Adriana Sarni

Closing the opportunity gap through mentorship and executive role models…

Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Analyst, Center for Applied Research (Management Consulting)

Twitter: @ExecConnect4

What was the first charitable gift you ever gave?:

I was 10 years old. I was visiting NYC. Growing up I didn’t have much exposure to homelessness. I had $10 in my pocket. There was a homeless person asking for money. That was the first time I ever gave. What drew me was the personal connection. If you write a check, you can do it for a purpose you believe in, but when you are giving to someone who asks on the street, you see the direct connection.

What inspired you to start your nonprofit, ExecConnect​?:

I graduated from College of the Holy Cross in spring of 2013. I was a philosophy major. I had no clue about what I wanted to do. I bounced from job to job. Within one year, I worked in wealth management for five months, interned at an investment bank for four months and interned at a nonprofit for two months. I explored the world of business and I was fortunate to have been guided by mentors, Holy Cross alumni, parents, friends of my family. After a year, I landed a job as an analyst at Management Consulting firm in Cambridge. I’m incredibly happy at my job.
Looking back, there were so many key decisions that I only made because I had those mentors. It made me think what about all the high school students who can’t just call up someone for professional guidance. It caused me to question: How do they grow personally and professionally? I started reaching out to charter schools and told them about my idea for ExecConnect. I asked is this a cause you would feel comfortable getting involved in? They said: YES! So I started with Boston Day and Evening Academy. an alternative charter school serving students who have dropped out of the Boston Public School system and decide that they want to return back to school and her their diploma.

Tell me more about the mission.:

The mission of ExecConnect for Student Success is to teach low income high school students the principles of success through business. This mission is accomplished through a series of interactive seminars led by successful business executives who themselves were from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.  So it is more than just a “if I can be successful, you can be successful” lecture. It is a more like “I was just like you, here’s how I became successful.  I am sure you can do the same.”

As I start out, I am giving a lot to my nonprofit – whether that’s lawyers fees to become incorporated or file for the 501(c)(3), everything I am giving is for the student’s growth and the development of my non-profit.

Who inspires you to give?:

So much of my professional guidance has come from Holy Cross Career Advisors and alumni as well as many of my co-workers at the Center for Applied Research, almost everyone I’ve spoken to has taken such a genuine interest in me and my professional development. I really look up to my professional mentors and are thankful for having them in my life. Those are the people I really look up to and hope to give back to others as they have to me.

What advice do you have for others who are considering starting a nonprofit?:

If you have an idea, stick with it and work through it. Even if you have people who aren’t buying in originally as long as you are flexible. My vision started as a direct mentorship program. That idea people weren’t buying into. Be flexible and listen to what others are telling you – be willing to take advice and still go through it.

What’s been the hardest and most rewarding part so far?:

Transitioning from college where I was a philosophy major and so much of what I did was ideas and thoughts. But, it’s not good enough to have a good idea. You need to implement it. How is this idea going to work has been the biggest challenge. The most rewarding part has been working with students. What’s special is that none of the students are required at 8:30am on Friday morning to come to our sessions, but they do and arrive early. They so appreciate what we are offering.

What is unique about your nonprofit?:

We have volunteers who can connect with students  – they match with student’s backgrounds like our first speaker Larry who grew up in difficult situation. He began pushing carts at a grocery store. He worked his way up until he saved enough to go to Roxbury Community College. The students are from there – they can relate. He then received a scholarship to Tufts and graduated to land a prestigious job at Morgan Stanley. Speakers like Larry instill confidence in the students that they too are capable of achieving great things both inside and outside the world of business.

ExecConnnect1 ExecConnnect

Photographs of ExecConnect for Student Success in action


Julia Levy, Founder, has a decade of development experience, including working for a philanthropist, a small nonprofit and now a large nonprofit. She has raised significant dollars for numerous causes, from education to religion and from donors of all ages. Julia holds a Certificate in Fundraising from NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and an undergraduate degree from Cornell University. Julia has taught fundraising workshops, most recently at Brooklyn Brainery and coached development professionals.

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Why We Give tells stories of ordinary philanthropists, making a difference, dollar by dollar and hour by hour.  

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