Living with Purpose: Upcoming Event!

Awaken Your Inner Activist!

Are you looking for meaningful ways to channel your talents? Come to the Princeton Senior Resource Center on March 2nd and hear from three extraordinary people who are living their dreams while solving tough social programs through an “encore career.”  Learn about their life-changing projects and discover ways to pursue your own passions while making a difference in the community.  The panel presentation will begin at 10:30a.m. and will be followed by a discussion and lunch sponsored by Springpoint Foundation.  Princeton AlumniCorps and VolunteerConnect will share opportunities for participants to get involved through local, skills-based volunteer opportunities.

To learn more about the panelists, who are Purpose Prize® honorees, and to register for this free event, hosted by the Princeton Senior Resource Center, click here:

To read more about this event in Princeton’s Town Topics, click here:


Living with Purpose

10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., March 2nd

The Princeton Senior Resource Center

Suzanne Patterson Building, 45 Stockton Street

Princeton, NJ


Raise Your Hand If You Eat Food. Then Take Action!

We all eat food, but few of us care to think about what systems, policies, costs, and risks are associated with bringing that food to our tables. The production and consumption of food affects every aspect of our lives as individuals, as members of a local community and as agents of a global economy.

A former PP55 fellow in Boston slices fruit at a farmer's market.

In September 2010, Gordon Douglas MD ’55 and Sheila Mahoney began a conversation about food.

The Focus on Food initiative was conceived with the goal of cultivating Project 55 fellowship opportunities for recent Princeton graduates at organizations committed to food-related issues in this country. The issues range from obesity to farm factory pollution to food safety regulation to farm worker rights—all of which may be linked to our industrial food system, which is itself a product of government policies and business practices that support the production of vast quantities of low-priced, low-grade food, whatever the costs to the common good. As diverse and numerous as the issues may be, Focus on Food recognizes four broad areas of advocacy in today’s food movement: public health, environmental sustainability, social justice and animal welfare. Alumni have the opportunity to advance the issues in any one of these areas, whether by examining policy, promoting awareness or effecting change on the ground.


Take Action.

–   Are you an experienced professional? Put your principles into practice. Become an AlumniCorps Community Volunteer and donate your expertise to a food-related nonprofit.

–   Look at your own personal and professional networks. What organizations in your community are working on the food problem? Who might take a Project 55 Fellow or a skills-based AlumniCorps Community Volunteer?

–   Are you passionate about sustainable, healthy food? Help us to organize an educational panel or event for alumni in one of our AlumniCorps cities.

–   Are you a professional working in food and public health, social justice, the environment, or animal welfare? Contact us about speaking at an AlumniCorps seminar or panel for Project 55 fellows.

–   Join the conversation. Which of the four food system issues most concern you?  How can we start a dialogue? Click here to apply for membership in the AlumniCorps Focus on Food online discussion.

Community Volunteer Spotlight: Grif Johnson ’72

Grif Johnson ’72 retired from a 33-year career in the practice of law in January 2010. After attending a Princeton AlumniCorps Board meeting and subsequent local Community Volunteers events, Grif was connected to Wilderness Leadership and Learning (WILL) in Washington, DC. He recently spoke with us about his Community Volunteers experience.

Q: How did you hear about Wilderness Leadership and Learning (WILL)?

In the fall of 2010, I received an e-mail from the newly renamed Princeton AlumniCorps, introducing the Community Volunteers program. By then I was retired – a major milestone for me – and I was looking for ways to get involved with the community. On its face, the Community Volunteers program sounded interesting, so I went to a panel here in Washington, DC. The panel laid out the concept of Community Volunteers, which was very much in line with my personal interest in finding a place to spend my time that would be rewarding to me, and that I thought would be useful. The next session held in DC was a “speed dating” event where alumni interested in Community Volunteers could meet with representatives from nonprofits who were looking for volunteers. I was unable to attend that session, but a staff member followed up with information about a number of nonprofits I might be interested in. That is how I first heard about WILL, and the more I read and learned, the more I thought “this is something that really interests me.”

Q: Can you tell us about WILL?

The organization was founded 7 years ago by a then trial attorney here 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.

The program works with 9th, 10th and 11th graders in several of DC’s public schools. Steve works with guidance counselors and other staff in these schools to identify promising young students, who, for want of resources, are not able to enjoy opportunities to be outdoors, learn about the world, and challenge themselves in unfamiliar environments.

We start with a class of between 20 and 30 students each fall. We take the young people out in rural Virginia, where a professional outdoor training organization takes them through an exercise building a rope bridge and other things, which they use to accomplish tasks as a team that they would not be able to accomplish on their own. It teaches the kids to be careful, to be trusting, and to work in a team. Through the fall, we take the young people on trips – out on the Anacostia River and to the Chesapeake Bay, for example – where they interact with and learn about the ecosystem and the stresses it suffers. For the 11th graders, we bring in college counselors from local universities so these students, whose families do not historically have a record of attending college, can learn about the importance of college and the process of applying. We also take kids on local field trips to cultural and national institutions in DC. The whole process culminates in the summer, at the end of the academic year. We break the youth into two smaller groups and take them out for a week on the Appalachian Trail, in conjunction with the Outward Bound program.

It’s really remarkable what these young adults are capable of doing. My wife and I joined a scavenger hunt that WILL organized last May. Students were divided into groups of four, and each group was given a series of obscure questions that could only be answered by visiting specific locations on the National Mall. For example, one of the questions was: “How many columns are in the Lincoln Memorial, and what does each one represent?” Watching these young people tackle the task as a group, watching how they divide responsibilities and marshal their collective skills, was just remarkable. These young people are so inspirational to be with. It’s been a great, great experience for me to be on the board of WILL. I am so happy that I found them through the auspices of the Community Volunteers program.

Q: What is your involvement with the organization? How do you use your legal expertise?

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 wanted to walk at the pace and in the company of people who are involved in the life all around us. I am not in any way trying to suggest that I was running away from my law career, or that I needed a mental antidote, I was just really interested in spending my time in a different kind of setting while using the skills I have. I’ve found that my work with WILL has been especially rewarding because of the people involved, particularly the students.

Q: What do you think is most important for people, especially recent retirees, to think about as they consider Community Volunteers and the nonprofit sector?

You want to do something that you will look forward to doing, which interests you and motivates you. For me it was really the relationships that I have been able to develop at WILL. I did a fair amount of diligence before I offered to become a board member. I would say that’s a very important aspect. A person in my position potentially has a lot to offer from the point of view of experience, wisdom and skills that you accumulate – it’s worth something, and you don’t want to waste it. I think it’s very important that anybody contemplating retirement or volunteering do a great deal of preparation and investigation to learn about the organization and exactly what you would be doing. For me, getting involved with WILL has really been an ongoing commitment rather than something I do once every 2 or 3 months. Once you get involved, it really takes you over and you get so passionate that you spend your days and nights thinking about it, even between board meetings.


“Once you get involved, it really takes you over and you get so passionate that you spend your days and nights thinking about it, even between board meetings.” – Grif Johnson ’72

Visit to learn more about WILL.
Princeton AlumniCorps’ Community Volunteers program connects alumni who have significant career experience with impactful civic engagement opportunities. 

AlumniCorps Hires Rachel Benevento, New Program Manager for Community Volunteers & Emerging Leaders

Rachel Benevento and Kef Kasdin '85

Rachel Benevento is the newest member of the Princeton AlumniCorps team.  Most recently, she worked at VolunteerConnect in Princeton, creating a skills-based volunteer pilot program. Rachel also served as a VolunteerConnect board member, helping to create a new service model for the organization. Previously, she engaged corporate employees in cancer education and fundraising initiatives for the American Cancer Society.

Rachel has also worked at Columbia University where she founded the Alumni Partnership Program, connecting current and former students on a personal level through various forums. As a board member for Community Impact at Columbia, she advised staff and student coordinators on programmatic challenges and evaluated new program proposals. She earned an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and has worked as a freelance writer and editor. Rachel holds a B.A. in history from Columbia.

Regarding Community Volunteers, Rachel writes: “I am excited to help Community Volunteers reach its potential in engaging mid-career alumni in meaningful public service opportunities. Matching the professional expertise of program participants to the needs of  local nonprofit organizations will provide critical outlets for alumni to channel their passions and make a difference in their community.”

Contact Rachel to learn about Community Volunteers and Emerging Leaders at

How Does Princeton AlumniCorps Achieve Our Mission?

Princeton AlumniCorps envisions a day when all Princeton graduates will embrace civic involvement as their responsibility as alumni and citizens, throughout their lives. To that end, we provide alumni with opportunities, training, and support needed to put their energies to work addressing significant social issues.

Princeton Project 55 Fellowship Program

  • 54 PP55 fellows are serving at 44 public interest organizations this year.
  • In total, alumni of the program now number more than 1,300.
  • Fellows are currently serving in seven geographic areas: Boston, Chicago, Connecticut, Philadelphia, New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington, DC.
  • About 10% of the senior class applies for a PP55 fellowship each year.





Emerging Leaders

  • Princeton AlumniCorps’ newest initiative, launched in June 2011 in Washington, DC.
  • A 10-month professional development program designed to transform young nonprofit professionals into the sector’s future leaders.
  • First class of 11 participants are alumni of the PP55 program, Princeton, and other institutions.
  • The program curriculum interweaves the development of leadership, management, and hard nonprofit skills with mentoring, peer support, and networking within the sector.
  • Emerging Leaders put their learning into action by designing and executing projects that generate real results for their organizations.


Community Volunteers

  • The Community Volunteers program connects alumni from the classes of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s to innovative civic engagement opportunities.
  • Volunteers offer nonprofits cost-free access to professional expertise while nonprofit partners offer alumni opportunities to serve their communities in a truly meaningful way.
  • Community Volunteers matches alumni with such opportunities as service on nonprofit boards, pro bono work addressing specific organizational needs, individual volunteer matching, and more.




The Alumni Network

  • The Alumni Network (TAN) helps other groups of college alumni to organize programs modeled on our example.
  • Affiliates include more than 30 public interest programs at colleges and universities across the country (e.g. at Harvard, Dartmouth and Stanford), including some working abroad.
  • Taken together, TAN affiliates have placed more than 7,000 interns and fellows since the Network was formed.
  • In many of our cities, we work with TAN affiliates and host joint seminars and social gatherings, to connect fellows with an extensive community of nonprofit professionals.

Click here to get involved!

Volunteerism in Perspective

 By Marty Johnson ’81

Marty Johnson '81

   Thanks to the AlumniCorps for organizing last month’s “Engaged At Every Age” (EAEA) Conference to explore volunteering from a variety of perspectives. While a schedule change prevented me from joining as a panelist, I enjoyed the chance to sit in on an afternoon panel.

   It triggered some thoughts about what I’ve learned over the last 30 years as a manager at Isles, a nonprofit community development and environmental organization based in Trenton that works with over 1,000 volunteers annually.  In addition, I serve as a volunteer with organizations statewide and nationally.  AlumniCorps asked me to share a few of those lessons here.

Volunteerism in Perspective

   Historians and social scientists write about voluntarism as a uniquely American concept. With over one million private, registered charities across the country, burgeoning numbers of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, and millions in search of more “mission-driven” and meaningful lives, an entire industry of voluntarism has arisen. A Google search of Volunteer Opportunities offers over 15 million hits.

   No wonder that voluntarism often becomes an end goal. Questions like, “What’s a good volunteer opportunity?” often quickly move to a discussion of technique (Does the organization make it easy for volunteers? Do they manage them well? Are there clear, identifiable objectives, etc.?). Or the discussion will turn to the type of organization that works best for volunteers. At the EAEA Conference for example, some speakers suggested that small organizations are better for volunteers than big ones, “staff  driven” organizations are worse than “volunteer driven” ones, or that organizations that volunteers can really influence are better (at least for those from Princeton) than those you can’t influence.

   To me, this focus on technique or type of organization is a part of the picture, but not the main part. The real goal for organizations is to perform at the highest level in relation to the resources (money, volunteers, etc) flowing into them. The best organizations are those that focus on being the best organizations—not the best volunteer opportunity.

   What we hope, is that organizations can perform highly while also effectively involving volunteers—because volunteers add to their performance.

   In my experience, I have seen volunteers destroy organizations, and I have seen staff do the same. I have witnessed large organizations give volunteers better experiences than small ones. I’ve been a volunteer board member of a staff-driven organization (think Princeton University) that functions quite highly. And I have seen “smart” volunteers that tried to control organizations and systematically undermined them.

So what’s the best advice for those seeking to volunteer? 

1. Keep your eyes on the prize.

   Life is short, so try to find the best organizations working on the things you care about. “Best” organizations ask hard questions of themselves and others,  maintain continually improving systems to manage information (financial, contacts, volunteers, etc.), admit that which they are not doing, and strive to get upstream or to the “core” of the challenges they address.

2. Remain humble.

   You may or may not know what the organization should do. Be open to being wrong. Be open to how volunteers can get in the way. The art of managing nonprofit organizations is a relatively young specialty, and bringing your “business”-like approaches may not be what’s needed. We are all learning as we go.

3. Then ask about the techniques and types of organizations out there.

   There’s a place for this discussion. It’s just at the bottom of the list.


    Marty Johnson ’81 is President and Founder of Isles, Inc., a nonprofit that fosters self-help approaches to community development, education, energy efficiency and urban environmental restoration. (