For Stephen Basden ’17, Director of Inclusive City Initiatives at Special Olympics Massachusetts, the inspiration to pursue a career helping others came from his family.
His older brother has participated in Special Olympics programming since Basden was young, and his mom will be inducted this June into the organization’s Hall of Fame to celebrate her long-term contributions as a volunteer.
“I’ve always been involved with nonprofits and the world of services, especially with families that have an individual with intellectual disabilities,” he shared. “Volunteerism has always been something that’s been prioritized for my household, so to be able to now provide my professional experience and skills to an organization that’s had such a big impact in me and my family and my community's life is definitely fulfilling.”
With an exponential growth rate over the past 10 years, nonprofits have become the third largest employer in the country. That means more opportunities than ever for employees seeking careers that are both fulfilling and sustainable.
Morgan Cormier ’16, Development Associate at Flying Kites, said her inspiration came from knowing she’s helping people in the way that creates the most impact, even if it’s not at the front lines. Cormier writes grants and fundraises to support the mission of Flying Kites, which operates an education hub in Kenya that partners with resource-poor primary schools to improve student outcomes.
“I think international development is rapidly changing, and we’re learning so much more about what works and what’s helpful and what’s harmful,” she said. “I would love to live in Kenya, I would love to be on the ground every day. But within the organization, I’m really more valuable in applying for grants and talking to donors and getting funds to do the work. I think you can look at it from that perspective, and see your impact on a daily basis.”
Luckily, Flying Kites supports visits from its domestic team to Kenya, so they can see the organization at work.
“As someone who’s talking to individual donors and doing grant applications, it’s really helpful for me to actually be there in person to hear about the challenges that students or families are facing, and meet who we serve at our organization,” she explained. “It reignites your passion to see the progress.”
Getting a start at Endicott
To create a successful jumpstart into a nonprofit career, the right college fit could have a big impact. For our Gulls, the support, flexibility, and community-mindedness of Endicott provided essential tools to help define their future—with many finding a home at Endicott’s Community Service Office and the opportunities created by Lauri Rawls, Director of Community Service, and former Assistant Director of Community Service Drea Rhoades.
For example, Travis Dion ’13, Director of Autism Services at Triangle Inc. Prism Program, said that volunteering for Alternative Spring Break was a formative experience.
“I think Lauri’s general mindset rubbed off on me,” he explained. “As a college student and a hockey player, I was wrapped up in myself and was looking for a way to get involved with community service in some capacity. Alternative Spring Break was a unique and profound all-encompassing experience—coming back from that you feel totally different.”
Dion’s experiences at Endicott—which included a few key internship placements that helped guide his goals—ultimately led him to Triangle, where he manages a program site that offers social-emotional connectivity and support services to adults with autism.
“It’s a unique program and extremely rewarding. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs, a lot of emotional days. But there’s going to be a lot of days that you leave work saying, ‘That was a great day. So-and-so made such good strides and I played a huge part in that.’ It’s a field I would have never predicted being in coming out of college, but I’m very happy that I'm in it.”
For Rawls, it’s important to find opportunities for service that students can really connect with, which might mean looking for something related to their major that can be a resume builder in addition to experience.
“We not only engage students in service, but we also try to teach them about the field and sector as a whole,” she said. “Through their academic work, students are exposed to so much, but many of the jobs might be mainstream or more traditional in nature. So, something our office tries to do is to show them how that connects to community service. Maybe we teach a nursing student about community health, or connect an environmental major with a sustainability project.”
A current program, Discovery Fridays, is focused on showing students how local nonprofits function. Each month, Rawls joins a handful of students to meet staff, talk about a nonprofit’s mission, the population they serve, and how volunteers fit into the organization, and then take a tour.
“Volunteering allows the students to give back to the community and help others in need while at the same time letting the students learn about themselves—what they’re passionate about, what they like, what they don’t like. And both are equally important,” Rawls said.
Cormier came to Endicott planning to major in history and become a high school teacher, before realizing her passion lay less in the classroom and more in ensuring everyone has access to a classroom. Support from advisors and professors helped her zero in on her passions, and the Office of International Education ensured she could complete an international internship. That internship? Flying Kites in Kenya, which she returned to after a Peace Corps tour in Tanzania.
“Had I not had that opportunity, I’m not sure my trajectory would have been the same,” she said. “The bridge that made me go from learning about international relations to actually going into an international development career path was that community service piece, and just being able to lean on advisors and professors and other staff to talk to them about it, to talk to people who had worked internationally or had traveled a lot through their work. I think that was really the catalyst of what made me realize, ‘Okay, this is something I could do as a career rather than just a passion or something that I do as a volunteer.’”
Basden said Endicott’s flexibility with community service made his experience more meaningful, especially since he was supported in his efforts to bridge his Special Olympics connections with athletics projects.
“It was very easy to keep my passion going even though I was a full-time athlete and student, and I don’t think that would have been necessarily possible at bigger schools or schools that are a little bit more structured in how they envision their community service,” he said. “The great thing about Endicott is that they were very, very willing to take my passion and amplify it.”
Ashley Ganem ’11 started working in a non-profit during her senior year of high school before coming to Endicott. Her junior year internship at Beverly Bootstraps turned into three years of employment, where her English degree came in handy as she learned marketing and communications.
Now, she is the Senior Communications and Events Manager at North Shore Community Development Coalition (NSCDC), where she heads communications, marketing, and events management to drive the organization’s support of Salem, Beverly, and other North Shore communities with affordable housing, youth programs, civic engagement, advocacy, and public art. She also serves on the board of the Salem Pantry.
For Ganem, the best part about working at NSCDC is that the community’s needs dictate the organization’s goals.
“We don’t do things to the community as so many nonprofits do, where they think that they know what’s right for the community,” she said. “Here, we work with the community to figure out what they want and need and then we try to do those things.”
The important thing for younger people interested in working in the nonprofit sector, said Ganem, is to test out what feels right when you’re young and have more flexibility.
“When you’re at school, try things out,” she said. “You can do your semester internship, you can test things out in nonprofits from arts to education to real estate to healthcare. Now is when it’s safe—when you have health insurance and a safety net of being in school. Go out there, test the waters, and find the place that is right for you.”