What is LearningWorks?
LearningWorks is an education nonprofit in Portland, Maine. We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this year. Our mission is to reimagine learning through innovative programs that help children, adults, and families realize their potential and build thriving communities. We offer five free programs for people who fall outside of traditional education structures. Those include an afterschool program for elementary school students, a community service program for young people facing disciplinary action at school or in trouble with the law, an English language program for New Mainers, an alternative high school program for kids who have dropped out of local schools, and an AmeriCorps program that provides 100 volunteers to struggling schools.
How did you first get involved in working with non-profits?
My first nonprofit job was at an Audubon Society in Santa Fe, New Mexico! I helped out in the office and worked with kids in an environmental education summer camp program.
At what point did you realize your passion for education would become a career path?
After I finished college, I landed a job working as a writing teacher in an afterschool program in Harlem. I fell in love with teaching, with alternative education programs, and with the concept of using my career to serve a community and advance social justice. I was hooked from that point on and have stayed in education nonprofits and classrooms ever since.
What do you like to do outside of work that contributes to your career?
I like to spend time with my family, be in nature, and read and write. I think all of those things help me learn, grow, and reflect on myself, my work, and my community, which is a source of strength when I’m on the job.
Can you tell us about your most favorite projects?
At LearningWorks, one of our programs is called Service Works. Service Works connects kids who are in trouble in some way – at school, or with the law – with meaningful community service opportunities that help make amends for their behavior and give them a safe, supportive space to reflect on what’s happened and what they’d like to change going forward. The team that runs this project at LearningWorks is really great at coming up with creative and beneficial community partnerships to make this program happen. They do everything from removing graffiti from public buildings and harvesting seaweed for community gardens to serving free community meals at local schools. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a little time with the program at Wayside Food Programs and during a trip to help another nonprofit (Furniture Friends) accept and organize furniture donations for needy families. So much good comes of this work for everyone involved, it always gives me a boost of hope and happiness when I check in with this program.
I’ve also really enjoyed working on our 50 Stories Project to celebrate our 50th Anniversary. We’re partnering with local photographers to tell 50 stories about current and former staff, students, donors, volunteers, and partners who have made LearningWorks what it is today. It’s been so moving to meet all the subjects and learn their stories and the generosity of the photographers and other folks helping this project out has been truly inspiring.
What is your favorite inspirational/motivational quote?
This might sound crazy, but here goes. Honestly, the quote that I always come back to is one from a documentary project my friend Molly did with young people at The Telling Room when we worked there together. She helped a bunch of students go out on the street with audio recorders to ask strangers one question and use the answers to tell a story. One group of students asked people if they believed in Bigfoot. The responses were hilarious and moving. One man went on at length and talked about how learning about myths and legends like Bigfoot opens us up to learning about the world around us. He said, “Grab it and grasp it with energy. Be like astronauts of the world. Be astronauts of the forest and the sea.” I always come back to him saying it because it captures ideas that I like a lot. I loved the spontaneous poetry of it and wish that we could all speak that way more often. I loved the idea of being enthusiastic, diving into things, being creative, being bold, exploring, and leading.
In one word, describe yourself: