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.