Aspen Institute Honors Rainah Berlowitz ’97 for Arts Education Work

Rainah Berlowitz ’97 has been working with Education Through Music (ETM) since his Project 55 fellowship placement in 1997. He now serves as the Director of Operations and last year he was awarded a prestigious Fellowship for Emerging Nonprofit Leaders from the Aspen Institute. We recently talked to him about his work, AlumniCorps, and the Aspen Institute fellowship.

You have been working with ETM for more than 15 years, beginning as a PP55 fellow. What has motivated you to continue you work for social change through ETM?

I believe that education – which to me includes music and arts education – is critical to helping all people reach their full potential. I was fortunate to have music class in elementary school, but it was always presented as “extra-curricular.” It didn’t bother me so much at the time, but in high school my questions about how the world worked were less about what and how and more about why. Then music and art became much more important. I began studying them more or less independently, because in high school they were deemed even less “curricular” than in elementary school. After a while, I stopped seeing music and art as being divided from other subjects. Seeing connections helped me learn things more quickly and made everything I learned more useful and meaningful. At the heart of ETM’s mission is the idea that learning in music supports learning in general, and that it provides the most transferable benefits when taught as a core discipline. It was the right fit. I continue my nonprofit work in part because I believe our vision is achievable, that all children in the US can have access to a high-quality music education, and I want to see it through to the best of my ability. It’s challenging work that I enjoy. And to be honest, I also continue here because of the leadership of our Executive Director Katherine Damkohler, who has been here since I started; the support of our board; and the sense of shared effort and achievement I felt with my co-workers, including those who have come and gone over the past 15 years. I’ve had a somewhat rare opportunity to build the rungs on my career ladder, to be entrepreneurial in my work right out of college. That experience gives me a sense of ownership and belonging that I’d say have been their own rewards.

I also would be remiss if I didn’t say something about Giving Opportunities to Others, (GOTO). In 2001, my AlumniCorps mentee Cameron Snaith ‘00 founded GOTO to engage young professional volunteers in raising money for summer arts camp scholarships for kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go. My volunteer work with GOTO provided me with innumerable opportunities to develop leadership skills and further reinforced the strong feeling I had about the virtue and importance of the sector. Over ten years later, I’m still an active GOTO volunteer, currently serving as board chair.

Can you speak about your experience in helping grow ETM? What have been some milestones of your work?

Helping to grow ETM has been an adventure. Getting major funding, getting rejected for major funding, going through growing pains, and especially seeing teammates come and go formed the basis for many emotional ups and downs. There have more than a few times that I’ve felt like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, only to have it yanked away. I think the best part has been working on developing a team that can do what we set out to accomplish most of the time.

One of the milestones in ETM’s growth was an $800,000+ US Department of Education award we received from 2005 to 2008 to evaluate, define, and disseminate our music education model. It was a unique accomplishment because it was incredibly selective. An enormous amount of work went into that proposal, but we pursued it despite the likelihood of rejection. Credit for that also needs to be shared with AlumniCorps Project 55 fellows Katherine Canning ’97 and Amy Muehlbauer ‘05.

The other big milestone was the start of our Licensed Affiliate organizations in other parts of the US, starting in Los Angeles with ETM-LA in 2006, led by Victoria Lanier ’99. Our second affiliate in San Francisco, ETM-Bay Area, was founded in 2008 and is currently led by Dylan Tatz ‘06. Trying to replicate or scale any program or business model is a challenge, and it’s one I believe we’re going to meet, benefiting thousands more children than we could on our own.

Having worked with Princeton AlumniCorps in multiple capacities – mentor, community partner, fellow – why do you continue to work with the organization, and what originally appealed you?

In addition to gratitude for the opportunity to experience an enlightening and meaningful fellowship that turned into an enlightening and meaningful career, it was the group’s focus on creating systemic change and on developing leadership among the fellows. I was inspired by the friendship and example of AlumniCorps greats like Chet Safian ’55, Sam Suratt ’55 and Judy Suratt, Pete Milano ’55, John Fish ’55, Margaret Crotty ’94, and many others. I enjoyed the opportunities to learn more about the social sector. Those events made a career in nonprofits seem more viable at a time when my frame of reference was very limited.

The opportunity to connect with the Project 55 fellows is always rewarding, and the opportunity to make use of their skills and passion as staff members is a privilege. Though AlumniCorps has become an ever more popular choice for
Princeton seniors, I still think it attracts the most capable and wise members of the undergraduate community.

Recently, you participated in a fellowship for Emerging Nonprofit Leaders with the Aspen Institute. What excited you about the fellowship? What did you gain from the experience?

What excited me most was the chance to engage other people at similar points in their careers, but in very diverse fields of nonprofit work, in answering the deeper questions about what we are doing and why we are doing it. What is the “good society”? Are people basically good or evil? Is the role of the leader to command or to empower? Is it wiser to work for change from outside the system or from within it? Where do human rights come from? Who or what determines what they are? But more than our collective answers to those questions, it was the process of responding to them that was the greatest benefit. I had to dust off my close reading skills as we invited Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Arthur Okun, Harriet Taylor Mill, Martin Luther King, Confucius, and many other great thinkers to lend their voices to the discussion. The facilitators made it difficult to get by with anything less than a complete understanding of each point of a writer’s argument, and I’m grateful to them for that.

A Fellow’s Experience: David Jean-Baptiste ’12

David Jean-Baptiste ’12 currently serves as a Project 55 fellow at the Better Boys Foundation in Chicago. Princeton AlumniCorps asked him to write about his work, his mentorship experience, and the regular seminars he attends organized by the Chicago committee.

“Listen, tell me what we can do for you. Think about it.” That’s what I often hear from my two mentors, Candace Jackson ‘00 and Emile Karafiol ‘55, each time they take me out to dinner. My normal response is to just stare back with a demure smile, half confused and half uneasy about the enormity of their request. Do I ask for general career advice? Advice about law school? Maybe I should go big and outright ask for a job? No, that’s crazy. “I’ll get back to you on that one,” I reply, effectively guaranteeing another awkward moment at our next dinner date.

This simple exchange captures the value of the Chicago Project 55 mentorship program. More than a means of getting a job or securing a free dinner (though I must confess, dinner is a nice perk), the mentorship program offers a way of navigating safely and comfortably the sometimes challenging transition between the Orange Bubble and the “real world.”

And, oh, how real the world away from the Orange Bubble has gotten. Immaculately manicured lawns have given way to unattended lots, gothic-style buildings have been replaced by barely standing row houses, and an overwhelming sense of safety has been replaced by a heightened sense of vigilance. On the West Side of Chicago—unlike the downtown loop, lakefront, and parks—there are no majestic skyscrapers gracing the airspace, no wide-eyed tourists walking the streets, and barely any greenery to break the grayness of the landscape. The lost potential demands your attention. The “corner kids,” the boarded-up storefronts, and the jerky movements of the disheveled addict weary from drug use all announce that what could have been or what could be has been muted by the weight of what is. This is North Lawndale, a part of Chicago that never makes its way into travel brochures.

As a tutor at the Better Boys Foundation (BBF), an afterschool organization that offers creative apprenticeships and tutoring to students between the ages of five and eighteen, I’ve witnessed firsthand the effects that growing up in such an environment can have on young people. Far from being unaware of the implications of what they see around them, the youth of North Lawndale keenly understand that the odds are stacked against them, that most people have written them off, that societal benefits reach them last and its ills reach them first. It’s the kind of awareness that makes young people here deeply skeptical, not just of their own abilities, but also of the people and institutions that inhabit their community. Through my daily interactions with my students, one thing has become abundantly clear: Despite the circumstances of their physical environment, my students remain hopeful—hopeful that one day they’ll leave North Lawndale, attend college, and secure for themselves lives better than distant onlookers think are possible.

This and other insights come together during our weekly seminars, which we share with Public Interest Program fellows from Northwestern and the University of Chicago. We come from our respective universities bearing our school pride, interests, worldviews, and insights. Some fellows are particularly concerned about LGBT issues, some about the quality of inner city schools, and others, still, about inequality in the workplace. At the center of our seminars is usually a local speaker—the head of a nonprofit organization or a public official—who endures the heat of our interrogation. It all makes for a robust and sometimes colorful conversation, a precious commodity when adjusting to life without lectures and precepts. Together, we’ve gone toe to toe with Bill Ayers about the legitimacy of the recent Chicago Teachers Union strike, explored Chicago’s dire fiscal challenges with State Senator Heather Steans ‘85, and delved into the intricacies of the Federal court system with Assistant US Attorney Sharon Fairley ‘82 as our guide.

What has emerged for us fellows—out of this combination of on-the-ground experiences, seminars, mentors, and friendships—is not any grand epiphany, or a simple solution to Chicago’s or our nation’s many challenges, but instead a mature sense of our limitations both as individuals and as a group. No, we haven’t abandoned our ideals, goals, and aspirations, but, rather, we’ve learned that if we are to affect real change, then we must become more intimate with our various causes. Don’t spread yourself too thin and too broadly. Start at the local level, and focus narrowly, intensely, and passionately on those causes. As a result of what we’re learning in our fellowships, we’re growing up fast, and with our hopes bruised but intact.

Listening to Our Partner Organizations: Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program

Jim Farrin ’58, Executive Director of the Princeton-based Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program, shares his thoughts on how a partnership with Princeton AlumniCorps has contributed to his organization. Community Volunteers recently recruited two graduates—Haley White ’12 and Beverly Thomison-Sadia ’85—to develop a national expansion plan for the Petey Greene prison education program.

The Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program takes Princeton University students and community members to nearby prisons to help incarcerated students improve their reading, writing, and math skills. We are currently operating in  two prisons in Bordentown, New Jersey: Albert C. Wagner and Garden State Youth Correctional Facility, which are adjacent to each other about thirty five miles away from campus. The program is five years old and has expanded to four additional colleges in New Jersey. Our student leadership group has just set up a club on campus called SPEAR (Students for Prison Education and Reform).  Our vision is to take our program national, and we needed to have a business plan developed to act as a roadmap for our expansion.

Princeton AlumniCorps  recruited two Princeton alumni: Haley White ’12, who volunteered with Petey Greene as an undergraduate, and Beverly Thomison-Sadia ’85, a former health care project executive. We three intergenerational Princeton graduates are working to complete an expansion plan by April to present to the Petey Greene board. There is no way that this would be possible without Haley and Beverly. I am very grateful for their participation at this crucial stage of our growth!

For information about other Community Volunteers projects, visit www.AlumniCorps.org.

Princeton AlumniCorps Regional Updates

BOSTON

The Boston PP55 program had an exciting fall. In November, members of the Boston AlumniCorps community visited Cradles to Crayons, an organization that aims to provide children in the Boston area with essential items that may be inaccessible. As volunteers, we sorted through clothing and arranged outfits for children from 0-7 years old. Alongside all the adorableness, it was a great opportunity for fellows to see how a nonprofit successfully mobilizes a large volunteer base to meet its goals. In early January we held a post-holiday dinner event with Harvard CPIC fellows at Park, a restaurant in Harvard Square! Finally, on January 24th we visited the Environmental Defense Fund, which works to develop solutions to environmental problems, often through partnerships with large corporations such as Wal-Mart. We discussed everything from natural gas fracking to deforestation and beef production to the development of the Starbucks sleeve!

CHICAGO

Since October the Chicago PP55 fellows have met for weekly seminars with their Public Interest Program counterparts from Northwestern and the University of Chicago. Topics focused on in these seminars included the charter school movement, the turnaround plans for the most troubled Chicago public schools, the legal services available for poor and disadvantaged Chicagoans, the pro bono legal efforts at one of Chicago’s largest law firms, the work of prosecutors and public defenders in the federal court system, and the mission and programs of one of the most active LGBT community centers in the country. On November 15, a total of 56 fellows—20 Princeton, 20 UC, and 16 Northwestern—attended a session with Eboo Patel, noted author and ED of Interfaith Youth Corps. A well-attended holiday party for all Princeton, Northwestern, and University of Chicago fellows took place in December, hosted by some of the fellows. AlumniCorps Executive Director Andrew Nurkin and Project 55 Program Manager Paul Nehring ’10 visited Chicago in October.

CONNECTICUT

The Connecticut PP55 Program has two fellows placed at The Housing Development Fund (HDF). PP55 Fellow Sabrina Szeto ’12 actively supported the stakeholder engagement process for HDF, co-wrote the report together with the committee chairs and was given the opportunity to present the recommendations at state-level technical meetings and conferences. This work built directly on the efforts of Tiffany Lee ’11, the outgoing PP55 fellow, who played a crucial role in organizing a strategic simulation on residential energy efficiency in March 2012. HDF is launching new and innovative loan programs in Q1 2013 that will enable first-time homebuyers to become landlord entrepreneurs living in rehabilitated 2-4 multifamily units. They will also have access to financing to weatherize their homes and lower their monthly energy bills via the Cozy Home Loan. PP55 Fellow Mary Thierry ’12 makes this possible through her work in development and communications at HDF.

NEW YORK

The November 14th seminar was a lively debate and discussion on the criminal justice system featuring Peter Kougasian ’76, Special Assistant in the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutors, and Robin Steinberg, Founder and Executive Director of the Bronx Defenders. In December, Chet Safian ’55 and his wife Jenny Safian hosted our annual holiday party at their home. Former and current fellows, Board members, NYC area committee representatives and AlumniCorps staff were in attendance. The January seminar included a tour of the Hispanic Society of America led by Marcus Burke ’69, Senior Curator at the Hispanic Society of America. February will feature two exciting fellowship events. The first will be the Career and Networking night hosted by Arthur ’64 and Laurie Malman, parents of Dana Warren ‘03. On February 27th, we’ll be having one of our most exciting seminars yet with special guests Anne Marie Slaughter ’80, Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and Andrew Romano ’04, a senior writer at Newsweek. The seminar will be at the Princeton Club of New York and the discussion will be centered around Professor Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

The NYC Emerging Leaders closing reception was held on January 17th at Locus Analytics.

PHILADELPHIA

The Philadelphia area is currently organizing groups of Princeton Alumni to make and serve dinners at the Ronald McDonald Houses in the city. We have one coming up on Sunday, March 10th. If you are in the Philadelphia area and interested in volunteering at this or other opportunities, contact Katie Thaeder at katie.thaeder@gmail.com.

PRINCETON

Community Volunteers recently placed two volunteers with the Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program. Haley White ’12 and Beverly Thomison-Sadia ’85 are working with Jim Farrin ’58 on an expansion plan to present to the Petey Greene board.

THE BAY AREA

The Bay Area is home to two Project 55 fellows this year, Tiffany Lee ’11, working at NewSchools Venture Fund and Nilan Schnure ’12, at the UCSF Breast Cancer Center. In October, the Project 55 fellows were a part of a Graduate School Networking Mixer. The fellows had an opportunity to meet alumni in other fields and receive advice on career paths and applying to graduate school.

The Bay Area also received a welcomed visit from Paul Nehring ’10, Project 55 Program Manager. He met with several current and potential partner agencies as well as gathering with fellows for dinner.

Nilan Schnure '12, Tiffany Lee '11, Paul Nehring '10, and Julie Rubinger '09 coordinating the strong and growing Bay Area committee.

WASHINGTON DC

Rachel Sverdlove '11, Bill Leahy '66, Carol Dreibelbis '11, Jenna Skowronski '11, and Alan Reynolds '11 gathered to celebrate the holidays with a delicious potluck dinner.

In November, sixteen Project 55 and Alumni Network fellows attended a seminar entitled “Managing Workplace
Relationships,” led by Lisa Lazarus ’02 and Charity Fesler ’01. Thisin-depth, hands-on seminar employed concepts and strategies from Sustained Dialogue to help fellows develop skills for managing up and building productive, meaningful professional relationships.

In early December, a number of Project 55 fellows, fellowship alumni, and a former AlumniCorps Board president gathered to celebrate the holidays with a delicious potluck dinner. Pictured left are Rachel Sverdlove ’11, Bill Leahy ’66, Carol Dreibelbis ’11, Jenna Skowronski ’11, and Alan Reynolds ’11.

In mid-January, over a dozen Project 55 and Alumni Network fellows came together for a seminar entitled “Planning Your Next Move,” which focused on learning how to chart career paths and develop a strong resume. Project 55 was very lucky to again have as a guest speaker Katie McNerney, the founder of LeaderFit, an executive search firm targeting placements in social impact organizations. Katie focused her discussion on how to harness the power of one’s personal passions and professional connections to secure challenging and satisfying job placements, using her own inspiring career path as a case study. Also presenting was Ari Altman ’97, the chair of the DC area committee, who led the fellows in a hands-on resume-writing workshop, culminating in all the fellows drafting a resume entry for their current fellowship positions.

The DC Emerging Leaders closing reception was held on January 11th at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Emerging Leaders Expansion Year Ends with DC and NYC Celebrations

In January, members of the nonprofit community gathered in Washington, DC and New York City to congratulate the newly graduated Emerging Leaders Class of 2013. AlumniCorps Board and staff members, participants, employers, mentors, family members, and other supporters helped to celebrate the success of the program.

NYC Emerging Leaders Class of 2013

The receptions on January 11th and 17th culminated the second year of the program in Washington, DC and the first year in New York. Beginning in June 2012, participants gathered for monthly sessions featuring skill development activities, peer and facilitator coaching, and discussions with nonprofit executives who shared their expertise and insights. Emerging Leaders participants implemented their learned skills and leadership competencies through stretch projects designed in collaboration with their employers. The program’s goal is to build the capacity of the nonprofit sector to address complex public issues by equipping talented young managers with training, experiences, and relationships that will launch them into leadership roles.

Addressing the attendees of both the New York and DC celebrations, Princeton AlumniCorps President Kathy Miller ’77 detailed the goals of the program. “We help very talented young nonprofit managers grow into confident, skillful, and resilient leaders with more support, tools and practical knowledge than is available on the job, and with access to insights and connections they couldn’t easily reach.” She noted that the program’s emphasis on collaboration and networking within each cohort generates connections and partnerships that continue to serve participants and prevent isolation after they leave the program.

In discussing what she gained from Emerging Leaders, Ayana Woods ’98, Director of Education at the National Hemophilia Foundation, stated “I have a better understanding of my own path. I know what sustains and drains me. I know what I need to do to make a difference in the nonprofit field. I leave the last session with heightened self awareness, a wealth of knowledge, great skills, and great new set friends.”

Employers expressed their gratitude for the impact of the program on the work of their organizations. Rachael Swanson, Director of Volunteer and Community Partnerships for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, supervises New York Emerging Leader Taruna Devi Sadhoo. In commenting on how Sadhoo’s participation yielded immediate results for the rest of her staff, Swanson said that “Our whole team has read articles, taken reflection to a new level and has begun to take professional development even more seriously than before.  Taruna has also been able to use the skills and resources gained at Emerging Leaders with her student leaders.  I think the U.S. Fund for UNICEF has benefited tremendously from the program.”

Check our photos from DC and NYC.

 AlumniCorps will offer a third year of Emerging Leaders in DC and New York beginning in June 2013. Applications are due on March 15th and are open to: 

  • Graduates of any college or university
  • With 2-8 years of full-time work, including at least one year in the nonprofit sector
  • Who are currently employed in the nonprofit sector and have some degree of management responsibilities.

Emerging Leaders is Now Accepting Applications at www.AlumniCorps.org!

John Fish ’55 Given Social Change Award

AlumniCorps Chairman John Fish ’55 will be given the Livesay Award for Social Chance by the Colorado College Public Interest Fellowship Program (PIFP) for his role in inspiring the program at Colorado College, a program modeled after our PP55 Fellowship. At the April 30 award ceremony the 36 new fellows (22 year long, 14 summer interns) will be recognized.

After this inaugural year the Livesay Award will be given to the Colorado College PIFP gradate who has most significantly engaged in social change activities.

John has a long history with Colorado Colleges. In the early seventies he taught at the Colorado College summer school. In addition over 200 CC students have participated in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest Urban Studies Program where John taught for over 25 years.