was my first foray into education – I came into my role as High School Coordinator with very little student-facing experience, but I learned a tremendous amount in my two years on staff. While my role had me working with ninth through twelfth graders and on various projects, I surmised early on that my strongest passion came with counseling. I followed that instinct into more singular roles until I landed my current position: a college counselor at a public school in Queens. I love it!

Molly Blake ‘19:

The fellowship truly influenced my passion for education and took me on a route to my current company Panorama. I have loved getting to see the impact of social-emotional learning from a high level and impacting districts across the country. My next move is to hopefully get into expansion work and continuously help districts with behavior issues in school districts. The Fellowship empowered me to take this leap into education and lead with grace. I am very appreciative of that. 

Maley Parilla ‘12:

Prior to finding the Fellowship I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in my career, besides that I wanted to do something in education but did not want to be a teacher. The Fellowship helped me learn of all the different ways this type of career could be possible and introduced me to all aspects of non-profit work. It gave me the space to try fieldwork and administrative work. The fellowship and working at Jumpstart were formative for me–through these opportunities, I figured out that I wanted to be a Social Worker. The Fellowship and working for Jumpstart gave me such great experience prior to entering the Social Work field and gave me a leg up in terms of experience and opportunities that I could pursue both in grad school and following grad school. 

Abi Mlo ‘22:

If it weren’t for my fellowship at the Trust for Public Land, I would have never landed myself a job working in a land protection nonprofit with an emphasis on increasing access to the outdoors. While I don’t plan to stay at TPL forever, I feel forever touched by the organization’s mission and I plan to continue this effort no matter where I end up next. 

SHARE THIS STORY

Fellowship Alums Share Career Advice

We asked current and alum Fellows to share their perspectives on their careers, social challenges, and resources that have influenced them in their careers, and more broadly, the world of social impact. This is the first in a four-part series.

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

 

Emily Hynes ‘21: 

Something from my fellowship experience that has helped me begin to discover my career path was the opportunity to do so many different things in my fellow role. That opportunity gave me both the skills to work in many different areas at future jobs, which I’m currently doing in my new role, as well as the insight into different job areas that has helped me narrow down what I want to do in the future in my career.

Jonathan Baez ‘14:

Be a sponge and absorb as much as you can wherever you can. One of the worst things one can do at the start of their career is to think you know it all. Seek a mentor and seek to grow to your full potential. 

Karen Wilber ‘18:

I’ve been lucky to have many amazing managers, and having a great manager can significantly influence your job happiness and professional development success, so if you’re interviewing ask good questions about who will be supervising you and how they support those they work with.

Kayla Jones ‘19:

Keep making the next best step. I know there is a lot of pressure for recent college grads to have everything figured out. There isn’t a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ choice to make. Instead, trust that your intuition and passion will help guide your decisions. A path gets determined by a number of steps. Make that next step, even if it feels scary. Taking a step even when you’re scared shows how brave you are. Trust yourself, do your best, and you’ll be surprised by how much you can achieve. 

SHARE THIS STORY

Practicing Reflection on Community Engagement

At The Food Project, work follows the seasons—physically intensive summers of farmwork are followed by autumn’s final harvests, land closing ceremonies, and preparing farms for next year, which in turn leads into winters of logistical planning and final sales of the summer’s produce. So, as the intensity of outdoor work scaled down this year, with the beginnings of winter, our leadership held a week of all-staff meetings to reflect on the necessary changes to be made to our programs.

At the moment, our organization bases our work around three pillars of focus: Food, Youth, and Community. Even as our projects feature much overlap between these pillars, the focus areas allow us to create our goal outcomes, clarify our mission, and determine which programs are within our capacity and strengths as an organization. Thus, in revisiting our organization’s structure and plans this winter, we evaluated our current goals around the pillars extensively.

I feel grateful to be working for an organization that considers the practice of honest reflection and focused revision so significant.

During one of our meetings, leadership led staff through an exercise called the fishbowl, in which five people most involved in each pillar sat in a smaller inner circle whilst the rest of staff sat surrounding them. The inner circle would work on defining each pillar in regards to the work we do. If compelled to share their ideas as well, anyone from the outer circle could switch places with someone from the inner circle and take their turn to speak. Although a relatively small role, I felt very excited about being selected as one of the initial five to discuss the Community pillar.

Through my recent work managing the Build-A-Garden program—where we install raised garden beds for Boston residents and support them through growing their own food—I have become especially involved in our community engagement. Regularly interacting with residents via installations, workshops, seedling sales, etc., I observe ways in which our organization can improve our collaboration with the community, even as I am a relatively recent introduction to the organization. Thus, having the opportunity to share my perspectives on our community engagement not only empowered me to have a voice amongst our staff, but also gave me the opportunity to reflect on the genuine connections with the community I’ve made, and to recognize ways to positively influence my host organization’s future community collaborations.

Further, I see how our contributions to this discussion have since been integrated into organization-wide changes. In defining what community is at The Food Project, we generally found difficulty in determining a single, all-encompassing answer. While our organization creates its own immediate community, especially amongst the youth in our programs, we also engage with the broader community—sometimes in fleeting but meaningful one-time interactions, and sometimes with community members who work with us throughout their life. Recognizing this, through the reflections from our fishbowl and all-staff meetings, The Food Project has begun assessing the different kinds of community interactions we are involved in. The organization has also begun restructuring our programs, hoping to best leverage those community interactions to spark meaningful change.

I feel grateful to be working for an organization that considers the practice of honest reflection and focused revision so significant. While working in the nonprofit sector, I find it essential to regularly reflect on how our work must change alongside our changing communities. With springtime on the horizon, I look forward to further engaging our organization’s reflections and implementing them to support a flourishing community around gardening and food.

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.

SHARE THIS STORY

Jesse looking through binoculars with a group of people.

Imagining a Wild City

Sitting on a cold, mossy jetty, I watch the bottomless, blue Atlantic spill over the distant curve of the horizon. A few brave Herring Gulls swoop through the wind gusts overhead searching for small, beached crustaceans. I can also tell they’re curious if I’d bought a hotdog from Nathan’s before assuming my wintery perch. Turning my gaze to the idle boardwalk, Coney Island’s famous “Wonder Wheel” frames a distant metropolis.

 

According to Betsy McCulley, author of City at the Water’s Edge, “we tend to see nature and city in opposition.” A quiet, unspoiled, innocent nature is at the mercy of sprawling consumption; New York City is the hungry machine. Since its colonial origins as a Dutch trading post, New York City has concretized itself (quite literally) as a global center of human progress situated on one of the world’s largest natural harbors. But underneath the concrete floors and through the glass walls of approximately one million nearly indistinguishable buildings, lies a living truth: a human and non-human community inextricably linked to our bioregion.

As the FAO Schwarz Fellow at NYC Audubon, I am most interested in the intersectional challenges we face as an island megapolis in a time of global, anthropogenic change.

Imagine a Times Square where Red Maples and American Chestnuts grow nearly a hundred feet tall, providing shade, sustenance, and habitat for the critters below. Gray Wolves, Bobcats, and Mountain Lions survey the old-growth, deciduous forest floor for prey, like Eastern Cottontails and White-tailed Deer. The occasional Snapping Turtle wanders from the river to lay her eggs in the warm, rich earth; she’s careful not to become dinner for a lucky human. Though much of the biodiversity that once made up pre-1609 Mannahatta, the adjacent mainland (in the Bronx), Wamponomon (Queens and Brooklyn), and on the south side of the harbor (Staten Island) has been lost to colonial ecocide and aggressive urbanization, a group of warm-blooded vertebrates continues to remind us of the City’s wildness.

New York City is home to over 400 species of birds living in or stopping over its 193,700 acres of urban, wetland, forest, and grassland habitat. Every spring and fall, millions of birds repeat their ancient cycle of migration through New York City, journeying along the “Atlantic Flyway” in search of food and breeding opportunities. As the birds follow a promising, blue haze on the horizon, they’re no longer met with a forested island of Maples and Chestnuts; rather, choice green oases amidst a maze of reflective glass. According to New York City Audubon’s research, up to a quarter of a million of these migrating birds are killed in the City each year in collisions with building glass. Nevertheless, the birds return again to remind us, despite rapid habitat degradation and fragmentation, that this wild city was once – and still is – their home.

As the FAO Schwarz Fellow at NYC Audubon, I am most interested in the intersectional challenges we face as an island megapolis in a time of global, anthropogenic change. Environmental pressures – like urban development – disproportionately affect urban wildlife as well as communities of color, illuminating a clear relationship between issues like habitat loss and gentrification. In a time of global climate crisis, it must be understood that the outcomes for New York City, its human and non-human dwellers, and its bioregion are undoubtedly entangled. To best address this looming pan-ecological disaster, we must work to address the living truth of our home and our neighbors. We must reconfigure and reimagine the nature of the City, and develop intimate knowledges of this place and its critters. Though much of this place is covered in a concrete veneer and many of its critters scarce or destroyed, the birds lead us to little pockets of something different. The birds take us to the rooftops, the beaches, the cemeteries, and the parks. They announce their continued survival in soaring melodies over sirens and car horns. When we listen, we can no longer see our City as a triumph over nature or a testament to masterful technology. No longer protected by arrogant presumptions of human superiority, we become curious about the land we inhabit and our fellow City dwellers (human animals and non-human animals alike).

Riding the train home from Coney Island, I watch the vast, blue Atlantic fade behind new construction along the tracks. Rock Pigeons balance on the edges of the half-finished buildings’ harsh, modern design — I wonder who will live there, and I wonder who lived there before.

 

Sources:

McCully, Betsy. City at the Water’s Edge a Natural History of New York. Rivergate Books, an Imprint of Rutgers University Press, 2007.

“NYC Audubon,” https://www.nycaudubon.org/.

“The Welikia Project.” The Welikia (“Way-LEE-Kee-Uh”) Project, https://welikia.org/.

Hunt, Christian. “The Second Great American Extinction Event (1600s to 1900s).” Wild Without End, Defenders of Wildlife, 18 Nov. 2018, https://medium.com/wild-without-end/the-second-great-american-extinction-event-1600s-to-1900s-d6e07985116e.

Chaudhuri, Una. The Stage Lives of Animals: Zooësis and Performance. Routledge, an Imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

Picture of Jesse McLaughlin

Jesse McLaughlin

Jesse (he/him) is the Advocacy & Engagement Associate at NYC Audubon.

SHARE THIS STORY

Feature image by Anne Schwartz.

Kayla teaches a child to work with clay.

Community Education Spaces for Systemic Change

As an FAO Schwarz Fellow and the After-School Program Coordinator at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, and I also serve as a teaching artist within the organization. My direct service work happens with Claymobile (our mobile engagement program), as well as our in-house ceramic community events. One of my favorite direct service projects during my tenure so far was engaging with our Clay, Play, Read program, where we combine literacy programming and ceramics in each session for preschool-aged students. I was also able to take part in Clayfest, our yearly festival where we have all-day activities taking place throughout the studio.

Growing up in Philadelphia, I have always experienced access to multiple types of community education spaces like libraries, community centers, gardens, art studios, and more. My local library felt like a haven for me to learn about my interests, engage in craft projects, and go to events. My art experience was cut short in elementary school due to underfunding and I am now learning what it looks like to engage in art practice as self-care. As an adult, I look to community education spaces for practicing new hobbies, meeting with friends, and learning something new.

Social impact work has a goal of systemic change, and I believe that the prioritization of community spaces that encourage exploration is essential to that journey.

When I thought about what I wanted to study in college or choose as my career I always knew that I wanted to work in youth education, so I chose to study human development and community engagement. My experiences with community education spaces growing up taught me that there is always something more to discover in life. Community spaces, especially free or low-cost spaces encourage families, friends, and strangers to come together in collaboration to have a new experience, meet new people and ultimately feel safe. Starting work with my Fellowship at The Clay Studio this July showed me a new type of community education experience in the arts.

My special project work at The Clay Studio involves the creation of an after-school ceramics art program. The coordination of this program includes curriculum development, communication with schools, networking/marketing, enrollment, and registration. The age group is currently third through fifth grade and students come after school dismissal to the studio to hand-build, wheel throw, and make claymation films. This program is the first of its kind in this organization, giving us the ability to work with the same students for a long-term residency in our studio. The arts and ceramics, in particular, teach important skills to students such as patience, persistence, imagination, and play. Being able to create a space in our organization for this type of community to exist means that students get to practice their craft, engage with other children in their age group, and be welcomed with open arms.

In addition, the role includes community partnerships, and this has allowed me to contact local arts and culture organizations to collaborate with our after-school program and incorporate other forms of education in the program. One of the pillars of community education is simply offering a space that is available for people to spend time in without the expectation of spending money or working. Being able to spend time in this environment and create a program for children has been so rewarding because I have experienced the benefits of programs similar in my childhood.

As we as a city, country, and world are engaging with challenges related to social equity, safety, and isolation, I feel that the creation of community engagement and education programs will act as a protective factor for all. Social impact work has a goal of systemic change, and I believe that the prioritization of community spaces that encourage exploration is essential to that journey.

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.

SHARE THIS STORY

Nia Atkins is pictured on Zoom with hear Year Up coaching group

Stepping Into the Role of Coach at Year Up

Direct service is an incredibly important part of my work and everyone’s work at Year Up. Many other staff members and I engage in direct service by serving as coaches to small groups of young people—our coachees—as they progress through Year Up’s programming. No small task, coaching involves meeting multiple times a week with one’s coachees both as a group and one-on-one, providing feedback on various professional skills, presentations, and resumes, and offering consistent support through any challenges our young adults may face.

When I first joined Year Up in June 2021, I observed more seasoned coaches before becoming a coach myself. I got the opportunity to see many different coach-coachee interactions and learn about what it takes to foster and maintain a successful coach-coachee relationship. Veteran staff members talked to me about their experiences including past mistakes they may have made in their first few go-arounds and how they’ve learned and grown since then. Despite my access to a wealth of coaching resources, the thought of stepping into the role of “coach” myself, daunted me. I felt insecure about being similar in age to my coachees and worried that I would not yet know enough about Year Up programming to be helpful to them.

This past August—a little over a year into my Fellowship—I got to see my first group of coaches graduate Year Up, and all I could think about during the graduation ceremony was how proud I was of them.

In October of 2021, I became a coach for the first time. While I had lingering anxiety about my ability to succeed in the role, my multi-month tenure at Year Up had prepared me well. Additionally, I had the privilege of co-coaching with one of the most senior staff members at Year Up’s New York and New Jersey office. Together we guided a group of five students through an almost year-long journey full of highs and lows. I learned a lot about Year Up and about coaching from my co-coach. I also learned a lot from my coachees about the student experience at Year Up and about what Year Up means to them.

This past August—a little over a year into my Fellowship—I got to see my first group of coachees graduate Year Up, and all I could think about during the graduation ceremony was how proud I was of them. I had watched their shyness and uncertainty develop into confidence and authority. And I could not help but notice that I had gone through a similar journey as a coach. By the time of their graduation, I already had a second group of coachees in a new cohort, and everything had felt much easier and less stressful with them because I had done it all before. I was much more knowledgeable, confident, and commanding in my role, and as a result, I was a stronger coach than I’d been before. Moreover, I realized over the course of one year and two different coaching groups that I really love the direct service work I do! Coaching students is by far my favorite part of my Fellowship position.

This October we welcomed yet another new cohort of students, but this time is different in that it is my first time coaching by myself. I would be lying if I said I am not a little bit nervous to coach on my own, but anytime those nerves set in, I remember that my experience, commitment, and passion will continue to guide me in the right direction.

Picture of Nia Atkins

Nia Atkins

Nia Atkins (she/her) is the FAO Schwarz Fellow at Year Up New York | New Jersey.

SHARE THIS STORY

Jasmin reads to other Fellows at Reading Partners New York City.

Direct Service and Strategic Development in Social Impact Leadership

Entering my second year of the FAO Schwarz Fellowship this September, I have begun to reflect on many of the skills and opportunities for growth I have gained in just the last year. I am reminded of one of the program elements I was most excited for as a prospective applicant, a staple of the Fellowship’s structure that drew me to the program and to Jumpstart more specifically: the ability to split Fellowship responsibilities between direct service and strategic projects. This combination has become a valuable part of my experience, developed the important skills I have gained, and is an attribute of social impact leadership I now believe to be necessary for social impact leaders that seek real justice for communities.

 

Coming into the Fellowship, I was intrigued by the opportunity to work at the intersection of my skills. I was compelled by the program’s focus on engaging Fellows in both community and management through their work plans. Unlike many of the programs I looked into, the work structure of the Fellowship centered community advocacy and systems change simultaneously. Reading through the work plan listed for Jumpstart, I saw a combination of new skills and interests I wanted to foster that weren’t captured in other social impact or public administration programs. The work plan ranged from curriculum development to community event planning, and from program evaluation to Policy advocacy and lobbying. I saw the opportunity to combine strategic leadership projects with the direct, community-facing work that had originally drove me into the educational justice field.

The Fellowship experience has allowed me to build on both skills during my two years, developing an intersectional skill set that I feel should be necessary for all leaders in this sector.

Jumpstart as an organization prioritizes this mix of intervention efforts, combining the impacts of direct service and sector thought leadership and advocacy. With our organization’s focus on advancing the careers of Corps members as the main leaders in the direct service and education of preschool children, we are an organization with a foundation in direct service programming that through thought leadership, campaigns, and policy advocacy have advanced the early education advocacy system. This simultaneous connection between grassroots and grass tops work has both been a part of my role and has contributed to my vision that the balance between community-facing work and systems-focused change significantly and positively influences organizations like Jumpstart’s ability to achieve long-term, structural change. Connections to early education through our program partners, Corps members, educators, and communities influence our vision for structural change in the Early Childhood Education (ECE) system.

This integration of service and community engagement throughout the start of my social impact careers has been one of the most amazing parts of my Fellowship experience and has equipped me with skills I would not likely have gained in other spaces of work.  One of my current projects is working on garnering support for Jumpstart from University and Program partners around the country who can help support language we are crafting around increased protections for Federal Work Study students participating in service-learning programs. This policy-centered proposal requires leveraging skills in relationship building with elected officials, coalition building with grass tops peer organizations and simultaneously leveraging the relationships and connections we have made through serving children, teachers, and students at institutions of higher education. This advocacy effort has combined relationship and coalition-building skills on different ends of the sector, both coordinating grassroots voices of Corps members and educational institutions, alongside thought leadership and legislative support of elected officials. The combined strength of Jumpstart’s connection to college students, community service advocates and early education programs helps to create projects like these which connects community service and policy. While this work is complex, I have found that my most interesting, motivating, and challenging work rests between these spaces, and reminds me of the necessity of having skills at the intersection of strategy/systems-thinking and community-centered connection to create true change in the social impact sector.

The Fellowship experience has allowed me to build on both skills during my two years, developing an intersectional skill set that I feel should be necessary for all leaders in this sector. Importantly, this work demonstrates that nonprofits and community-based organizations have a unique power in the space of advocacy in social change, reaching both into grassroots and grass tops communities during intervention. From these necessary experiences, I encourage prospective and/or new Fellows to consider the value of the unique position to be immersed in the two sides of work that impact justice initiatives within our organizations. While many of us will continue into positions of management and leadership in the nonprofit world, or other spaces of leadership for social justice, these few years following undergrad are a great opportunity to remain grounded in service and to reflect on how best to center service in our future work. These few years post-grad have been necessary for gaining skills in work that remains grounded in community impact, in community voice, and that centers the leadership of communities I advocate for through policy. As I hopefully continue into leadership positions in this sector, I know this grounding will be necessary to inform my perspective on strategies for progress.

Picture of Jasmin Norford

Jasmin Norford

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

SHARE THIS STORY