Location: Harlem, New York
Profession: Deputy Director at National Urban Squash and Education Association
Tell us about your role?:
I work to start and support urban squash education programs across the US and overseas. We help underprivileged children achieve their greatest academic potential using squash as a vehicle for improving educational opportunities and their lives.
What inspired you to work in this area?:
I grew up playing squash competitively. Through the sport, I grew a lot athletically, personally, mentally and physically. It provided discipline and training for me, different from other sports I played. When I went to college at Johns Hopkins, there was no men’s squash team so I coached the women’s team and played rugby. When I moved to New York City, one of the women from the team told me about a program in Harlem called StreetSquash, that she thought was right up my alley. I started volunteering as a squash coach on the weekends and I was hooked. I had no idea it could become a career.
Looking back, having gone to college in Baltimore in the late 90s when crime, drugs and poverty were the experience for many children in the area, it had a lasting impact on me. I volunteered in the community and worked with kids in local public school. I saw the same need for help when I moved to Harlem. Being able to play the sport that I grew up loving, while helping children in need in my new city was eye opening.
Was there a pivotal moment for you that led you down this career path?:
After 9/11, I reflected on my next professional steps. I had been working in tech for a web development company. I refocused and changed directions. It turned out StreetSquash was hiring an Academic Director and although I had no background in education, I jumped at the opportunity. It was really hard – there were tough schools, complicated family situations, and late night home visits in the projects – I saw what our kids’ lives were like away from StreetSquash.
Through our work, we provide a lot of structure and worked to make their lives a little less chaotic. It takes a while to build trust with a child and their family, but through the sport, being a part of a team, and having grown-ups who care for them, I realized once you can show that to a young person, they opt in very quickly.
What do you recommend to people considering a career transition to service?:
The best place to begin is by volunteering. Serving on junior board, being on an event committee or spending time at a shelter, whatever it might be, there are so many opportunities. The best way to find out about the field is if you see the opportunities that exist. That worked for me and I’ve seen it work for other people. Once you are in the network, people in nonprofit sector know everyone. If it’s not in that organization, someone will connect you.
What is a highlight of your job?:
Looking back at what I thought would be a two to three year commitment like Teach For America, has become twelve years and included so many opportunities for professional advancement and growth. I’ve developed new skills, worked in different capacities, and developed relationships that have changed my life. It’s been much more than a job.
Seeing the kids who started with me in 2002 graduate from college has been amazing. Four of those students have worked for StreetSquash. It’s wonderful to see that this strange sport that showed up on their door, transformed their lives and they want to give back to the next generation. This movement has inspired people in cities like Cincinnati and Hartford which have similar challenges to start programs too, and there’s interest overseas to demonstrate the impact on a much wider scale in places like South Africa and Hong Kong.
What is a challenge of your job?”
The transition from the corporate sector – the compensation is different. When you are young, the impact isn’t as great. You’re able to advance over time. If you are doing a good job and working for a good organization, you’ll be able to earn compensation that is livable. Also, the work can be emotionally intensive and requires a significant investment of energy and passion into your work. Over time, that can be draining. It’s important to find a balance with work and life. Raising a family becomes critical to find that balance.
What is your personal philanthropy of choice?:
The causes that I’m involved with outside of work focus on my alumni networks. With Johns Hopkins NYC Alumni, I started a service committee doing community service projects, including NYCares, Riverside Park and even volunteering at StreetSquash. It’s been a fun way to connect my love of NYC and staying connected to my college community. I also did the Coro Leadership New York in 2009-10, I had the most incredible experience. I’ve stayed connected to that alumni group, attending programs in civic engagement to enrich my career path.
How has Coro impacted you?:
If your interest is being involved in the life of NYC, it’s a tremendous opportunity and I would recommend that people look into it. I love NYC – it’s where my passion lies in helping the civic life in the city I call home. That was my focus at StreetSquash working with children in Harlem. Coro helped me to do it better.
Who inspires you?:
In addition to my family and friends, and the families I’ve worked with, some of the people who inspire me are the Junior Board Members I’ve worked with – young people early in their careers – the investment banking analysts, paralegals, first-year teachers – who get involved because it sounded fun and a nice way to help an organization. Even though they are in their 20s and 30s, they can do a lot and inspire others to do more. Those are the people who inspire me who when I always came back to these young people who can push an organization to go so much further.