By Logan West ’07, Current Fellow
Logan West ’07 graduated with a major in Geosciences and a minor in Italian. Originally from Little Rock, AR, he is a Project 55 Fellow working at Bethel New Life in Chicago.
Princeton Project 55 is often spoken of as a “year off”, but this really casts a false impression and needs clarification. PP55 is a year off in the sense that it is a year away from the constant grind of academia and away from a job where the norm is a 60 hour week. This is a year off from having your life decided for you. PP55 is not a year of stagnation; it is a year of opportunity.
PP55 provides an endless opportunity to learn. I learn at work what it is that makes a business (not-for-profits are just businesses where the profits go towards the clients) run effectively and what can make it operate inefficiently. I learn through conversations with coworkers, mentors, and other fellows, the wealth of knowledge they possess, the shared life experiences, and the issues they confront in work and at home. Above all, I learn from exposure; the exposure to the issues facing underserved communities, exposure to the innovative types of solutions, and exposure to people of all walks of life. My PP55 Fellowship has allowed me to gain new perspectives and a broader, more meaningful sense of the “real” world.
I am spending my fellowship year working at Bethel New Life in Chicago. Bethel is a model organization for asset-based community building and has been instrumental in redeveloping and revitalizing the Westside of Chicago—an area rich in history and character. As a fellow, the best aspect is the exposure. With over 300 employees, the organization is so diverse that there are few interests that are not covered by Bethel services.
One of my assignments for the year is to develop the policy stances for the organization through meeting with the various department directors. This is an opportunity to learn about the finance issues affecting our community savings and employment centers such as the current sub-prime mortgage crisis and the potential “green” market jobs as a source of employment. The task also requires being on top of issues affecting our senior services such as prescription drug policy. Finally, I also handle issues concerning real estate and land management including transit-oriented development and green buildings.
Beyond the variety of fields at Bethel, I have also been exposed to a host of other people, organizations, and issues facing the city as a whole. So far, I have been in meetings with the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, the superintendent of the Police department, and a variety of governmental and community leaders. Even more rewarding has been the opportunity to work with community residents, local high school students, and an extraordinary group of inspiring coworkers who work well beyond their pay grade because they want to see and make a difference in the community.
If this is not enough, Bethel is also flexible enough to allow for me to create my own projects such as starting an office recycling program as well as an oral history project amongst our senior residents living in our subsidized housing. While there are some aspects of Bethel that are inefficient and can be frustrating, the great thing is that they’re open to criticism and advice which they do respond to especially when you want to take action towards fixing the problem. Bethel is absolutely wonderful, and I will be sad to see the year end.