Congratulations to Grif Johnson ’72, the first Princeton AlumniCorps Community Volunteer, who was named Board Chair of Wilderness Leadership and Learning (WILL), the organization with which he was partnered in 2010.
In 2010, the newly-retired Grif was looking for ways to get involved in the community. He heard about the Community Volunteers program and was paired up with WILL. The organization was founded 7 years ago by a then trial attorney in DC, Steve Abraham, who had a life-changing experience while he was hiking out west. He had a moment where he realized that a lot of kids in inner cities never have the opportunity to experience nature in this way. He wanted to find a way to marry the enormous potential of underprivileged young people with the opportunity to literally expand their vision, to stand on top of a mountain and look 360 degrees around and say, “Wow, I never knew there was such a thing.” That is how WILL was born.
Through a match facilitated by the AlumniCorps Community Volunteers program, Grif joined the WILL board. In 2011, he wrote this about his involvement: “Because WILL is currently a very small organization, as a board member, you have a choice of going to the quarterly meetings and making that the extent of your involvement, or you can also get involved in the programmatic activities. I would say that involvement in the programmatic functions of the organization and in more traditional board member service have both been deeply rewarding aspects that I have enjoyed spending time on. Of course my legal training is always there, and there are times in the discussion at the board level where my knowledge of the law has been particularly helpful, but what I was really looking for was a different rhythm, a different environment… I’ve found that my work with WILL has been especially rewarding because of the people involved, particularly the students.” Check out our feature story on Grif in the Shared Effort newsletter.
In the two years since that feature, his involvement has only increased. From the WILL newsletter: “Through all of this, Grif finds himself more committed to WILL than ever. ‘I’ve met and interacted with WILL youth, their parents and guardians, and our alumni/ae – I come back to the fact that these young people are going to play an important role in the future of our city and our country. I see them come into the WILL program with great promise, despite the sometimes challenging environments in which they find themselves. After a year in WILL, I see them graduate with a confidence, responsibility, and maturity that makes me optimistic about that future.’ WILL is honored to have Grif be the new Chair of the Board and Grif feels fortunate to have found the opportunity to assist WILL positively impact the lives of the youth it serves and thus the great DC community.” You can read more about WILL and Grif in the WILL newsletter.
On November 14, more than eighty members of the alumni community and nonprofit sector gathered at the Princeton Club of New York for a night of networking and conversation focused on encore careers and transitional opportunities in the social sector. Princeton AlumniCorps partnered with the Class of ’71 Legacy Initiative, Encore.org, and the Princeton Club of New York to bring alumni, Community Volunteers participants, current and former fellows, and a diverse group of local nonprofits together to launch the Community Volunteers program in New York.
The event marked the growing reach of the program. Beginning this winter, Community Volunteers will pair nonprofits in New York with experienced alumni looking for pro bono opportunities. Our goal is to offer nonprofits cost-free access to professional expertise. In turn, our nonprofit partners offer alumni skills-based volunteer opportunities to serve the community in which they live or work in a truly meaningful way.
The event featured Marci Alboher, author of The Encore Career Handbook and Vice President of Encore.org, whose mission to “promote second acts for the greater good” aligns with the goals of Community Volunteers. Anne Tergesen ’86, a Wall Street Journal reporter who writes about retirement, interviewed Marci about the encore career movement and then moderated a panel of alumni who have pursued work in the social sector. Panelists included Karen Ali ’78, a former lawyer who recently completed a Community Volunteers project in New Jersey, and Sharon Keld ’80, Development Officer at AlumniCorps and former Peace Corps volunteer and marketing professional.
Marci Alboher began by sharing her knowledge of encore and transitional careers. She explained that there are generally two types of people in the movement “leapers” and “planners.” Some people are meticulous about planning their encore career—attending classes, researching, conducting interviews—and others leap in where help is needed. She stressed that the nonprofit sector is the third largest sector in the United States and that opportunities to get involved and develop skills are abundant.
Panelist Sharon Keld ’80 talked about her experience transitioning from the business world to nonprofits. Noting that her work in marketing felt unfulfilling, she described her journey toward the nonprofit sector, which included earning a certificate in nonprofit management studies and multiple assignments with Peace Corps and Peace Corps Response. After returning from the Peace Corps, where she put her marketing background to work doing business development with Moroccan artisans, Sharon volunteered in a variety of roles until joining the AlumniCorps staff.
At the conclusion of the program, Judy Safian k’55 spoke about her father’s passion for AlumniCorps and Community Volunteers. Chet Safian ’55, was instrumental in starting the Project 55 Fellowship Program in New York and was its biggest champion for more than 20 years. Shortly before he passed away in April 2013 he began laying the groundwork for Community Volunteers to expand to New York. Judy noted that the Community Volunteers model was her father’s experience with AlumniCorps and she encouraged attendees to “get involved with Community Volunteers. It’s a great experience. It will expand your network and open your world in ways you never imagined. It changed my father’s life and it can change yours.”
Following a question and answer period, representatives from Encore.org offered additional advice to those looking for nonprofit opportunities. AlumniCorps partner organizations were also on hand to talk about the projects available through Community Volunteers. In the coming months, AlumniCorps will be working to match interested participants to partner organizations for short-term, high-impact projects in New York.
The event was organized by Program Leader Kef Kasdin ’85, New York lead volunteers Regina Lee ’85 and Scott Taylor ’75, and Program Director Rachel Benevento. The expansion of Community Volunteers is made possible by the Chet Safian Innovation Fund.
Bill Woodrow ’70 was seeking an opportunity to volunteer in the community and use his professional skills when he came across an environmental education project at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) that was offered through AlumniCorps’ Community Volunteers Program. PEEC advances environmental education, sustainable living and appreciation for nature through hands-on experiences in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Bill’s expertise and background aligned closely with the needs of PEEC. He immediately signed up to help fundraise and acquire material donations for the retrofitting of cabins at PEEC that would showcase environmental sustainability. He was also thrilled to work with Jeff Rosalsky ’85 who is PEEC’s Executive Director. At the same time, Edward Fashole-Luke ’15 was completing a Princeternship at PEEC and had the opportunity to connect with Bill.
Initially, Bill connected to the Princeton AlumniCorps during Princeton Global Net Night, a career-focused networking event organized locally by the Princeton Area Alumni Association and hosted by AlumniCorps. He was seeking new opportunities and among the alumni he met that night was Kef Kasdin ’85, the Community Volunteers Program Leader. Kef realized that Bill’s background and expertise would be a good fit with the project at PEEC.
In his words, Bill was interested in the project and Community Volunteers because, “I was immediately “wowed” by the entire concept of PEEC. Located in an absolutely gorgeous area in the Delaware Water Gap, it serves an amazing number of visitors each year, including 24,000 adults and 8,000 students, who are mostly from inner cities in the tri-state area. The kids participate in a fabulous two- to three-day educational session devoted to learning about and enjoying nature and the environment. I wanted to help PEEC offer their wonderful learning program to several hundred additional kids every year by procuring donated materials to winterize the older student cabins so they could be used year round. Finally, the project seemed to require some of the marketing and project management skills I had developed over my career.”
The project required Bill to find manufacturers willing to donate sufficient sustainable energy technology products to retrofit as many of the nine small student cabins as possible. Sought after items included roofing, siding, insulation, windows, heaters, flooring, bath fixtures and more. Bill also sought donations of new, leading-edge, renewable technology products to teach kids about near-term technology advances.
Bill worked on the program remotely and procured, from global chemical company BASF, thermal insulation for the cabins, as well as “instant-on” expensive hot water heaters from WaiWela. He was also able to get donated HardiePlank lap siding, an environmentally sustainable product that will last up to 50 years. Working closely with Jeff, he was able to provide companies with specific benefits for their donations including positive press and tax deductions for the full value of the material donated. Supporting companies also benefited from the joy of contributing directly to PEEC to help make their nature programs available for up to an additional 1,000, mostly inner city school children, each year. For ever $150 worth of material donated new scholarships were created to bring more children to the program. Companies also enjoyed additional advertising exposure to 24,000 adults and 8,000 children who visit the center each year.
During the project, Bill was able to use his existing skills in marketing and project management developed over 30+ years at large and small companies. He put together a “sales piece” that described PEEC, the project, its objectives, timing, and the benefits that could motivate manufacturers to donate material. For Bill, a key benefit of volunteering at PEEC was the opportunity to upgrade his fundraising skills. After completing the project, Bill says that, “The most rewarding aspects for me have been teaming up with other Princeton alumni to accomplish something worthwhile and giving back, using skills acquired over the course of my career. Specifically, helping to improve PEEC’s infrastructure, and at the same time working on a project that will enable more kids to attend and benefit from their exciting programs every year has been very gratifying.”
While Bill found the involvement with Community Volunteers extremely worthwhile, Jeff Rosalsky ’85 also found that PEEC benefited greatly from Bill’s involvement and encourages alumni to work with AlumniCorps as a “perfect test drive” to find their way to give back. According to Jeff, “AlumniCorps provides the human resources to help non profits accomplish their dream projects.” Of Bill’s work on the project, Jeff is deeply appreciative and recognizes that Bill has been a tremendous asset and highly successful in acquiring the needed material donations. Jeff remarked, “With over 30 years of knowledge, he had the skill set to make the economic case and get manufacturers to commit to making their product donations. I think the key has been a combination of knowing how to approach these corporations; where to push and how to get to the next level; and not taking “no” for an answer. “
Bill Woodrow ’70 was seeking an opportunity to volunteer in the community and use his professional skills when he came across an environmental education project offered through AlumniCorps’ Community Volunteers program. Bill’s expertise and background aligned closely with the needs of the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC). He immediately signed up to help fundraise and acquire material donations for the retrofitting of cabins at PEEC and showcase environmental sustainability. Bill is now in the midst of completing the project, applying his expertise while also developing new skills. Program Assistant Melissa Stewart ’16 spoke with Bill about his experience as a Community Volunteer. This is a companion piece to a previous interview featuring the Executive Director of PEEC, Jeff Rosalsky ’85, and his perspective of the high-impact work that has been accomplished through the connection made by Community Volunteers.
MS: How did you connect with Princeton Alumni Corps and Community Volunteers?
BW: I participated in the Princeton Global Net Night earlier this year, a career-focused networking event organized locally by the Princeton Area Alumni Association and hosted by AlumniCorps. I had just finished some work on a startup and was looking for other opportunities. I met several alumni that night, including Kef Kasdin ’85, the Community Volunteers Program Leader. Kef realized that my engineering background and expertise with technical products could be a good fit with one of the projects Alumni Corps was looking to fill at a nonprofit. Specifically, the main goals of the project, offered by PEEC, were to both procure and showcase sustainable energy technology installations as teaching tools.
MS: What interested you specifically in CV and the project with PEEC?
BW: I was immediately “wowed” by the entire concept of PEEC. Located in an absolutely gorgeous area in the Delaware Water Gap, it serves an amazing number of visitors each year, including 24,000 adults and 8,000 students, who are mostly from inner cities in the tri-state area. The kids participate in a fabulous two- to three-day educational session devoted to learning about and enjoying nature and the environment. Many courses are available to adults as well. I wanted to help PEEC offer their wonderful learning program to several hundred additional kids every year by procuring donated materials to winterize the older student cabins so they could be used year round. The kids would also be able to learn about the sustainable technologies used in the retrofit. Finally, the project seemed to require some of the marketing and project management skills I had developed over my career.
MS: Have you been to PEEC to see the cabins?
BW: I had the pleasure of visiting the picturesque PEEC site in late March and saw the cabins, including the nine older ones and a few that had already been renovated. Built in the 1970’s, the original cabins lack insulation and have 50-year-old fixtures, flooring, and roofing. During Jeff Rosalsky’s tour of the site and an overview of the many programs PEEC offers, it became very clear that with his imagination and leadership, he has developed an extraordinary site and an impressive number of exciting, inspiring, and fun learning programs. After my initial site visit, I have been working remotely.
MS: What are the requirements of the project?
BW: The project requires me to find manufacturers willing to donate sufficient sustainable energy technology products to retrofit as many of nine small student cabins as possible with roofing, siding, insulation, windows, heaters, flooring, bath fixtures, and more. I also look for donations of new, leading-edge, renewable technology products to teach kids about near-term technology advances. Examples include products to supply (free) heat to the cabin using roof mounted solar thermal panels and products to supply electricity using solar electric panels and roof-mounted vertical wind turbines.
BASF, the global chemical company, was kind enough to donate most of the thermal insulation, which has been the biggest financial expense for the project. We have already received the very specialized, expensive, “instant-on” expensive hot water heaters from WaiWela. A key element of the project in terms of using eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable products is the incorporation of HardiePlank lap siding, which should last up to 50 years. The Pocono Environmental Education Center greatly appreciates all of these generous donations to this important project.
MS: What skills have you used/gained as a Community Volunteer and have you done similar volunteer work in the recent past?
BW: I have used marketing and project management skills developed at several small and large companies over 30+ years. Using information provided by Jeff, I put together a “sales piece” describing PEEC, the project, the objectives, timing, and the benefits that could motivate manufacturers to donate material. This helped to focus potential donor companies on what we specifically wanted to accomplish with their help, and why they should care.
During the course of project, I was able to “upgrade” my fundraising skills. Many years ago I ran a successful United Way campaign in a large corporation, where I was well known and donors were friends and acquaintances. For the PEEC project, I had to identify and approach target companies, without contacts to facilitate the process. I have made cold calls before, but in this case, I was asking for a significant amount of product for free! I sought advice from friends who are professional fundraising experts, and picked up some great pointers.
In terms of similar volunteer work, I am a mentor at the national organization, SCORE, where I use my marketing and general management expertise to help small business owners.
MS: What has been challenging and rewarding your work for PEEC?
BW: The challenges have been defining the concept I would “sell to manufacturers,” identifying the proper companies and contacts, as well as getting their attention and energetic follow up. When Jeff and I talked about the concept initially, we agreed on a few key benefits that companies would receive from donating material to the project:
1) Good press and the joy of contributing directly to making PEEC nature programs available for up to an additional 1,000, mostly inner city school children each year, through the cabin retrofit program
2) Scholarships enabling hundreds of students to attend the program for free in the first year. One scholarship is created for every $150 worth of donated material.
3) Advertising: exposure of product installations to 24,000 adults, and 8,000 children who visit every year, emphasizing sustainability, and energy conservation. The exposure through PEEC could generate significant sales of the showcased products every year.
4) Tax deductions for the full value of material donations
The most rewarding aspects for me have been teaming up with other Princeton alumni to accomplish something worthwhile and giving back, using skills acquired over the course of my career. Specifically, helping to improve PEEC’s infrastructure, and at the same time working on a project that will enable more kids to attend and benefit from their exciting programs every year has been very gratifying. I look forward to visiting PEEC when the project is complete.
MS: Why do you think getting involved with AlumniCorps and specifically CV would appeal to other alumni?
BW: Involvement with Community Volunteers is extremely worthwhile. You’re able to work on substantive projects of lasting value that benefit the community, often jointly with fellow Princeton alums. In this project, Kef Kasdin ’85, kindly opened the door for me, and I then worked principally with Jeff Rosalsky ’85, Executive Director of PEEC. Jeff provided both inspiration and total support for my efforts. I also enjoyed getting to know Edward Fashole-Luke ’15, who was doing a Princeternship at PEEC while I was visiting the site in March. He and I returned to campus together and have stayed in touch.
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!
Jack McCarthy, President and CEO of the DC-based AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation and AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School, shares his thoughts on how a partnership with Princeton AlumniCorps has contributed to his organization.
AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation has seen tremendous impact from both the Princeton Project 55 Fellowship Program and Emerging Leaders. The Project 55 fellowships have given us access to a pipeline of bright, mission-driven talent that has increased our capacity, especially in communications. Schuyler Softy ’11, our first Project 55 fellow, has a background in grassroots politics, and with her support we completed foundational communication tasks such as building message maps, unifying our language, updating our materials, and engaging in social media.
Schuyler was instrumental in producing DC LINKs, a series of events AppleTree held with PNC Bank, Fight for Children, and the Washington Area Women’s Foundation that served as a forum to highlight our award-winning Every Child Ready instructional model. This innovative model is featured in Gaston Caperton and Richard Whitmire’s new book, The Achievable Dream: College Board Lessons on Creating Great Schools and in an upcoming issue of the American School Board Journal. This year, we welcomed Sara Wallace ’12, who has a background in journalism. We especially appreciate her ability to generate compelling content that effectively tells the AppleTree story.
AlumniCorps’ Emerging Leaders program has also left its mark on AppleTree’s leadership team, including Chief of Research and Innovation Lydia Carlis. As a participant in the program’s inaugural year, Lydia explored how she could proactively strengthen organizational alignment and improve stakeholder support for management decisions. By forming an “All Hands” committee consisting of members of AppleTree’s executive, senior, and middle management, Lydia was able to improve the sharing of information and diverse perspectives on key initiatives within the AppleTree community. The project’s benefits extended deep into the organization, and Lydia received positive feedback from colleagues who appreciated the opportunity to be heard and work with AppleTree staff members outside of their usual focus areas. Lydia commented, “I learned that I could be honest without being ‘brutally honest’ and still feel authentic.”