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.