Meet 9 nonprofit leaders obsessed with making Boston better
Using their smarts and various backgrounds, they’re making a difference in education, food, fitness, and social justice.
Level Ground Mixed Martial Arts
Fuller uses mixed martial arts to teach discipline, confidence, and job skills to teens (and to help provide college access) through three Boston in-school programs and an after-school program that she runs. She was inspired by InnerCity Weightlifting, where she volunteered while getting an MBA at Simmons College; by The BASE, Boston’s urban baseball nonprofit, where she worked after getting her MBA; and by her own interest in Brazilian jujitsu. Fuller, now 28, launched Level Ground MMA in 2014 and works with 130 students, mostly 15- to 19-year-olds. The program partners with Boston-area institutions to place the students in schools or trade and vocational programs. Some of them train to become fitness instructors themselves. Meanwhile, Fuller is launching a program in which her students will lead classes in MMA fitness and women’s self-defense at Boston companies, to gain work experience.
New Politics Leadership Academy
Cherniack, 37, worked at City Year and then on Alan Khazei’s runs for US senator from Massachusetts. She learned that among civic service-oriented people who’d been in the military or in programs like AmeriCorps, politics could be a turnoff. So she set up a political action committee, New Politics, to back such people in running for office. Her pilot case was recruiting Salem native Seth Moulton, an ex-Marine, to run for Congress in 2014. “He thought I was crazy and kept saying no,” she says. Obviously, she wasn’t crazy — Moulton won. Cherniack also backed four other candidates, two of them successfully, and this year launched the nonprofit New Politics Leadership Academy to help other service-minded people learn how to seek political office.
The College for Social Innovation
Schwarz spent 20 years at the Boston nonprofit he cofounded, Citizen Schools, which works to boost STEM teaching and expand the learning day in public schools in low-income areas, using AmeriCorps teachers and volunteer mentors from businesses. Schwarz’s work earned him accolades, including the 2014 Carsey Social Innovator of the Year Award. He recently left the organization to start the College for Social Innovation, enabling college students to pursue ideas for boosting social progress locally and around the world. Participants will spend a semester on Service Fellowships, earning college credits while working with mentors in hands-on social-service projects. An evening course dubbed the Social Innovators Tool Box will focus on theories of social change and encourage reflection on the students’ daytime projects. The program will launch in 2016 with 100 students at colleges in the region.
Smarter in the City
Our current economy focuses on clusters — clusters of either excellence or decay, like Silicon Valley or Detroit. Communities that would like to move beyond cycles of industry within their borders could look at Smarter in the City, a business accelerator for high-tech entrepreneurs based not in Cambridge or Boston’s Innovation District, but in Roxbury. Rosenzweig, 41, is an urban planner who saw Roxbury as a place to go to bridge the inequality gap — near Boston’s innovation ecosystems, without the absurd rents. Aided by local business leaders who volunteer their time, Smarter in the City is working with its third cohort of startups. Of the first 10 to complete the program, three have attracted investors and several others grants or prizes. Two of them have companies that work out of office space in Dudley Square that Smarter in the City added recently.
Cake Pops Boston, Clover Food Lab, and Voltage Coffee & Art are all “graduates” of Faigel’s CommonWealth Kitchen, which provides food startups with kitchen space and equipment, training, recipe development, and licensing assistance, among other things. Faigel, a socially conscious developer, has had a hand in improving 225,000 square feet of commercial space aimed at revitalizing neighborhoods as well as in building more than 400 affordable homes. She cofounded CommonWealth Kitchen in 2009 in Jamaica Plain, then in 2014 added a facility in Dorchester in a former hot dog factory. Though Cake Pops, Clover, and Voltage have moved on, CommonWealth Kitchen now houses 50 other food companies.
New England Blacks in Philanthropy
Founded as an affinity group almost a decade ago, NEBiP has sharply reframed its mission in the last two years. In April, Carter and NEBiP published Giving Black, a study of black philanthropy in the Boston area, and its findings were surprising: Most black philanthropy does not go to black churches, as had been thought; major issues in black communities are economic justice and economic security; violence is seen as symptomatic of other issues. Carter set out to inform the philanthropic field about her findings and also to “reframe the discussion” with large local and national funders to build from the assets of black communities rather than focus on deficits. “Bithiah and NEBiP are breaking down stereotypes,” says Saskia Epstein, cofounder of Power Launch, a social innovation lab.
SARA BARTOLINO KRACHMAN
Krachman and her cofounder, Chris Gabrieli, work to help K-12 students improve the social and emotional skills they need to succeed within and beyond the classroom. In her previous role as an educational consultant, Krachman worked on a variety of reform initiatives and felt their success was always measured by reading and math test scores. “Math and reading skills are crucial, but they are not the whole picture,” she says. “Research shows that social and emotional skills are essential to persisting through high school and college and to thriving as adults.’’ In 2013, Transforming Education launched a partnership with six California school districts that serve a million students to create a more holistic measure of school performance. Last fall, partnering with Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research, the group began working with 20 local schools to pilot social-emotional assessments and interventions. Transforming Education will make these assessments available as free, open-source tools in 2016.
The 29-year-old Kang runs City Awake, which seeks to build an ecosystem of social innovation and civic engagement in Greater Boston. He earlier worked at MassChallenge, an accelerator program for entrepreneurs, and thought the social-impact sector in Boston was ripe for the same kind of boost. That led to the first City Awake festival last year, run for under $10,000. “We saw it as a rallying cry,” he says. It worked. This year, City Awake hosted monthly retreats for about 140 civic-minded young adults and partnered with the Unreasonable Institute to do a five-day “hyper accelerator’’ to help young nonprofit leaders raise funds. The second annual festival is November 5 to 14.
Powers’s title is chief happiness spreader, but the enterprise she and her brother Spencer founded means serious business. They help homeless and disabled artists place their work for sale. Powers for years organized art groups in shelters to help occupants express themselves and gain confidence; she thought some of the art was good and might even be a way for the creators to earn a living. Her instincts were right: Since December 2013, ArtLifting has helped five people move into places of their own. The organization is now in seven locations besides Boston.