A Note from the President & Executive Director – Winter 2018

Princeton University in the winter

As a board member and volunteer in the Princeton area for the past several years, I had always looked forward to January and the opportunity to interview applicants for the Project 55 Fellowship. This year, I had the privilege of conducting the interviews as a staff member and it gave me a deeper appreciation not only for the countless hours the staff and our volunteer alumni interviewers spend reviewing applications materials and asking thought-provoking questions, but also for the potential impact of this, our flagship program, to transform the applicants and our partner organizations. As I marked the nine-month anniversary of assuming the Executive Director role, I told every applicant I interviewed that it is (still) one of my favorite parts of the job. This year we invited about 120 Princeton University seniors to interview for over 70 placements with many longstanding partner organizations as well as several new exciting opportunities. Students took time from their busy Reading Period and exam schedules to trek in the cold and snow to our office at 12 Stockton Street. Our staff is joined by AlumniCorps volunteers as we assess which placement might best fit each candidate’s skills, passions, career goals, and specific interests. The energy of these young people is palpable and contagious, not only in our interview rooms but throughout the office. In the midst of tumultuous domestic and international news, the earnest determination of these students gives us a sense of hope for the future.

One applicant I met with is a Dreamer who has already had a profound impact on her communities. Incredibly smart, caring, and capable, she is passionate about college access and is already an accomplished poet and artist. Another demonstrated great empathy and sensitivity while reflecting on the impacts of the Swim Team scandal last year and lit up when describing his thesis research. He met with successful asylum seekers to the US who are here because of persecutions for gender identity. We met a young woman determined to be a pediatrician who remained resilient and positive despite losing her mother to breast cancer while our applicant was a Princeton undergraduate. I spoke at length with another applicant about arts as cultural narrative, storytelling, and personal expression.  This brilliant senior from a family of educators believes strongly in the ability of theater to develop empathy. As I listened to the students share their passions and future plans, I was reminded of why we do what we do and why we seek to mobilize these soon-to-be-Princeton graduates for the public good.

AumniCorps ED Kef Kasdin ’85 (center, in blue with sunglasses) and other members of Rachel’s Network near the current Mexico-US border wall, November 2017.

I thrive on the personal interactions with our community and January was just the icing on the cake of a busy fall making connections in our network. In keeping with our Bold Idea Initiative’s focus on immigration issues, in November I traveled to the Mexico-US border with Rachel’s Network. As the Board Chair of Rachel’s Network, I liaised with grassroots leaders working for fairer outcomes for immigrant populations and safer, healthier environments for border communities. You can learn more about the trip on Rachel’s Network blog, here: https://rachelsnetwork.org/borderlandstrip.

In October I traveled to the Bay Area with our Director of Programs and Strategy, Caryn Tomljanovich. We met with current and prospective partner organizations, and the Area Committee hosted a get together with volunteers and Fellows in Oakland, CA at NewSchools Venture Fund.

As February approaches and our Fellowship candidates interview with the partner organizations to which we will have referred them, we switch focus to our Emerging Leaders program, which concludes with Closing Celebrations in New York City (February 13) and Washington, DC (February 15).  It’s amazing how time has flown since we selected these 32 high potential young managers last spring and kicked off the program in June.  The Closing Day and Celebration allows for reflection on and sharing of their experiences with each other, supervisors, family, and the broader AlumniCorps community, which welcomes them to continued learning, impact, and transformation. The Program builds capacity for these dedicated and self-aware leaders, both in themselves and for the nonprofits they are preparing to run.

Each opportunity to engage with our program participants and committed volunteers brings a renewed sense of purpose and energy to the work that we do at 12 Stockton. If you are reading this Shared Effort newsletter/ blog, then you are considered a part of the great ‘fishnet’ that is the AlumniCorps family. Here’s to another year of mobilizing people, organizations, and networks for the public good.

What is the impact of a Project 55 Fellowship? What partner organizations have told us…

What is the impact of a Project 55 Fellowship?

Princeton AlumniCorps, through the Project 55 Fellowship, Emerging Leaders, and ARC Innovators programs, provides ways for people to engage at every age.

Here are just a few of the many experiences that partner organization supervisors and contacts through the years have shared.

“All PP55 fellows I have worked with have been smart, capable, positive, hard-working, and great team members. They are always wonderful! Our fellow was WONDERFUL!!!  She had a great attitude, was a hard worker, and was eager to learn.”

Corey Merrill, Fourth Grade, Head of School, Community Day Public Charter School, Lawrence, MA   

“It’s great to have people coming in who are hard-working and enthusiastic, who are open to learning about the sector but who also bring new ideas and questions.”

Katherine Canning, Education Through Music, Inc., New York

“The [fellows] are always hard-working, smart, dedicated, and help infuse a lot of energy into the overall group.”

Meredith Buxton, UCSF Breast Care Center, San Francisco

“Our Fellow was a very strong staff person and performed just as strongly, if not better, than an entry-level staff member.”

Ilana Zafran, Umoja Student Development Corporation, Chicago

“We are delighted to continue partnering with AlumniCorps and look forward to adding a new fellow next year. The most worthwhile thing about the Project 55 program is having bright, energetic, curious young people adding value to our organization.”

Ann Ginsberg, Aeras, Rockville, MD

“PP55 Fellows are bright, committed, hard-working, ethical and passionate do-gooders. The Fellows are the reason a host organization ought to cast its lot with PP55. PP55 Fellows are of such high quality that any host organization smart enough to organize itself to take advantage of this great resource will find itself completely blessed.”

John Horan, North Lawndale College Prep, Chicago

“We have enjoyed our partnership with AlumniCorps. They provide training that allows the fellows to grow professionally during their time with the agency. It is great to work with the young talent. Our fellow was capable of producing high-level work early on in his fellowship and grew to the point of needing less direct supervision to accomplish tasks.”

Matt Vanover, Director of Public Education and Deputy Superintendent, Illinois State Board of Education

“From our perspective it is wonderful to have the services of a bright, motivated recent graduate for a year. As a non-profit organization, there is always more work than there are people to do it. As an organization that relies heavily on scientific analysis, having skilled, educated Fellows gives us a significant boost in being able to track and analyze literature. It is also always beneficial for an organization like ours to develop relationships with students who will go on to become the next generation of scholars and professionals.”

Dr. John Balbus, Environmental Defense, Washington, D.C.

We Needed the Best: Partner Organization Spotlight

Safer Foundation is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit providers of services designed exclusively for people with criminal records. They focus on helping their clients secure and maintain jobs because they understand that employment offers the best chance at successful re-entry. Sodiqa Williams ’05 has been Associate Vice President,  Policy and Strategy since 2014.

sodiqa-newWhy did you hire a Princeton Project 55 fellow?

As an alumna of the Princeton Project 55 program, I know the tremendous opportunity there is for a Princeton graduate entering the world of public interest. I started my career in public policy and politics eleven years ago as a Fellow for the then-Lt. Governor of the State of Illinois, who later became Governor. I wanted to afford the opportunity to another Princeton graduate to learn and work at one of the nation’s leading organizations in reentry and workforce development. In order to truly turn this nation around, we need the best and brightest working on critical criminal justice issues.

Also, I understand the tremendous talent and work-ethic of those who enroll in the PP55 program as an intern or fellow. I knew that in order to get Safer’s vision materialized we needed the best, and that was a PP55 Fellow.

What projects is your fellow working on?

Asawari came to Safer to lead our newly created Safer Policy Institute.  The Policy Institute provides weekly updates to synthesize the most important of the latest in the criminal justice system, and when possible, uses this synthesis to assess Illinois’ position and advance action. It is also a forum to mobilize action on impactful legislative developments. With Asawari’s leadership and excellent writing abilities – I suspect due to her in-depth knowledge of policy analysis and journalism – the Institute is quickly establishing Safer locally and internationally as a reliable source that can contribute to an advocate’s efforts in criminal justice and reentry policies. In addition, it is effectively re-directing the discourse on criminal justice reform to focus on reentry.

Asawari’s role, however, has not been confined to the Institute. She is now an integral part of the Policy and Advocacy Team. She has drafted testimony and high-level recommendations for state commissions, county boards, and government officials. Asawari also has been key in pushing legislation at the state level. We are currently working to push HB 5973, legislation that codifies for Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR)’s licensing purposes EEOC guidance on employing people with criminal records. It does so for the high growth professions of cosmetology, funeral services, accounting, real estate and roofing. EEOC guidance encourages consideration of mitigating factors such as time since commission of an offense, its nature and gravity, bearing upon job sought and evidence of rehabilitation. HB 5973 states that a conviction record directly related to the practice of a profession. If this legislation is enacted, I can confidently say Asawari played a big part in our success.

Asawari is also working on an initiative funded by JPMorgan Chase to engage health care employers in a national discussion about promising new opportunities to recruit and employ people with conviction records. While the industry has historically been closed to this population, the initiative aims to expand and diversify the pipeline of applicants seeking health care employment to meet the significant demand for qualified workers.

What is the value to your organization of having a Princeton Project 55 fellow?

Asawari has brought tremendous value to Safer; there are now two brainy people who are excellent writers! Before she arrived, I was able to do some great innovative work but now she is helping me with research and drafting of policy documents. Now our ability to make significant substantive impact has tripled.

In particular, I am ecstatic to have a Princeton Project 55 fellow like Asawari because I know I can trust her when I delegate a project. She not only provides exactly what I asked for but also an excellent work product. With our fast-paced environment and small staff, matched with very high expectations from senior leadership, it is critical that I have someone on my team who can keep pace with us as we are repeatedly called for our advice and guidance, as we continue to advocate for policies allowing equal employment opportunities for all, and as we develop new opportunities in high-growth industries.

Asawari has done such a fantastic job Safer has made her an offer to become our Public Policy &  Legislative Affairs Coordinator at the end of her fellowship in 2016.

What is the impact on your beneficiaries of having a Project 55 fellow?

The impact can be seen now and will be seen for many years into the future as we continue to open historically closed doors  in high-growth industries such as healthcare, remove barriers to employment opportunities, and recommend to top government officials and agencies cost-effective, evidence-based practices that will reduce recidivism and save taxpayers’ dollars.

If you were sum up the experience in one or two sentences for a blog post, what would you say?

Having a Princeton Project 55 Fellow is the best short-term and long-term investment organizations can make not only to build up their internal capacity, but also to make significant positive impact. These Fellows are the best and brightest who lend their intelligence, skills, drive and determination to advance critically important causes.

This article is part of a series spotlighting the impact of our programs.

Catching Up With AlumniCorps in Chicago

unnamed (4)In early November, AlumniCorps Executive Director Andrew Nurkin, Partnership Manager Caryn Tomjlanovich, and Development Director Sharon Keld ’80 spent two and a half packed days in Chicago, visiting partner organizations and longtime supporters. Among the partner organizations they met with were the Steans Family Foundation, Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, Better Boys Foundation, and North Lawndale Employment Network. They also sat in on a strategy session with the Chicago Area Committee, met with Chicago supporters and Board members, and caught up with counterparts at the University of Chicago Public Interest Program and Northwestern’s fellowship program.

Andrew, Caryn, and Sharon joined current fellows, mentors, and other Area Committee members for a pizza party at the offices of Jeff Sharp ’80. There’s nothing like Chicago pizza to bring the AlumniCorps community together! The next morning, the staff and Area Committee volunteers attended the weekly seminar that is held for the Princeton Project 55, University of Chicago PIP, and Northwestern fellows, about 50 in all. Hosted by Princeton Project 55 fellow Calvin Gross ’15, employees of Lawndale Christian Health Center talked about their challenges and successes providing access to health care in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

OpenBiome Welcomes its First Project 55 Fellows

Founded in 2013 by former roommates, Mark Smith ’09 and James Burgess ’09, OpenBiome was created after the two observed a friend suffering from the infection C. difficile. Afflicting half a million Americans annually, C.difficile causes severe pain, frequent diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite and, in tens of thousands of cases each year, death.

While antibiotics usually cure those with C. diff, one in five patients face antibiotic-resistant infections.  The good news is that there is a solution, known as fecal transplant, that cures the vast majority of these patients, virtually overnight.   A fecal transplant is exactly what it sounds like—stool from a healthy person is transplanted into the colon of a sick individual.  The human body, incredibly, takes care of the rest.

Prior to OpenBiome, few physicians offered fecal transplant due to the cost and complexity associated with the therapy.  Open Biome fills a crucial gap in public heath by providing pre-screened, frozen still aliquots to doctors and hospitals nationwide. With over 150 hospitals in 36 states as part of their network, OpenBiome aspires to put 90% of the population within a two hour drive of this life saving treatment.

Open Biome will be the home to four Project 55 Fellows in the 2015-16 year; Rodrigo Munoz Rogers ‘ 13, Ryan Elliot ’14, Lindsay Eysenbach ’15 and Sasha Lieberman ’15.  Rodrigo will focus on clinical outreach and coordination, while Ryan will focus heavily on the clinical research done at OpenBiome. Lindsay and Sasha will both work on operations and management during their fellowship year.

Josh Grehan ’10, OpenBiome’s Director of Business Operations, expressed his excitement in bringing on a cohort of Project 55 Fellows for the first time. “During the interviews with PP55 applicants it became quickly apparent that OpenBiome would benefit immensely from their involvement with our organization.” Grehan continues, “We at OpenBiome are excited to work with the Project 55 fellows. The amazing talent they posses and the enthusiasm they have will really push OpenBiome to the next level.”

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.