ABNY SPOTLIGHTS OF THE MONTH 

Every month, ABNY honors two Young Professionals working to make New York City a better place to live, work, and visit. This month we are recognizing two ABNY YP's protecting and developing NYC's workforce. 

June: Education 
We are honoring ABNY YP's educating New Yorkers.
Congratulations to our June Spotlights of the Month, Eleazar Adjehoun and Bonnie Maldonado! 


Eleazar Adjehoun 
Paternship Development Liason, exalt

How did you get to where you are today?
I'm a staunch believer in the idea that no one gets to where they're headed without the support and guidance of mentors. For me, these mentors have come in many forms and I've been fortunate to have various people throughout my life intervene and offer insight and guidance when I needed it most. I credit those mentors, the ones who chose to invest in my future and give me an opporunity, for many of my accomplishments. Because of the positive impressions these mentors have left on me, I'm forever grateful to those who saw potential in me when I, myself, could not see it. My journey has been equal parts hustle, mentorship, and God's grace; shake vigorously, and voila. Here I am. 

What are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of my students and the role that I'm privileged to play in shaping their growth and development. Exalt's students are by far some of the most resilient people I've ever met; and these are young adults who continually prove their doubters wrong! They refuse to quit in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, and they continue to show up week after week in the midst of their chaotic lives. All this despite the plethora of influences, systems, and traps that surround them and threaten their freedom. I'm very proud of the relationships I've developed and the proximity I've been granted as I work alongside my students in their journeys towards becoming their best selves. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to work in your field?
While working to disrupt and dismantle oppressive systems it can seem as though the work is never ending. There is always more to do, and that won't ever change. So, in the midst of grinding, don't forget to come up for air and take care of yourself. Approach every day with urgency, intention, and purpose - whatever that looks like to you. Understand that the young people you're serving are the best authors of their stories. Listen to them. Treat everyone compassionately, acknowledge mistakes and missteps and learn from them, celebrate all your successes, no matter how big or small. 

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?
I'm almost certain the first English word I uttered as an infant was "Yerr." It's either that or "it's brick" considering I came into the world just days before the big blizzard in 1996. I was born and raised in NYC, however my roots were planted in Togo, West Africa where I spent the first few years of my life. So much of who I am has been shaped by growing up in NYC. This New York identity became most apparent when I moved away to DePauw University for college in Greencastle, Indiana. There I realized that even in the Winter folks wore Sperrys and shorts instead of Timbs. 

 

Bonnie Samantha Maldonado
Trainer, The Posse Foundation

How did you get to where you are today?
Holistically, today, I am at a place of growth, cultivated through work, family, books, and my realtionships with folks. I am at Posse beacsue of my sister. My sister is a Posse alumna and nominated me for the scholarship my junior year of high school where I was selected as a Posse Scholar. After graduating from college, I participated in the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs and I left with a desire to be in the world of education and facilitating. Posse had an opening for a Trainer position and here we are today. I veiw growing as a person to be essential in growing as a facilitator. This means actively growing in my personal life and interrograting my truth, biases, beliefs and relationships and ways of interacting with other people. The growth is hard and important. 

What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of moments I can witness my Scholars using the tools my co-Trainer and I model and offer to them to support each other and themselves. In those moments, I am proud of the ways they can hold space for each other, question each other and us and hold themselves, stakeholders, and institutions accountable. I am proud to be able to witness the humans they are and proud of being able to grow with them. 

 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?
Remember to pour yourself into as much as you pour into others. For folx of color and specifically womxn, queer and/or trans folx of color - specifically black people - this field can feel like home because we are giving back to our communities while also making a living. However, something I am still learning is that I deserve the attention and love that I give my students. Not all of the work is out of love - sometimes work is work. 

 

When did you realize that  you are a New Yorker? 
1) When I was younger, my sister and I would visit our family in the Dominican Republic every summer. Whenever we would come back, my sister would lament not having a backyard like my cousins did. 2) In high school, I studied at Phillips Andover. Everyone thought I had an accent. 3) At Colby College, a predominantly white institution in Maine, we are required to do an outdoor education orientation. I had to backpack. The others in my group had more experience hiking and backpacking in the woods while I had more experience walking to and from Fordham Road. My time at school solidified that I am a proud Bronxite. I missed my neighbors blasting bachata in the middle of the night. 4) Returning home as a Coro Fellow made me aware that my nostalgia romanticized New York and the critical issues I need to always be aware of, such as the deep racism embedded in our schooling system, public transportation, and housing. 

May: Labor and Workforce Development
We are honoring ABNY YP's protecting and developing NYC's workforce. 
Congratulations to our May Spotlights of the Month, Alex Gleason and Justine González-Belay!

 

Alex Gleason 
Director of Policy, Research, and Legislation, NYC Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO
Adjunct Professor, New York University and SUNY 

How did you get to where you are today?
I got to where I am beacuse others saw potential in the fruits of my work, chose to give me an opporunity, and I created a lane. I work every day to pay forward the opporunities I have been given, and to continually keep me nost-to-the-grind and add value to the work I am doing, whatever that is. 

What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the coalitional work we have done with Labor affiliates, community groups, and environmental justice advocates to address the crisis of climate change and create family-sustaining jobs. 


What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

The biggest piece of advice I would give is to do the work - whatever it is - that you are asked to do. Sweat equity is an incredibly important part of any relationship or work you are doing. If you are willing to do whatever is necessary for the collective to win, then you will empower your whole team and create meaningful relationships that are not just transactional. 

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?
After ten years, there is this special turn of the wrist that develops on swiping your Metrocard, and I am pretty proud of that. Also, I no  longer need directions to drive around Brooklyn! 

 

Justine González-Belay
Young Adult Employment Specialist, Red Hook Initiative 

How did you get to where you are today?
From a young age, I was self-driven and independently pursued opportunities that would enrich my life and open new doors. I value qualities such as being proactive and personable, which allows to take advantage of many opportunities around me. At almost every crossroad in my life - from choosing colleges, to my first job as a public defender investigator, pursuing a master's degree in urban policy, switching industries to work on documentaries, and most recently returning to youth and workforce development - I asked whether I was challenging myself and putting myself in situations where I could continually grow in my career. I try my best to always stay curious and channel a growth mindset.

What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the relationships I have developed throughout my career, from the mentors and teachers who helped shape me and my perspective on life, to the young adults and teens I have sought to guide in their "pursuit of joy and liberation." These relationships are reminders of the values that brought me to this work and my contributions towards the type of equitable society I want to live in. I get fulfillment from supporting others to build towards the career they want for themselves and to overcome inevitable obstacles. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?
Treat every new person like a potential partner and member of a community working together towards a shared goal. Network at every corner. People want to help those they care about, so find common ground with others. When you work in human services, and in youth development specifically, it is important to approach your colleagues and peers with the same kind of empathy and compassion you would your clients. 

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?
I was born and raised in NYC - 1 ½ generations NuYorican My identity blossomed from this beautiful city, yet I have always been plauged and blessed by a double consciousness of what I represent to others. The day my father helped me move into college in Northampton, MA, my father turned to me and said, "you have to smile and say hi to people  here." I am aware of the stereotype that New Yorkers are rude, but this was never true for me - I had always felt supported by my community. Over those four years and beyond I have had to consistently prove that stereotype wrong. 

April: Sustainability
We honored ABNY YP's making NYC a more sustainable city. 
Congratulations to our April Spotlights of the Month, Alex Zablocki and Sarah Charlop Powers!

  


Alex Zablocki
Executive Director, Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy

How did you get to where you are today?
Throughout my career in public service, I've been fortunate enough to work for great leaders and within teams of people guided by doing good. I would not be in the leadership position I am in today at the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy without others willing to let me take risk and support me every step of the way, through success and failure. 

What are you most proud of?
Every day I have the opporunity to improve parts of our city that do not often receive a lot of attention or public investment. Throughout my career, I am most proud of being able to advocate for undeserved communities and seeing positive change come from this advocacy. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?
Simply put: If you believe in something and are passionate about it, and willing to work hard, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. This is especially true for anyone who is looking to work in the non-profit field, or in park management and envrionmental stewardship. Networking helps as well, so connect with me or others in this field, and start there. 

When did you realize you are a New Yorker?
I was born and raised in New York City, so this city is in my blood.  But that moment when I realized what is so special about New York City and its people was just after September 11, 2001. Seeing my neighbors and our entire city come together to support each other and the victims of our country's worst terrorist attack - and being a part of that - showed me how great a people we are. This is what being a New Yorker is all about: we are tough when we have to be, always compassionate, have each other's backs, and remain resilient. 

 

  


Sarah Charlop Powers

Executive Director, Natural Areas Conservancy

How did you get to where you are today?
When I was a kid, my mom used to load our car full of neighborhood kids and drive from our neighborhood in the South Bronx to the NY Botanical Garden because our neighborhood was nearly devoid of trees. My parents were tenant organizers, and taught us that it was not enough to have a safe place to live. People, especially children, also need to have access to nature - to be able to play, explore, and experience the freedom and wonder of time spent outside. I spent my 20s living and working in the Hudson Valley. It was a very formative period that laid the foundation for both my work in natural areas management and in building and sustaining programs. In hindsight, returning to New York City felt inevitable. At this stage in my career, I'm energized by the idea of ensuring that urban nature provides refuge and recreation for city dwellers, and I am deeply motivated by the opporunity to work to make our planet more resilient to climate change. 

What are you most proud of?
I’m proud to have co-founded the Natural Areas Conservancy in 2012. I took a professional risk when I left a full-time job to develop the business plan for this organization.  There was no guarantee that we could establish and fund a public-private partnership to champion NYC’s 20,000 acres of forests and wetlands. It was the right idea at the right time.  Over the past seven years, we’ve grown from a start-up to a mature organization.  Two achievements that exemplify the NAC’s work are the development of a 25-year framework for NYC’s forests (with NYC Parks), that serves as a roadmap to expand public access, improve forest health and address climate change.  I’m also really proud of our work with young people.  We’ve trained more than 100 high school and CUNY students, and helped many of them launch careers in urban conservation

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?
One thing that I wish someone had told me earlier in my career is that you don’t have to be a scientist or an avid outdoors person to be an environmentalist.  At a public meeting I once saw a sign that said, “We live here.  We’re experts too.”   In New York City there are incredible organizations working on a range of environmental issues.  I would encourage people to get involved in work that you find personally motivating, even if it means starting as a volunteer. 

When did you realize you are a New Yorker?
I’ve known all my life! I was born and raised in the Bronx, attended public school K-12, and my wife and I are currently raising our son in Brooklyn.  

 

March: Gender Equality
We honored ABNY YP's making strides to advance gender equality
Congratulations to our March Spotlights of the Month, Chelsea Goldinger and Sasha Ahuja! 

  Chelsea Goldinger
Chelsea Goldinger
Government Relations Manager at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Community Center


How did you get to where you are today?
Defaulting to "yes" early on in my career, and later learning the value of saying "no." Asking for help and knowing when to step back, listen, and learn. I also write everything down, I am obsessed with lists and inbox zero. And the easiest part, I follow my passion. For me, that means helping women and girls through whatever I am doing. 

What are you most proud of?
In 2014, I helped Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul plan roundtables with college students to discuss the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and ways to help. This was especially meaningful for me; I had the opportunity to work on an issue that is deeply personal and provide a space for young women whose voices are too often silenced.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?
Don’t be scared to ask for help and admit what you don’t know. I built meaningful relationships through reaching out to people who I admire (and sometimes have never met!) to ask for their advice. Over-prepare for every meeting; you never know where it will lead. Also, networking events, especially those geared towards feminists, can be super fun and social! Show up at events and get to know people. Chances are you’ll make a new friend.

When did you realize you are a New Yorker?
The day I rode my Citi Bike to catch the ferry to Greenpoint to head to a cocktail bar where the drinks were cheaper than in Manhattan.

 

Sasha Ahuja
Sasha Ahuja
Chief of Staff at Girls for Gender Equity

 

How did you get to where you are today? 
Since I was 17 years old, I have worked on the front lines of the progressive movement – from grassroots labor organizations to direct service to political campaigns to city government. In all of these years, my work has been fundamentally the same – driving teams of dedicated people to advance a racial and gender justice agenda in the face of unprecedented threats to our communities, increasing uncertainty in our work and inevitably, the nonstop news cycle. I got to where I was by continuing to move with our movement – and being unapologetic about my vision for a more just city.

What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of being able to see the necessity for an “inside-outside” strategy to advance progressive change. The best example of this was in 2015 - I served as Deputy Director of the Policy Division to former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito. In response to a call to action from feminist activists across the country in response to President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, we launched the first dedicated initiative for women and girls of color, the New York City Young Women’s Initiative. The City Council advanced numerous policy and legislative priorities that lifted up women and girls of color, continues to fund the Young Women’s Initiative at +$5M a year and we spurred the creation of the Commission on Gender Equity. 

What advice would you give to other Young Professionals wanting to work in your field? 
You're not too good or too smart or too experienced to answer the phone, make copies or stuff envelopes. Don’t be that person. 

When did you realize you are a New Yorker?
When I was 16, my dad taught me how to drive by putting me on the Belt Parkway and saying, “go!” Pretty damn New York to me.