DEGREE: B.A. in government
JOB TITLE: Founder, executive director, Future 5, based in Stamford, Connecticut
FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: Hanging out by the old jukebox (may it rest in peace) at Alpha Delta Phi, discussing Vietnam, the “war on drugs” … and other slightly less weighty topics.
What motivated you to found Future 5? A number of years ago, I became a “Big” in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. The experience opened my eyes to a really tough issue: so many young kids from low-income families are “disconnected” from the world as we know it. They may have dreams and aspirations but no clue how to achieve them and little in the way of support. Economic independence and productive citizenship seems so out of reach for so many of them. So I conceived Future 5 based on the idea of “connection” — an organization that could connect young people to not just one mentor but a web of coaching support, the resources they need, and the inner strength to realize their full potential. Now we like to think that every motivated student who climbs our stairs to join Future 5 will have a shot!
What do you do in your day-to-day role there? I work with our staff and board director (Polly Perkins Johnson, wife of Eads Johnson ’76) to help manage a growing enterprise, a “community” really, of more than 150 active student members and more than 70 volunteer coaches. We constantly look for opportunities to improve the membership experience here and continue our success rate in helping our kids execute a smart plan after high school: four-year college, two-year college, or career training. Another important part of my role is fundraising, of course. We are trying mightily to keep up with the increasing number of students who have heard about us and want to join. Another Trinity alumnus, David Schirmer ’73, is on the Future 5 board; we have serious Trinity roots here at Future 5.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do? The kids and their stories. My staff, volunteer coaches, and I feel privileged to play a role in these stories. Sometimes we see dramatic “turnaround” success, but other times a simple “nudge” in the right direction might be enough to alter in some small but important way the trajectory of a young life. Yes, there are a few tough moments and some “crises” that crop up, but the spirit here day in, day out is fun and optimistic. It’s a great working environment.
What are the biggest challenges you face? There are two big challenges: the cost of college and the weaknesses in our public education system. Sadly, a number of our students are accepted at four-year schools but simply can’t afford to attend, no matter how much we scramble to help them find grants and scholarships. The other scary thing is the lack of academic preparation for college. Way too many of our kids land in remedial courses at Norwalk Community College, especially math. We work very hard on the tutoring front, but something is really wrong — our public schools are letting these kids down.
What did you do professionally before Future 5? My first career was advertising. There were lots of things I didn’t know or understand about the nonprofit world (maybe that was good), but marketing is certainly good experience to have for starting any kind of organization.
How did your experience at Trinity help prepare you for what you do now? The small college experience is all about being a part of a community. Yes, there are any number of subsets within the greater community — special interest clubs, fraternities, sports teams, etc. — but during my four years, I always felt part of a larger, caring community. A caring community is what we have tried to build at Future 5.
Was there a professor who was particularly influential? If so, who was it, and why? Dr. Gastmann introduced us to a world outside of ourselves and our own experiences — the intriguing world of international relations. He did it with a sense of adventure and, best of all, a wry sense of humor.