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. 

May: Essential Services

We are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and so many people are doing amazing work on the front lines every day. We wanted to continue to honor those individuals: YPs working in health care, food banks, delivery services, emergency child care, government procurement, and/or other essential services that keep this city going. Congratulations to our May Spotlights of the Month, Nikki Kateman and Tiffany V. Williams!
Nikki Kateman
Political & Communications Director. 

Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW 

How did you get to where you are today? 

I started with Local 338 as an intern when I was 18 after winning the union’s scholarship (my dad is a 20-year union member working in a supermarket). My planned career path at the time was much different, but I quickly realized that fighting for social and economic justice mattered a lot to me—both personally and in the grand scheme of the world. Over the last 13 years I have held a few different roles, but I’m very fortunate that I found a home at an organization whose mission and values I very much believe in and that also has allowed me to grow both personally and professionally.  

What are you most proud of?  

In a normal year, I’d talk about the legislative advocacy I do on behalf of Local 338 members, including my work in support of legalizing medical cannabis in New York State (and hopefully soon, adult use cannabis). We’re not in a normal year though, so I think my proudest moment was working with the President of Local 338 to advocate for the inclusion of grocery store and pharmacy workers in the free childcare programs that have been established for first responders and essential workers. We were getting countless calls from anxious working parents and as more and more municipalities made the announcements including this group of workers in the programs, it was such a sense of relief and pride to give those families an alternative.   

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

One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was to be myself. It sometimes feels like there are expectations of who you’re supposed to be if you go to work in politics or government or even labor, but you’ll find more respect by simply being your authentic self. I would also add that in a role like mine, it’s incredibly important to be flexible. No two days, and frankly no two hours, are ever alike and there will be countless days where you head into work expecting to accomplish one thing and before noon you find yourself pivoting to a completely different task or fire that needs to be put out. Learning to be adaptable to where the day takes you, no matter how frustrating it might be, is so crucial to this work.  

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?  

I grew up in Queens, which is where I still live. I never thought much about being a New Yorker until I realized how deep my roots are here. All of my ancestors moved to New York City and essentially never left so, I’d say being a New Yorker is pretty integral to my identity.  

What has been the biggest challenge in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis?  

Working for a labor union that is comprised almost entirely of essential workers, I spend all day addressing things like locating PPEs, planning communications to our members so they know what resources are available to them and talking to elected officials about what these workers need. In the last few weeks it’s felt as though everyone is in a vacuum of just trying to get through the day that not enough time is being spent on what happens next for our essential workers, especially when we do live in an era of the unknown. I stay up at night thinking about the long-term physical and mental health implications of this crisis and what we should be doing to make sure we properly take care of the people who are not only caring for us, but also our communities.  

What is the best way for people to help your efforts in dealing with this crisis?  

The neighborhood cheers every night are amazing but take them with you. When you go grocery shopping and to the pharmacy or order delivery or even when you see your local postal worker, say thank you directly to that worker. There are thousands of New Yorkers who were thrust into a role overnight that they never signed up for, who don’t stop and think of themselves as heroes. But they are, and they need all of the gratitude they can get, not just now but into the future. The fight for wage increases and improved health care and benefits never stops, so please don’t forget about the sacrifices essential workers made in a year or two. They’ll need your support then, too.  

  

Tiffany V. Williams
Director of Operations, 
Girls for Gender Equity 
 
How did you get to where you are today?  

As a juvenile justice advocate I saw first-hand that young people, especially black girls, were pushed out of schools or failed by foster care. I joined the Administration of Children’s Sevices to affect change from the inside out. At ACS I led the division’s CSEC monitoring reform. Changes in legislation shifted our services to youth who are survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. True policy reform required more than a new screening tool. it called for a radical mindset shift as to how we served survivors.  My time at ACS taught me that successful policy implementation is defined by system-wide training and experiential learning that is culturally responsive, relentless, and authentic partnership with the community. Now, at Girls for Gender Equity, I lead the operations of an organization committed to supporting girls of color. I am proud of the work we are doing to end gender-based violence and ensure a more equitable city. I got to where I am today because of mentorship, preparation, advocacy, opportunity, faith, and grace. 

What are you most proud of?  

I’m proud of the young people I have had the privilege to build community with. They have defied unbelievable odds. I’ve learned so much from them about resiliency, determination, and true success. I am also proud to learn these same lessons from my twin daughters, who were born before their third trimester and home before their due date. They defied all statistics and odds and I am proud of their zest and strength. 

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

The field of operations is a combination of risk management, human resources, and financial planning, among other things. You should enjoy thinking about multiple scenarios and outcomes and planning ahead. If you spend your time building fair systems, policies, and processes, you will be prepared for the range of things that may arise. COVID-19 is unprecedented, but GGE was able to transition to virtual services swiftly because of proper contingency planning. Build your network by sharing resources, support your partners and allies, and lean into collaborative advocacy. Collaborative advocacy is what brought the expansion of the CARES Act. Directors at various nonprofits shared resources that increased our odds of receiving the paycheck protection loan. Lastly, in human services, you can not always guarantee the outcome, but you can guarantee the quality of the intervention. The highest quality interventions require you to be in tune with the experiences of others. 

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?  

I lived in New Jersey for two years, and that’s when I realized I was a New Yorker. I was very homesick. 

What has been the biggest challenge in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis?  

COVID-19 is revealing what we know to be true—communities remain resilient, even in the face of adversity. At GGE, the young people we serve are facing immense uncertainty. They are managing remote schoolwork while being caretakers. Their parents, many of whom are essential workers on the frontlines, continue to report to work and keep our city running. Without the SYEP Program, our young people are out of summer jobs that could help make ends meet. It’s a harsh reality that home is not always the safest place for youth. Domestic and sexual violence is on the rise worldwide due to quarantine orders. Our city is the coronavirus epicenter, with black and brown folks disproportionately impacted. GGE is committed to the safety and wellbeing of the youth of color we serve, who are in the thick of the stress. Youth are facing the loss of loved ones and grappling with missing key milestones that define their transition to adulthood like prom and graduation ceremonies. The biggest challenge is ensuring our youth are not overlooked or denied essential services. With the city making the tough decisions on what is deemed essential, we continue to advocate. We are making it clear that taking care of our youth is taking care of our future. 

What is the best way for people to help your efforts in dealing with this crisis?  

All New Yorkers can support our efforts with increased public awareness and public conversation on how this pandemic affects our youth. Supporters can donate to our programs which have increased their capacity to offer mental health services, wellness checks, stress management, and healthy relationship education. We are available to young people in need 24/7 should a crisis arise. You can be part of the GGE Movement by connecting with us on social media @GGENYC and staying in tune with our policy agenda. With all we have to consider for the  November election, let’s make sure that Black girls are not left behind. Learn more about our National Agenda for Black Girls,  shaping conversation as to what black girls need from our next President.  

April: Essential Services

With our city currently facing unprecedented challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to spotlight YPs on the front lines of the crisis: YPs working in health care, food banks, delivery services, emergency child care, government procurement, and/or other essential services that keep this city going. Congratulations to our April Spotlights of the Month, Nichole Guerra and Jorge Montalvo!
Nichole Guerra
Director of Development and Communication,
Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

How did you get to where you are today?

I am where I am today because of the generosity of people I’ll never know or meet. When I was in high school, I was invited to apply for what was called a “QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship.” Through this program, QuestBridge sought to connect high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds to four-year universities they wouldn’t be able to afford without deep financial assistance. I was “matched” to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where I majored in Public Policy and Law. It was through this program and internships at nonprofit advocacy groups that I discovered my passion for social justice. An internship turned into a job, which led to another job, and another, and so on. Without the generosity of the individuals who funded my scholarship, I would likely still be living in Ohio, where I was born and raised.

What are you most proud of?

I believe pride is an emotion that should be felt about others and not necessarily about oneself. Instead of feeling “proud” of my accomplishments, I feel gratitude for all of the individuals and circumstances that led to those accomplishments. That said, I am most proud of my husband, who immigrated to the United States in his early twenties, learned a new language, got his doctorate, and is now conducting important research on rehabilitation techniques that improve the quality of life among people with spinal cord injuries. He is my rock and I cannot imagine getting anything done without his support and partnership.

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

I have never met anyone who wanted to pursue a career in nonprofit fundraising and development; most people end up “falling into” it and either love it or hate it. The general advice I would give is if you feel privileged to be able to connect people to social causes they care about, development might be for you.   

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I haven’t yet! I still call myself a “fake New Yorker” and probably will until I can exit a given subway station and know which way I’m supposed to walk without looking at Google Maps.

What has been the biggest challenge in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis?

We’ve lost our volunteers, who we usually rely on to serve 1,000 hot meals a day. We’ve lost critical funding streams while seeing an unprecedented increase in demand for our services. We’ve had to alter our operations from a “cafeteria-style” hot lunch to a “grab-and-go” hot meal distribution with no lead time for planning or purchasing needed supplies. And like everyone else, we deal daily with anxiety about the health and livelihood of our staff, guests, and community members. Crisis response on its own is a full-time job, leaving other critical functions of the organization to be addressed in the evenings or on weekends. As an individual, my biggest challenge comes from the fact that we don’t have more hours in the day. As a member of a community serving people with multiple vulnerabilities and risk factors, our biggest challenge is ensuring the safety and well-being of people who don’t have homes where they can self-distance. I worry constantly about the physical and mental well-being of everyone who has come to rely on the soup kitchen for sustenance and community.

What is the best way for people to help your efforts in dealing with this crisis? 

Many soup kitchens operate on a much smaller scale than Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen and have temporarily closed shop due to the crisis. More and more New Yorkers now come to our soup kitchen for a hot meal, often the only meal they receive on a given day. To ensure we are able to fill this gap in the weeks, or months, ahead, we launched an ambitious campaign, similar to what communities have done in the wake of Hurricane/disaster relief efforts. People who’d like to help can support the soup kitchen’s campaign in multiple ways:

  • Donating to the campaign. Donations can be made here or by texting “FEEDNYC” to 44321.
  • Sharing the campaign with people looking to help emergency relief food services.
  • Creating your own personal or company campaign page here.
  • Identifying/engaging corporate sponsors to fund the campaign
  • Staying connected and sharing our posts on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn
 
Jorge I. Montalvo
Chief Operating Officer
Physician Affiliate Group of New York, P.C. (PAGNY)

 

How did you get to where you are today?

From chemist to working on the NYC 2012 Olympic bid to diverse roles as a public servant and now a leader of a major health care company, I’ve had a non-traditional career path. I grew up in New York City, a child of two immigrants from Ecuador, who worked and continue to work extremely hard to provide for their children. At times we struggled and faced the hard realities of being judged for traits beyond the content of one’s character. Yet, it was this state and this city and their promise that afforded us an opportunity. It helped shape the person I am today. Professionally, my first non-science related job at the NYC 2012 Olympic bid opened the doors to a career in public service. From there, I was inspired to continue seeking opportunities where I could help New Yorkers.

What are you most proud of?

I’m extremely proud of PAGNY’s physicians and allied health professionals. They are world-class and proving it with every appointment, every procedure, and every shift. They are mission-driven. They chose to work in New York City’s public hospitals, clinics and correctional health facilities out of a commitment that everyone have access to quality care, regardless of who they are, how they identify where they are from, who they love, or their ability to pay. In these difficult and frightening times, their compassion and devotion to patients and to those who seek help are an inspiration. I know they will continue to make us all proud throughout this crisis. And when it ends, they will have the thanks of every New Yorker, who will know what they have done, what they have sacrificed, and how hard they have fought for them. I’m honored to work for them and fight to keep them healthy and safe while they are doing that for all of us. I’m also proud of starting and leading the New York State Office for New Americans at a time of great need and in the face of government contraction. The work was personal. I remember sitting with my mother in English classes throughout my childhood as she tried to learn the language. I remember quizzing my parents on the civics questions in preparation for the exam to become U.S. citizens. I also remember seeing and feeling the discrimination that we had to endure at times. Doing something to try to help people like my parents and neighbors felt special. The friendships with the hundreds of thousands of immigrant New Yorkers to whom we provided direct, tangible services during the time I spearheaded the work will always feel like the capstone of the early part of my career. I will always be grateful to Governor Andrew Cuomo, former Secretary of State Cesar Perales, and all the not-for-profit advocates and service providers who gave me the opportunity to work alongside them to help New Yorkers.

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

I suggest that people try demonstrating to their colleagues that they have good judgment and are thoughtful. Those skills are not as common as you might think. They are highly valued and create the trust you need to eventually be afforded opportunities and personal confidence to show your full potential. I would also suggest being a good friend. It will make you more human and, I believe, help you to be a better decision maker. I’ve learned more about people and life from my interpersonal relationships than from books, podcasts, or classes. Admittedly, I struggle with that at times because I get caught up in my work. But, I keep trying.vLastly, try mapping out how all projects–big, small or however disconnected to real life it may feel–will impact people and how you believe they will react. Intellectually, the exercise is fun. Yet, the real power of the exercise is regularly putting yourself in different people’s shoes.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I had the privilege of being born in New York City. Yet, my family and friends would likely say I realized my true New York spirit as a toddler. I like running around a lot. That means climbing everything in a small apartment. The only place my mother could get me to be calm and sit would be on the subway, where she says I would stare out the windows above and below ground.

What has been the biggest challenge in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis?

Today, there is no COVID-19 vaccine and no known ‘cure,’ which creates a lack of certainty in the work, daily and in its longevity. A major challenge we face is protecting our employees’ health while they help all of us. One way we have done this is by helping to implement a policy that prioritizes non-patient-facing assignments for our employees whom a COVID-19 infection would pose a higher health risk. With the surge of 911 calls and ER visits, our employees have also stepped up during their time off to field 311 calls to offer medical advice. There is also the unspoken toll this is taking on these frontline workers. We recognize this and are constantly trying to do what we can to boost morale. For example, we are providing access to mental health services and partnering with organizations to provide meals for our employees.

What is the best way for people to help your efforts in dealing with this crisis?

Stay informed from reliable, science-based sources. Stay calm. Take it seriously. Physically distance yourself from others, yet keep connected over social media, email, texts, Zoom happy hours, and even old school calling people. Clean your hands. Keep in mind so many of our fellow New Yorkers who have been physically and economically affected by the virus. And, if you feel so inclined, donate to the PAGNY Health and Research Foundation to bring food and other comforts to the frontline health care providers: https://www.pagny.org/donation/ 

March: Journalism

We are honoring YPs improving New York City through their work in journalism.
Congratulations to our February Spotlights of the Month, Erin Durkin and Annie McDonough!

Erin Durkin
Reporter,
POLITICO


How did you get to where you are today?

I got my first taste of city reporting as a college student, covering development fights in West Harlem for the Columbia Spectator. I guess I was hooked. From there I started as an intern at the Daily News, covered local news in Brooklyn, and then became a City Hall reporter. I’ve found urban policy and politics to be a pretty perfect fit for my interests and have been lucky to have the opportunity to delve into so many aspects of it.

 

What are you most proud of?

It’s a point of pride to help give New Yorkers the information they need everyday about their city and how it works, and help them make informed decisions. I’m especially proud of the stories that have a concrete impact in leading to change.

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

Stay curious and remember that the biggest part of reporting is showing up. On a more practical level, it’s a rough industry these days so if you choose to take the plunge, try to prepare yourself for ups and downs along the way.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

It might have been the moment I had the thought that I can’t gain any more weight because I’m exactly the size of a subway seat.

Annie McDonough 
(photo: Celeste Sloman)
Tech and Policy Reporter,
City & State Magezine

How did you get to where you are today?

I’ve wanted to be a journalist since high school, when I realized I loved writing but had a terrible imagination for writing fiction. Writing for school papers and doing internships through college helped me realize that I love reporting, too. After college upstate, I moved to the city for a graduate journalism program at New York University, knowing that New York is one of the best places in the world for anyone who wants to go into journalism. It’s competitive, but it’s also where so many of the opportunities are. I got an internship at City & State during my last semester at NYU and by a massive stroke of luck, they had a job opening for a technology reporter. I eventually got the job and started full-time on the same day I turned in my graduate thesis project. To date, I’ve published lots of articles and zero works of fiction.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of helping launch our technology policy coverage, and our email newsletter First Read Tech. The powers that be at City & State saw a gap in coverage of New York’s growing tech sector and how tech is being regulated by the state and localities. Launching a newsletter like First Read Tech is so exciting because we’re building it from the ground up, constantly trying to better inform our readers. The goal of First Read Tech is to provide analysis and need-to-know news to both New York politicos and tech professionals about the convergence of tech and policy, and I think we’ve made some great progress on that goal since we launched last January.

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

Journalism is notoriously a difficult field to enter these days and a lot of factors that were out of my control led me to the full-time reporting job that I have now and really love. That said, I think it’s important to get as much reporting experience as you can early on, whether it’s at a college radio station or freelancing for a community newspaper. I’m pretty sure that when applying for my job at City & State, I submitted clips not at all relevant to tech or politics – like a story about a Broadway cabaret club – but they showed reporting and writing skills that would hopefully transfer to magazine features I’d write for City & State. Without getting stretched too thin, try to say yes to as many different reporting opportunities as you can. You never know which coverage areas you might find fun and exciting.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

This is a tough one because I don’t yet call myself a New Yorker. I moved here in 2017 and while I don’t buy into the idea that you can only call yourself a New Yorker after a certain number of years, I think I still have a way to go. Having my first good public cry in Tompkins Square Park and the guys at Veselka memorizing my order seem like pretty good stepping stones, though.

 

February: Architecture and Design

We are honoring YPs making their mark on the physical landscape of New York City through their work in architecture and design. 
Congratulations to our February Spotlights of the Month, Delma Palma and Adam Roberts!
Delma Palma 
Community Design Architecht, 
New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)

How did you get to where you are today?

Before moving to New York City as an Enterprise Fellow to work on urban design policy at NYCHA, I was at an architecture and urban design firm in Washington D.C. I was working with housing authorities across the country to design mixed-income communities in areas of historic disinvestment. We were revitalizing neighborhoods through urban design and architecture that was diverse, affordable, and beautiful. We worked with local governments to create great places, which eventually led me to want to work in the government systems that were making these big decisions. Before arriving in Washington DC, I was in Chile at the largest social housing non-profit in Latin America where I was working on transitional housing and social inclusion programs to fight extreme poverty in South and Central American informal settlements. Through my work in the field of architecture and urban design, I am committed to using design as a tool to build equity and livability in urban areas.

What are you most proud of?

I am really proud to be helping integrate design excellence into public housing communities in New York City. I truly believe that design matters and yet it is something that more often than not is considered a luxury. In a city that is hyper focused on high design and building, we must understand the backbone of our city (our people) rely on affordable housing. It contributes to the diversity and opportunity New York is known for and it is important to design it well. NYCHA covers over 2,400 acres of New York City and, due to many reasons, it can sometimes feel disconnected from the rest of the neighborhood. My work at NYCHA is focused on how to better connect our residents through the design of the public realm. I am proud of the partnerships we have been able to build through this work and the relationships with different agencies, non-profits, and residents through our community-led process.

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

That is a complicated question because is it about architecture, public housing, or government in general? The easy answer is that I think we need more architects who are committed to the public good, whether it is in the private sector or the public one, so I would encourage folks who are thinking about design to consider design of the built environment. Architects are often told that they are generalists—that we know a little bit about a lot of things. Since I do believe that this is true, I think architects make thoughtful city planners because they are constantly re-evaluating how each change impacts the bigger picture. Cities are the interaction of buildings, spaces and people. That interaction is essential to what you do as an architect—it is just on a smaller scale. Bringing that expertise to the city scale with the public interest in mind can have quite the impact.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

While working at NYCHA I have been able to see many stretches of New York City. I have had the opportunity to visit different neighborhoods in all five boroughs and learn how the built environment impacts the daily lives of over half a million New Yorkers who live in public housing. Focusing on how the physical space can influence significant issues such as safety, health, and community resilience in these diverse neighborhoods has brought me very in tune with the city I call home. I have seen residents and local organizations advocate for better design in their neighborhoods and have realized that together we are the ones who incrementally make this city stronger through action. I know now that even if we were not born or raised here, we can all contribute to this city’s continuous improvement—and that is what truly makes us New Yorkers.

Adam Roberts 
Director of Policy, 
American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York

How did you get to where you are today?

I have been in government since my first internship for Senator Schumer back in high school. This led me to work for the City Council and various political campaigns. Building upon this, I also had an interest in urban studies, particularly architecture. Though both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in political science, I took numerous architecture classes at both levels. After completing my graduate studies at Columbia, a friend passed along that AIA New York was looking for someone to handle their government work, which seemed like a natural fit considering my government experience and interest in architecture. Since 2017, I advocate on behalf of good design in New York City, helping to turn the architectural community into active political community.

What are you most proud of?

My proudest moment at AIA New York was the passage of Local Law 97 of 2019, which mandates that buildings stay under carbon emissions limits. Currently, 70% of carbon emissions in NYC originate from buildings. This law has many impacts: it mitigates the effects of climate change, improves air quality, creates thousands of jobs, and betters living and work conditions for countless New Yorkers. AIA New York’s members worked in conjunction with Council Member Constantinides and allied organizations to ensure that the law’s requirements would be enforceable and achievable, while also gathering support in the City Council for its passage. Though much work remains to fully implement the law, Local Law 97 should transform NYC’s architecture on a massive citywide scale.

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

My advice is to be open to work in many different aspects of the field, not only designing buildings. Architecture is a great field for someone looking to have a diverse range of career options. You can work for an architecture firm, general contractor, developer, government agency, university, or non-profit. Depending on where you work, you can do design, project management, building management, real estate development, procurement, teaching, or government relations. Those who are looking for a field with a wide range of opportunities should strongly consider architecture. 

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

Growing up on Long Island, I considered myself a quasi-New Yorker my whole life. When I felt like a true New Yorker though, was when I became involved in Democratic politics ten years ago in my neighborhood, the Upper East Side. While local politics can be a tough environment, it provides a sense of place and community. I have gotten to know countless friends, neighbors, and community leaders through this work. Over the last few years, outside of my day job, I served as a Democratic District Leader and currently serve as a Democratic State Committee Member for the Upper East Side.

 

January: Sports, Physical Education, Physical Recreation, and Wellness

We are honoring YPs improving New York through their work in the sports, physical education, physical recreation, and wellness spheres.
Congratulations to our January Spotlights of the Month, Kara Hoffman and Sherrise Palomino! 
Kara Hoffman, MPH   
Community Health Organizer,
Montefiore School Health Program    

How did you get to where you are today?

In a sense I’ve come full circle in my career from where it began in the Bronx in 2013. I’ve always had a passion for educating so I did a service year in a school in Hunts Point, thinking I was just buying time until I applied to physical therapy school. But instead of being focused on my actual job, I was overwhelmed by my students lack of access to health services and education. I had to do something about it. So I pursued my Master of Public Health in Maternal and Child Health and have not looked back since. And a lot of what has gotten me to where I am today is my perseverance and passion for what I do every single day. Growing up I didn’t have access to much health education, especially anything to do with sexual and reproductive health. As I progressed through my career, I realized my experiences growing up had ignited a deep passion within me to educate young people in ways I never had. When I saw the job posting at Montefiore for this position within the oldest and largest school-based health center program in the country, I knew I had to apply. Though I am not from the Bronx, if I can empower young people to become leaders in their communities that inspire change then I will have done my job.

What are you most proud of?

 I am most proud of my flexibility, my understanding, and my humility learned through travel and new experiences. In the last 10 years I have traveled, lived, and worked all over the United States and the world. I spent a summer in Alaska learning how to improve access to healthcare for rural populations with literally no access to cities or resources. I attended graduate school in New Orleans and took a short-term job in Washington State, just to name a few. But through all my travels I have learned and grown both personally and professionally. I can see things from many different perspectives. I have lived in countries where I could not communicate verbally with anyone around me, yet I still formed lasting relationships. Yes, every time I’ve moved I’ve been absolutely terrified – at least for a little bit. But I’ve pushed through those fears and found new strength in myself.

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

If flexibility is not your strong suit now, work on getting more comfortable with it! Public health is inherently tied to peoples’ beliefs and values so there are emotions present. In a more literal sense I mean to say that public health is also tied to politics. We’re a largely grant-funded field, at least in the social and behavioral end of it that I work in. That means jobs can come and go very quickly, which is just as unsettling to experience as it sounds. But the flexibility of the field is what makes it fun and dynamic. We’re always learning new things in the broader health field, so it’s a great place to be if you like learning and innovation. Science and health jobs are not just ‘lab’ jobs like people can make it seem!

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

 I have a hard time truly calling myself a New Yorker as I have still only been here since 2013, and not even that entire time. However, I did have a defining moment one day sitting in front of the TV in Washington when that notorious Sex and the City theme song started playing. As soon as I saw the city – not even any of the women! – I burst into tears. I missed New York so much it hurt, despite the fact that I had just moved across the country by choice. I called my best friend, who I live with today, and told her about my tears and about how everyone moving slowly in Washington irritated me and how I felt like I’d lost my spark. So I consider it more my first real step to becoming a New Yorker. I have a long way to go!

Sherrise Palomino
Senior Manager, Government Relations and
Community Investment Initiatives,
New York Road Runners

 

How did you get to where you are today?

I interned at UNA-USA on a pilot program called HERO. We served rural communities decimated by HIV/AIDS in four African countries. The goal was to provide educational and social support to schools in communities with extremely high HIV/AIDS prevalence—essentially communities where most children had been orphaned by the pandemic. The impact was demonstrable and real. I was moved and inspired. HIV/AIDS became my focus. I wanted to change the trajectory for people impacted by the disease and stop others from getting it.  After that internship, I started a career in HIV prevention at the AIDS Center of Queens County working with targeted high risk populations. Then at BronxWorks focusing solely on adolescence in the South Bronx. The work I did in public health became pillars of my career. It enabled me to build my career in several different ways that also lead me to New York Road Runners. 

 

What are you most proud of?

Through the sexual health program I managed at BronxWorks I demonstrated and taught youth about disease prevention, leadership, community health and advocacy. It’s amazing to work and watch youth as they develop and shape their worlds. There’s so many economic barriers and structural racism that young people growing up in many NYC communities have to overcome. These kids are beating the odds and their zip codes aren’t limiting their destinies. And I’m proud to have been a piece of that. 

 

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

Create your own opportunities. Don’t get discouraged when it seems like things aren’t working out. The dots will eventually connect. Be open to the challenges in front of you. They are only roadblocks. It’s okay go in a new direction even if it takes you longer or down a different road. You can still get to your destination. It’s not how you got there. It’s that you arrived. When you arrived, no matter how beaten and fatigued you are. Pull yourself together. Take a seat at the table and let them know the value in front of them.

 

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I was born in Brooklyn. But I think the realization came when I was in elementary school at PS 251. As kids you start to label people. You are this. I am that. Most of us at the school were immigrants or first generation like myself. As I started to see and understand my own identities being a New Yorker became one of them. There’s a real sense of pride in being from New York. It’s the greatest city in the world so how can we not be proud? 

December: Community Based Organizations

We are honoring YPs improving New York through their work at Community Based Organizations.
Congratulations to our December Spotlights of the Month, Natasha Camille and Nina Stender!

Natasha (Natty) Camille, LMSW
Youth Leadership Coordinator,
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center 

How did you get to where you are today?

I grew up in the outer suburbs of NYC in a household with my parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I have always been proud of growing up as a Haitian-American person because of how resilient and resourceful of a people that I come from. Growing up, negotiating the differences between the teachings of my household and those of my “outside world” (school, friends, etc.) was always a tricky task. My early experiences being first-generation American certainly shaped my understanding of the many ways in which my reality oftentimes felt different from that of some of my family members. Part of how I got to where I am today is by learning how to ask for support, and always searching for communities that I could feel aligned with. My high school’s Gay-Straight alliance as well as a local support group for LGBTQ youth in the town that I grew up were influential communities during my adolescence when I was just trying to figure myself out. These resources that I was lucky to have as a young person helped me gain the confidence and belief in myself and my identities to always stand up for what I believe in and act as an advocate for fellow queer and trans folks and people of color. I have so much gratitude for the social workers that led each of these groups with the utmost compassion and served as an example of the kind of work that I would later become inspired to devote myself to as an adult.

What are you most proud of?

I am proud of the fact that I have learned to march to the beat of my own drum and be unapologetic about the choices that I make. Entering the field of social work was not initially in the plans for me. Want to know a secret? I was pre-med in college, and it was not until my senior year that I realized I was not working towards becoming a doctor for myself. Making that decision did not make everyone happy, but I thank myself endlessly that I trusted myself enough to make a decision that felt good for me. I often share with my friends how much I genuinely look forward to going to work every single day and working with the amazing youth that I do. I am proud of the relationships that I have gotten to build with these young people, and am grateful to be around folks who make me a better person in a multitude of ways: 1) They are super bright, so I am constantly learning from them, 2) They are loving and make me feel valued, and 3) They are bravely and radically themselves, which inspires to do the same. It feels like such a gift to be doing work that I am good at and that I love to do, and I am proud of myself for guiding myself in the right direction.

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

I would tell them: This work, at its core, is healing justice. It is a radical act of regarding people who have been historically neglected & harmed by oppressive institutions as deserving of joy, care, safety, love, community, etc. and finding ways to support them in seeing themselves this way in the face of continuous harm from said systems. Be ready to recognize your clients’ agency and work alongside them instead of on behalf of them because savior complexes, too, are detrimental.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I probably heard non-stop sirens and chatter outside the window on the fateful night of my birth at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital (now Mount Sinai West) and knew that I was in the center of a city that never sleeps. However, it dawns on me that I am a New Yorker every time that I leave the city for a trip and am super critical of wherever I am. I could be on the most beautiful, picturesque beach and still somehow long for the sense of security that I feel knowing that in NYC I have access to a plethora of things that could be more difficult to locate elsewhere (but I’m working on my NYC-centric views!). 



Nina Stender

Program Manager, Operations and Planning

Center for Court Innovation/ Brownsville Community Justice Center



How did you get to where you are today?

I first became involved in community organizing as a high schooler growing up in Hong Kong. I participated in human rights and environmental activism and advocacy and learned about how environmental issues are inextricably intertwined with social and economic class, where the most economically vulnerable and politically disenfranchised people are burdened with disproportionate risks and face the harshest impacts. After moving to the U.S. to attend Wesleyan University, I took my first full-time position as a legal assistant at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. This job again offered insight into racial and socioeconomic disparities, this time in the criminal justice and legal systems. While I became very invested in policy and systems-level changes, I also grappled with the fact that, having grown up abroad and had a privileged upbringing, I was disconnected from communities who were most impacted by many of the policies and systems that I wanted to envision. I became a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs out of my desire to build deeper and more meaningful relationships with individuals, organizations, and neighborhoods across New York City. I ended up pursuing a job at one of the Center for Court Innovation’s community-based sites, the Brownsville Community Justice Center, because I was hoping to work alongside folks who were on the ground reshaping narratives and conditions in their community.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of being actively engaged in communities that I am a part of. In the aftermath of Trump’s election, back when I was living in the immigrant-heavy neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn, I became involved in Make the Road New York’s Aliadxs, a network of allies committed to using our privilege and resources to support MRNY’s immigrant and working class members. In Aliadxs, I joined fellow Bushwick newcomers in forming a Neighborhood Defense Team. Now, I volunteer for electoral campaigns canvassing and organizing phone banks, at the local level in City Council and District Attorney races, at the state level, as well as at the federal level for presidential campaigns. I am also a part of an intergenerational group founding a Democratic Club representing progressive Asian Americans in New York City. I am a member of an educational learning community called Think Olio and am part of its members-led working group exploring a structural transition to becoming a worker-owned co-operative.

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

My experience working in Brownsville has been incredibly humbling. Our model is youth-led, meaning that our services and priorities are shaped by young people who define their needs and interests through focus groups and other collaborative decision-making processes, through which we provide compensation for their time and expertise. From working in this dynamic role that requires planning, organizing, and strategizing, I have learned that policies and programs are most successful when they involve collaboration across sectors and particularly when we center the voices of directly impacted individuals and communities.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I feel complicated about claiming to be a New Yorker, given my role as a newcomer and the broader context of gentrification and the city’s crisis of displacement. I had an international and multicultural upbringing– I was raised abroad in Hong Kong by Chinese and Jewish-American parents with frequent visits to relatives based in California– so it’s always been hard for me to feel authentically like a local. However, NYC has become the closest thing to home for me. I’ve lived in Brooklyn since graduating from college four years ago. I also grew up in a big city, so I find a lot of comfort in the intensity, pace, and the simultaneous anonymity and intimacy of New York City life.

November: Public and Private Foundations

We are honoring ABNY YPs improving New York through their work at public and private Foundations

Congratulations to our November Spotlights of the Month, Chimene Okere and Nupur Chaudhury!


Chimene Okere

Program Associate, The Ford Foundation

How did you get to where you are today?

I arrived here via a combination of luck, hard work, and mentorship. Growing up in Chicago I felt like my life trajectory was locked-in and set. I focused on building a strong set of familiar relationships while ignoring too many folks who were different than myself. That led to me missing a lot of chances to learn from diverse communities across the country’s third largest city. Leaving Chicago helped me recognize how much I can learn from other parts of our country and supercharged my curiosity. Eventually I translated my passion for learning about new communities to serving on student leadership groups at the University of Memphis. There, mentors on the University team knew of my interest in public service and passed my resume to recruiters at the White House who were looking for recent grads to fill entry level positions across the Obama Administration. After working in the federal government for two years, one of my close mentors knew of a few positions at the Ford Foundation that were opening up and connected me with the person who would become my boss. After learning about the role and realizing how it aligned with my passion for public service, I pursued the role and was hired. 

What are you most proud of?

My perspective. The fight towards justice is long, but the urgency of today’s moment demands that we are creative and intentional about how we want leaders to show up in public and private. I’m most proud that despite where I go in my career, I believe that I can contribute to a more just America and New York regardless of my title, salary, or age. And yet, I know that it’s my responsibility to support the conditions so that next generations have the possibility to feel the same. Besides that, I’m also extra proud to be alive to see my often annoying, endlessly endearing siblings transition from kids to adults to parents. It instills so much hope in my community and generation.

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

Invest in people, not just ideas. At the start of my career in public service, I valued my intellect far more than my social skills and ability to relate to people who were different than I am. Today, I am rarely, if ever, the smartest or hardest working person in a meeting. However, I still believe that I am able to contribute to the collective benefit of my team and organization because I can relate to people and communicate my position clearly. Smarts are needed, but people in philanthropy or public service do not need to be an intellectual, the most eloquent, or the most passionate to contribute. After every job I’ve left, I’ve regretted not spending more time with the people with whom I work. My advice for people who want to work in my field is to use your career to understand and learn more about people as those relationships can pay off in ways that you can’t predict.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I still don’t believe I’m a New Yorker; but this city animates my compassion for others and curiosity for a better, more just world unlike any other place. As long as that energy ignites my interests, New York will always be a home and a source of calm and hope.

 

 

 

 

Nupur Chaudhury
Program Officer, Building Healthy Communities,
New York State Health Foundation



How did you get to where you are today?

I grew up traveling between US American cities and Indian cities and was always fascinated with the differences. Urban Planning gave me the language to do that. I stumbled into public health when I was working in India and realized that health wasn’t really defined health care, but by everything else: transportation, education, employment, to name a few. Going to graduate school for Urban Planning and Public Health gave me the foundation to understand how cities and neighborhoods influence health, but it was my habit of saying “yes” to every opportunity presented to me, and taking thousands of people I came across out for coffee, tea, you name it! It was through that that I’ve been able to work at some amazing places: the United Nations, the Manhattan Borough Presidents Office, Department of City Planning, and the Clinton Foundation, NYC’s Center for Health Equity, and now, in Philanthropy.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of what I am not: I am a South Asian, but I am not a doctor, lawyer or engineer. Being a kid of South Asian immigrants and from a family of doctors, there was a lot of pressure to follow that path. But I believe that South Asians have an important point of view in this country, and this country needs us working in different fields. That’s why I focused on building healthy cities. I am proud of being the difference, and taking a stand for South Asians in this country forging our own path, one of curiosity, exploration, and solidarity in the work toward a just city for all. 

I am also proud of the fact that my work in building a just city for all spans fields. I’ve worked in the non profit sector, I’ve worked for the City for New York. I’ve worked with private designers, international development organizations, and now philanthropy. We need everyone to work together, and I’m proud to be a bridge builder in and between these fields.

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

If you want to work in Philanthropy, build an expertise, a passion, and a point of view. That comes from doing the work, not just funding the work! I’ve worked in offices without working printers, where I brought my own office supplies to work. I’ve worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week, deep in and with communities. That helped me understand what the real issues are in building healthy neighborhoods and cities. And I bring that to my role as a Program Officer every single day when designing grants and working with grantees. An effective Program Officers aren’t those who are skilled at making grants. An effective Program Officer are those who have done the work and can bring those voices to the boardroom and the foundation at large. Without that understanding, it’s impossible to be effective at grantmaking.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

When I started positioning myself on the subway platform based on the stop I was getting off at. Logging the subway cars based on the exits of your destination takes skill. Only a true New Yorker can do that!

 

October: Research

We are honoring ABNY YPs contributing to research that helps inform public policy in New York.

Congratulations to our October Spotlights of the Month, Lucy Robson and Nick E. Smith! 

Lucy Robson
Director of Research & Policy, New Yorkers for Parks
  
How did you get to where you are today? 

I have been drawn to open spaces and narratives since childhood, when my happiest hours were spent in a hammock reading library books with dripping, sticky ice pops. My work today melds data with advocacy for parks and open spaces, trying to answer the question, “What information and tools do New Yorkers need to tell stories that create change for their open spaces and their neighborhoods?” Choosing a graduate education in Urban Planning here in New York City was the biggest single decision I made that led me to my current work. It opened my eyes to the structural forces at play that create the inequitable realities many New Yorkers experience. It provided me with the opportunity to take on internships with public and private organizations working on innovative urban proposals. And it gave me the knowledge and vocabulary of public policy, and the social, economic, and cultural contextual grounding to do public outreach with New Yorkers. I believe that quantitative data is not sufficient for decision-making in New York, and for that reason my work is largely focused on the trust-based community outreach that gives my team the qualitative information about parks, open spaces, and neighborhoods which is critical for understanding and progress.

What are you most proud of?

The small team at New Yorkers for Parks created and rallied the Play Fair Coalition this past spring, and the Mayor and City Council added $43M to the NYC Parks budget for maintenance and operations. We put data about 30-plus years of City spending on park maintenance into conversation with a citywide network of park advocates. The funding ensures that all City parks, and all New Yorkers, feel the impact of an increased level of investment in the day-to-day, vital, maintenance of parks and open spaces. We did this work alongside our co-founding partners, the New York League of Conservation Voters and DC37, the Parks workers’ union. However, unlike other major citywide budget and policy campaigns, we did not have communications or PR consultants. We had spent years building trust with advocates by providing reliable data-driven reports, tools for advocacy, and a channel for their priorities and concerns. It was incredibly rewarding to see that our years of careful and dedicated work had paid off for New Yorkers across the city.

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

Firstly, any work experience is good work experience for a small nonprofit, in my opinion. For example, a retail job gives you the building blocks to speak with constituents, representing your organization. Childcare positions are incubators for problem-solving and adaptability skills. Our team of 10 has a record of success because we are flexible and communicative. Second, I pass on the best piece of advice I received from a mentor: bring concrete solutions to the table. When you identify a problem, also identify two options for your next step. Third, there is no substitute for a site visit. When the burning questions of your work are grounded in a specific neighborhood or place, get some boots-on-the-ground knowledge of that place: it will make you look at your data and your options differently.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I’ve lived here for 8 years. Was it when I realized I had 7 MetroCards in my wallet? When I grew tomatoes on a window ledge? When I first rode my bicycle to work?  No, it was when I knew to avoid the empty subway cars.


Nick E. Smith

First Deputy Public Advocate for Policy, Office of the New York City Public Advocate

How did you get to where you are today?

I was fortunate. I knew that I wanted to be a policy maker at 15 years old. My political awareness started in 2000, when I saw Florida government officials systematically disenfranchised thousands of mostly black and brown voters in an attempt to prevent them from voting for their choice of Presidential candidate. Since then, I've aligned myself with individuals and organizations that were aligned with my progressive philosophy. One never knows where opportunity presents itself, so a few skills I've used to get here is to simply be open to what the universe brings one's way, remain determined, and don't take "no" for an answer.

What are you most proud of?

Professionally, I am most proud that I've helped move the needle on policy at state and local levels. I was co-author of several state laws and more than 40 city laws (including a state law banning the marketing/sale of e-cigarettes to minors and city laws ending discrimination against those with criminal records, victims of domestic violence, tenants, veterans and small business owners).

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

The unwritten rule of politics is that young people must "wait their turn." You don't. It is your turn. Young people have been behind some of the most significant social movements in our country. Follow your passion and never let anytime stop you from fulfilling them. Yes, that is cliché, but it's also reality.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I realized I was a New Yorker two days into my first trip out of the city many years ago. I got bored within three days and kept checking my return flight. I couldn't wait to get back. This place, even with its many challenges, has an energy that is unmatched.

September: Arts and Culture

We are honoring ABNY YPs contributing to the Arts and Culture sector of NYC.
Congratulations to our August Spotlights of the Month, Peter Vergara and Melissa Diaz!

Peter Vergara
Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale Administrator, Sotheby’s


How did you get to where you are today?

From a young age, I have been curious about art – losing myself in museums and books, learning about painting, sculpture, drawings, and more… During college, I was fortunate enough to have exciting internships at the Met Cloisters, the Hispanic Society of America, and Sotheby's. Not only did each job teach me a great deal of art history, but I also learned what tremendous variety of jobs there are in the art world. Of all my experience I was most fascinated by the art market, specifically, the auction house.

What are you most proud of?

During college and since I graduated a year ago, I have continued to give tours at the Met Cloisters for kids of all ages – some as young as five! While I love my day-to-day job, I usually work with the art from a logistics point of view. Giving a tour at a museum is a good way to slow down and appreciate a work of art without distractions. I am proud to be keeping up this practice, and that I get to share the art with kids who are seeing it for the first time and asking genuine questions.

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

Cast a wide net! The art world, especially in NY, is far vaster than I ever expected. There are more museums, galleries, organizations, foundations, auction houses, and centers than one would care to count – all looking for young and eager talent. For me, some of the best and more formative experiences were in the internships and jobs I did not expect to have… but applied anyway!

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

When a colleague referred to the “west coast” and – embarrassingly – the Hudson River came to my mind before California!

Melissa Diaz

Director of Government Affairs, American Museum of Natural History

How did you get to where you are today?

Very simple: asking for help + doing the work. Doing the work came quickly to me as a kid, it’s something I’ve had for a while and was part of my upbringing. My mom came to this country from Peru in the ‘80s, so my sister and I grew up in Texas consistently hearing that you have to put the work in. It has made me kind of a workhorse, I love a challenge, so that has definitely been part of the path. But you can’t really go the full distance on your own, and that hard work mentality can only get you so far. Eventually, I learned the valuable lesson of asking for help – and acknowledging that it’s ok to do that! Turns out, people want to help you. So I’m here because of those who were willing to help.  

What are you most proud of?

It has been incredibly meaningful for me to have had opportunities to serve this city and our country throughout my career. Choosing a career in public service is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It hasn’t always been easy: I’ve been that unpaid intern waiting tables nights and weekends just to stay afloat, and I’ve definitely been that 5th grade teacher grading quizzes well into the night (only to wake up at 5:00am the next day and do it all over again). But choosing to work in this sector, and the places I’ve been fortunate to serve in–from the classroom to Washington to City Hall to the halls of this Museum–has been such a privilege. Both New York City and this country are very near and dear to my heart, so being able to contribute to making New York City the greatest city in the world has been a dream come true.

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

There’s really nothing like New York: it’s this strange yet fascinating series of ecosystems that all connect and count on each other to survive, so if you’re interested in the field of Arts and Culture, I’d first advise to learn about these systems. Watch as much NY1 as you can. Learn about the Council, the Mayor, what happens in Albany, the agencies, the budget, and yes, of course–go visit the museums! 

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I grew up in Houston and I’ve been in New York since 2006. I’m celebrating 13 years this week. As a certain New York Senator once phrased it, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.” Sure, I could have stayed in Texas. But this is New York. And to be a part of this place, to make my life here and my career here, I think it took me ten years before I realized that this city is who I am. Just a pizza-folding, jaywalking, opinionated woman who’s really trying to cut down on the cursing (I promise, Mom). So I suppose that makes me a New Yorker.

August: Human and Social Services

We are honoring ABNY YPs improving NYC through the fields of Human and Social Services. 
Congratulations to our August Spotlights of the Month, Jerry Bruno and Dana Rachlin!

Jerry Bruno

Strategic Project Manager, New York City Department of Homeless Services

How did you get to where you are today?

My mom is my biggest cheerleader, best friend, chase bank, but all jokes aside, my mom made huge sacrifices so that I can have a chance at a better life. Raising two black boys on her own was not easy. She worked multiple jobs to ensure that my brother and I had all that we needed to be successful. My upbringing informed my work ethic and the lenses in which I see the world. I got to where I am today because I had a strong mother that would push me to be the very best, and who always affirmed my humanity despite what the world will tell me.

What are you most proud of?

I have been working in City government since 2012. I started my journey as a NYC Urban Fellow at the Department of Small Business Services and now I am at the Department of Homeless Services. I am proud to go to work every day on behalf of my fellow New Yorkers. From helping businesses navigate how to contract with government to creating programs that help families transition out of shelter, it is an honor to work in government knowing that I play a role in the lives of some many New Yorkers.  

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

If someone is thinking about the field of human and social services, they should have a deep appreciation of humanity, a radical love to serve, and the humility to be a constant learner.

 
When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I realized I was New Yorker: 1) When I turned my Florida driver license at the DMV’s office. It was surreal because all of my family is in Florida and 2) When I visit other places in the world, it makes appreciate how much New York has to offer and how much it is part of my identity.

 

Dana RachlinDana Rachlin
 Founder & Executive Director, NYC Together

 

How did you get to where you are today?

I grew up in a small neighborhood in Staten Island where exposure to diverse thoughts, cultures and experiences was limited. When I think about where I am today ideologically and professionally I have to credit all of the people and organizations who challenged me and supported me – most of all I have to credit the young people I work with who consistently motivate me and educate me.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of starting an organization at the height of “stop and frisk” that challenged members of the NYPD to reimagine their roles in the communities in which they work. NYC Together also sought to have the NYPD re-evaluate how public safety is and should be achieved. We do this by elevating the voices and best qualities of young people most impacted by police interaction and typically most marginalized from participating in these conversations.

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

I have been hearing more and more that seeking “reform” is thinking too small. What we are doing is reimagining the system completely. The reality is that it is not broken. The system is working exactly as how it was designed—to oppress and marginalize black and brown communities. If we are only going to reform, we are essentially still leaving the same structures in place that contribute to racial and economic inequality. I would advise anyone trying to get into this field to think radically and critically about how to disrupt the system and elevate justice as a value instead of a system.


When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

As a native New Yorker, I realized I was a real New Yorker when I recognized that my NYC experience is not that of everyone and decided to do something about it. Owning the responsibility to make New York more fair and equitable makes me feel like I am living my vision and mission. I regularly ask myself: “If all the great things about NYC can only be accessed by a few individuals then is it really the best city in the world?” I know I need to do my part to dismantle this inequality.

July: Immigration

We are honoring ABNY YPs promoting and advocating for immigrants.
Congratulations to our July Spotlights of the Month, Pamela Chomba and Shahana Hanif!

Pamela Chomba
Director of State Immigration Campaigns, FWD.us

 

How did you get to where you are today?

I found my voice. When I worked in electoral campaigns, I often argued to vote for a candidate, not knowing that my true power was in working for myself. I found immigration because my community asked me: how do you support someone when you can’t vote yourself yet? It was then that I realized people-power meant sharing our stories and challenges, and triumphing over them. Immigration chose me because I accepted who I was: a DACA recipient, Muslim, Latinx, Peruvian woman, and someone willing to fight for our rights.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud the speech I gave at a the Netroots 2017 Convention because I shared my personal story with a room full of allies who had lost sight of immigration as a priority in our resilience. In addition, I shared the space with Dolores Huerta, an activist for civil rights, and a strong role model for our activist community.

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

I would ask anyone to first meet with their local organizer. If you want to work in immigration, ask yourself: have I met immigrants – documented and undocumented? Seek your local organizations and ask them what they need and how you can you can use your skills to help. Most importantly, listen to undocumented immigrants. We know how to organize, listen to what we need.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

A couple of years ago I helped a family stop the deportation of their father. I woke up every day that week with a heartache for strangers, people whom I’ve never met before, but knew I would do anything in my power to protect them and the 4.5 million immigrants in New York.

Shahana Hanif

Director of Organizing and Community Engagement, Office of City Council Member Brad Lander

How did you get to where you are today?

My father arrived in Brooklyn all alone as an undocumented ship-jumper — he courageously crossed many seas for my two sisters and me to call Kensington, Brooklyn our home. My parents left their homes in rural Chittagong, Bangladesh for the possibilities of economic justice and democracy, despite being confronted with many challenges in their pursuit of building a new and forever home in Brooklyn. 

They were the first community organizers I knew. They created Bangladeshi cultural and political associations to amplify the power of Bangladeshis in our city. It was also in these spaces that I recognized patriarchy, gender inequities, the absence of young voices, and deep community factions preventing meaningful changes and improvements. 

My earliest organizing moments are as an older sister. I’m the eldest of three and was also older than most kids on our block. I negotiated with parents for more playtime. I helped mend and mediate fights because I believed in our power to be friends and that playing in a team is so much more fun than playing alone.

What are you most proud of?

I continue to survive Lupus — I was diagnosed at 17 and it nearly killed me. The journey to remission required telling my story of sickness and pain in English and Bangla, seeking out other stories of young women of color with chronic illnesses, navigating our city’s hospitals and health care as a young person (breaking out of shyness and introversion), recognizing and confronting the psychological and sociological impacts of disabilities, and advocating for better care at home, at school, at work, and in my friendships and communities. 

Caring for myself has made me a compassionate organizer. In 2014 I organized Bangladeshi public housing tenants at Queensbridge Houses. They had never been engaged in NYC’s housing justice movement nor any electoral processes. This exclusion and disenfranchisement made for a distrustful start to our organizing campaign. Before the eventual formation of a Bangladeshi tenant association led by women, I met with tenants and families over and over again. These early conversations usually had nothing to do with building tenant power or getting NYCHA to address decrepit housing conditions. They were about Bangladeshi feminist histories, migration journeys, and our favorite foods. 

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

I learned this Bangla organizing proverb from fierce tenant organizer and leader Nayrin Muhith: dosher lathi eker bojha. This means that it’s far more challenging for one person to sustainably change one’s circumstances and community, but our coming together as a collective creates magic and can change an entire system. Let’s be committed to this. 

And this one by Bangladeshi rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam: "amra jodi na jagi ma, kemne shokal hobe?" Literal translation: if we do not rise dear, how will it be morning? Deeper translation: if we do not rise up, how will we achieve justice?

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I’ve defended the NYC slice when no one cared nor needed to know why NYC pizza is most superior. Some of my favorites are Korner Pizza, Sunnyside Pizza, L&B Spumoni Gardens, Pinos La Forchetta’s fresh mozzarella vodka pizza, and Joe’s Pizza.

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. 

All spotlights' opinions expressed on this page are their own.