By John Shriver,
PP55 Fellowship Program Manager
In the fall of 2007 when Stuart Raynor ’55 became interested in expanding Project 55’s affordable housing fellowship opportunities, he could not have predicted all the year would have in store. After using his contacts at the DC Housing Authority to create a fellowship opening, Stuart was connected with Aaron Buchman ’08, who would fill the new position. So began a fruitful and unlikely relationship spanning generations of experience and idealism.
Every year, new fellows are paired with local Princeton alumni with similar interests to provide support and guidance. Through the Project 55 Mentoring Program, mentors help fellows set career goals, network with professionals, and maybe most importantly, offer guidance from someone who has been in their shoes. For Aaron, this has been especially helpful as he learns to navigate the world of city government.
“Fellows are the primary reason for the strength and growth of Project 55…
Aaron exemplifies that.”
— Stuart Raynor ’55 Project 55 Mentor
Stuart also has learned a lot from Aaron as their relationship developed. “For someone of my generation, there [are] not a lot of opportunities to converse with people from [a] younger generation,” says Stuart. “Aaron has a lot of good ideas.”
Aaron first became interested in affordable housing through his undergraduate coursework. While it was not his primary interest, he was attracted to the complex interactions between real estate markets, financing and social policy. “Public housing is an ambitious social experiment,” Aaron said. So when Project 55 offered him a hands-on opportunity to learn more about affordable housing in Washington, DC, he jumped at the chance.
Though his career began in the private sector, Stuart always had a strong interest in affordable housing. Inspired by the work of his classmates and the spirit of Project 55, he decided to take a job in the public sector at the Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) of Montgomery County, Maryland. What he thought would be a brief stint in the public sector became a fifteen-year career. Although he has now retired from HOC, Stuart remains active in the nonprofit sector on the board of the Alternative Housing Solutions and the Arlington County Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission.
Soon after Aaron started at the DC Housing Authority, he learned how complicated and frustrating the housing industry can be, yet how helpful it is to have a mentor with Stuart’s experience. The “field does not explain itself well,” said Aaron, “one year is barely enough time to get up to speed, and it takes time to implement any policy.” Stuart has been able to help by offering a different perspective. “Stuart has said things that give me a longer view,” Aaron said recently, “it helps me have hope for the future”.
A mentoring relationship isn’t all about business though. Aaron and Stuart have frequent meals together, have taken a walking tour of affordable housing projects, and have gone to a Capitals hockey game.
So is mentoring a meaningful way to get involved? Stuart certainly seems to think so. “Fellows are the primary reason for the strength and growth of Project 55,” he said. “Aaron exemplifies that…It has been rewarding to get to know Aaron.” Even after the fellowship year, Stuart and Aaron plan to keep in touch. “I am delighted Aaron will be in Washington,” said Stuart. For these two at least, this fellowship has helped build more than affordable housing.
PP55 is now accepting mentor applications. If you are interested in getting involved and becoming a mentor, please contact John Shriver and Stephanie Mirkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.