Interview Series: Jesse Solomon, Director of Programs at The Woodlands Foundation

Jesse Solomon, Director of Programs, Woodlands Foundation Photographer @davidkellydotco - www.davidkelly.co -
Jesse Solomon, Director of Programs, Woodlands Foundation    Photographer @davidkellydotco – www.davidkelly.co –

Jesse Solomon is the Director of Programs for the Woodlands Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of children and adults with disabilities and chronic illness. The Woodlands offers overnight and day programs at their 52-acre site in Wexford.  Jesse volunteers with the Special Olympics, Exceptional Adventures, Get Involved! Inc., and the Muscular Sclerosis Association. In addition, she is a member of the #412Project which has the goal of giving exposure to local amateur photographers.

Years in the Pittsburgh area: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh!

What was your first job?

My first job was teaching was as an Autism Support teacher for Mt. Lebanon School District.

How were you drawn to nonprofit work?

After high school I served as a Corps Member in AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) for the United States. AmeriCorps NCCC strengthens communities and develops leaders through direct, team-based national and community service. In partnership with nonprofits—secular and faith-based—local municipalities, state governments, federal government, national and state parks, Indian tribes, and schools, members complete service projects throughout the region they are assigned.  This experience was instrumental to introducing me to the nonprofit sector.

What is the first thing you do each day?

Walk my 2 dogs, a Pug and a Boston terrier.

What keeps you motivated?

The reality that I am living my dream is the biggest motivator for me.  Running my own camp for individuals with disabilities has been the legacy I have always wanted to leave, and I get that opportunity every day with the people I work with.  The Woodlands is a second home to our campers, our staff and volunteers.  Knowing this makes coming to work an absolute privilege, even on the toughest days.

What are you reading?  

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

What is your go-to time-saving/productivity hack?

Every evening when I leave the office, I prepare my desk with documents or tasks for the next day.  This way, when I arrive in the morning, I just work my way through my pile.

What major issue or trend is currently affecting your corner of the nonprofit sector?   

There is a lot of attention on disability rights and the right to work occurring in the communities and in press right now.  The 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrations that are occurring this year have put a spotlight on the positive direction our society is taking.  However, we have a long way to go.  In my opinion, many people want to join the conversation, make a difference and get involved.  Consequently, they are seeking opportunities to work or volunteer with organizations like The Woodlands.

What is one goal that you hope to accomplish in 2015?

I’d like to join a Board of Directors in the nonprofit sector that focuses on community, specifically around youth leadership and development.

 What’s coming up at The Woodlands?

In preparation for the holiday season, the Woodlands holds the Rum Cake Sale starting in October and running through December.  Last year The Woodlands had 13 volunteer groups come to bake cakes in support of the Rum Cake Sale.

The Rum Cake Sale was founded in 2004 by Dr. Kamthorn Sukarochana, or “Dr. Kam” as he is known by friends and Woodlands colleagues.  His cooking talents inspired the charitable sale, which has grown in popularity since its inception 11 years ago.  To date it has raised over $50,000 for the Woodlands programs. For more information visit www.MyWoodlands.org

Interview Series: Jake Milofsky, Tree Care and Restoration Coordinator at Tree Pittsburgh

Jake Milofsky, a native of Squirrel Hill, is the Tree Care and Restoration Coordinator at Tree Pittsburgh, a non-profit dedicated to growing and protecting the City’s urban forest.  Since 2011, he has worked with community, City, and industry partners to facilitate tree care activities with volunteers throughout Pittsburgh neighborhoods.  Jake also provides technical support for communities interested in restoring the health and sustainability of their local green spaces.

Jake Milofsky, Tree Care and Restoration Coordinator at Tree Pittsburgh, engages in some mulch management during a tree care project.
Jake Milofsky, Tree Care and Restoration Coordinator at Tree Pittsburgh, engages in some mulch management during a tree care project.

 

Years in the Pittsburgh area?  22 total (age 3-16, 21-27, 29-32)

What was your first job?  My first full-time job after college was with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, where I worked as a Field Ecologist for about three years before leaving for graduate school.

How were you drawn to nonprofit work?   As my career goals were coming into focus, I knew I wanted to work outdoors but I also wanted to do work with a social component like planning or community organizing.  By doing environmental fieldwork in the non-profit sector, I found the social component I was looking for by working with community volunteers to do the outdoor work I enjoy. 

What is the first thing you do each day?  After turning off my alarm every morning, I like to open up my Google News app.  Not only does the light help my eyes adjust, but I have plenty of good conversation fodder throughout the day.

What keeps you motivated?  The volunteers I work with keep me motivated most of all.  We work with close to a thousand volunteers each year, and it’s extremely rare for any of them to show up with a bad attitude.  Even if I’m tired or a little off at the beginning of an event, I’m always in a good mood and energized afterward. 

I’ve worked with some incredibly dedicated individuals who repeatedly humble me with the energy they bring to these voluntary activities they are passionate about.  I’m lucky to be a part of it, and recognizing that keeps me motivated to do a good job.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?  “Seek out mentors, and spend time with them”

What are you reading?  Right now I’m reading The Millionaire Next Door.  It’s about how the media portrays wealthy people as driving flashy cars and wearing fancy clothes, when in reality, many of the people who are actually wealthy in this country live very modest lifestyles, which is why they’re wealthy!  Also, many people who lead flashy lifestyles may have high incomes, but very little wealth.  I don’t have any illusions about becoming extremely wealthy, but the book is a good reminder to live at or below your means, and a welcome counterweight to the influence of our consumer society.

What is your go-to time-saving/productivity hack?  Put it on the calendar.  In my world, if it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist and it probably won’t ever happen.

“I’ve worked with some incredibly dedicated individuals who repeatedly humble me with the energy they bring to these voluntary activities they are passionate about.”
“I’ve worked with some incredibly dedicated individuals who repeatedly humble me with the energy they bring to these voluntary activities they are passionate about.”

What major issue or trend is currently affecting your corner of the nonprofit sector?   The need for population diversity in trees is big in urban forestry right now.  Diseases, insects, and the prediction of continued warming temperatures mean we need to think ahead and create landscapes that are resilient.  If we do a good job, the urban forest should be able to survive these environmental challenges and continue to provide us with its many benefits.  To create these landscapes, however, will take education and continued advocacy on the part of those who share this understanding.

What is one goal that you hope to accomplish in 2015?  With close to 15,000 new trees planted on streets and in parks throughout Pittsburgh, it is very important to keep them pruned on a set cycle.  This ensures they fit into their surroundings and don’t get in the way of pedestrians or vehicles.  Our pruning goal for 2015 is 2,500 trees.  So far this year our staff and volunteers have pruned just over 2,100 trees, so I think we’ll get there.

What is the best thing about the nonprofit sector in Pittsburgh? The best thing about the non-profit sector in Pittsburgh is the feeling of community and willingness to partner between organizations.  One may think that competition for funding or other resources could cause conflict, but instead I see example after example of working together to make projects more effective.

What does Tree Pittsburgh have coming up?  Tree Pittsburgh will be hosting our fundraiser, Arbor Aid, on Saturday, September 26.  It will be at the site of our new Heritage Tree Nursery on the Allegheny River in Upper Lawrenceville. It’s a great location and sure to be a good time!

Interview Series: Danielle Hardy, Community Donations Specialist for Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania

Danielle is a Community Donations Specialist for Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania
Danielle is a Community Donations Specialist for Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania

Danielle Hardy is the Community Donations Specialist for Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where she focuses on donation acquisitions and community outreach events.  She is also on the board of directors for Macedonia Family and Community Enrichment Center Inc., a faith-based non-profit community outreach of Macedonia Church in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA.  As an organization, Macedonia FACE is committed to living out its mission to encourage the development of healthy families.

Years in the Pittsburgh area?

I was born and raised in the city of Pittsburgh. I left my beloved city to attend Virginia Tech but I couldn’t stay away long and returned right after graduation.

 

What was your first job?

I worked as an Assistant Event Coordinator at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens where I provided day-of coordination for weddings and other special events throughout the year.

 

How were you drawn to nonprofit work?

Since I was young I knew I wanted a career that bettered the lives of others. I always told myself that I would find the cure to cancer. Unfortunately, I am terrible at chemistry! But working in nonprofits has been a good second choice career path that has allowed me to do work that matters.

 

What is the first thing you do each day?

I don’t want to admit it, but if I’m being honest; the first thing I do each day is check my Facebook and Instagram. One day I’ll be able to say “meditation and yoga” … life goals!

 

What keeps you motivated?

I am motivated by my grandmother. She grew up in a time where women cleaned the house and cared for the children while their husbands worked and provided for the family. All she wanted was for me to have an education and a career I could be proud of. She didn’t get to see me graduate from college but she continues to motivate me. I strive to work hard and take advantage of every available opportunity because I know that’s what she would have wanted.

"I am motivated by my grandmother.  I strive to work hard and take advantage of every available opportunity because I know that’s what she would have wanted."
“I am motivated by my grandmother. I strive to work hard and take advantage of every available opportunity because I know that’s what she would have wanted.”

 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Think positively. You can’t have a positive life with a negative mind.

 

What are you reading?

“Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddle of Culture” by Marvin Harris. This very interesting book discusses the “bizarre” behaviors of different cultures and explains how these behaviors always stem from concrete social and economic conditions.

 

What are you listening to?

Kanye West’s debut album “The College Dropout,” Adele’s “19” and “21” albums, and Sam Smith “In the Lonely Hour.” These are all my favorite albums and I will love them forever!

 

 What is your go-to time-saving/productivity hack?

I don’t rely on my memory. Every day when I get in the office I create a to-do list and I arrange my daily tasks by level of importance. This way, I get everything out of my head and onto paper and I can physically cross it off of the list when the task is completed.

 

What  issue or trend is currently affecting your corner of the nonprofit sector?   

The current trend of unidentified donation bins; particularly the bins that do not clearly state that they are a for-profit agency that sells the donations and the profit generated goes straight into their pockets. Donors assume their donations are going to support individuals in need in their community and too often, that is not the case.

 

What is one goal that you hope to accomplish in 2015?

Professional goal: To collect 200,000 pounds of donations by my one year anniversary with Goodwill. I am currently at 189,333 pounds!

Personal goal: To have a healthier diet and cook at home more often. I am currently at pizza!

 

What is the best thing about the nonprofit sector in Pittsburgh?

The nonprofit sector in Pittsburgh is very collaborative. I’ve worked with several nonprofits and we are always looking for ways to help one another fulfill our missions.

 

Tell us a little about any upcoming events Goodwill is involved in:

Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania is partnering with Thrill Mill Inc. on the 2015 Thrival Innovation and Music Festival. The Thrival Innovation and Music Festival is Pittsburgh’s premier convening platform for new ideas, change agents, cutting edge technology, creative artists, and disruptive thinkers. Join us in September 2015 to experience Pittsburgh, and discover the blueprint for post-industrial resurgence.

The music portion of the event is an intersection of art and new ideas. Thrival will feature 25 acts from emerging international, national, and local artists. In previous years, Thrival has featured Portugal, The Man, Talib Kweli, Misterwives, De La Soul, and Moby. The 2015 line-up is coming soon.

The innovation portion takes place over the course of a week. Top level thought leaders and organizations present original innovation-focused events for the general public. This year, Goodwill will present a symposium focused on sustainability through creative reuse.

Interview Series: Erika Arbogast, President of Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services

Erika Arbogast
Erika Arbogast

Erika Arbogast is the President of Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services, a 104-year-old private nonprofit organization in Pittsburgh. She also serves the community through her membership on the boards of many organizations including Pennsylvania Association for the Blind – where she is also Treasurer, Unique Source as Secretary of Board and Chair of the Governance committee, National Association for the Employment of People who are Blind, and VisionServe Alliance. Erika is also a volunteer at Magee Women’s Hospital.

Years in the Pittsburgh area: 36  All my life.

What was your first job?

I spent 4 years working with children with autism at The Wesley Institute.  I developed and implemented behavioral programs for them and worked with their schools, other therapists, and family members to insure consistency.

 How were you drawn to nonprofit work?

My family took in foster children when I was younger.  We had kids with disabilities and children who had been through some pretty rough circumstances.  I recognized from an early point in life that I had things pretty good and should be thankful for that.  I wanted to help others that weren’t as fortunate as I was.

What keeps you motivated?

Coming to a job that I love.  I enjoy my job tremendously and take it very seriously that other people depend on my leadership and decisions.  It is easy to stay motivated when you get to see the positive changes that your organization makes on other’s lives every day.

Additionally, the individuals that we serve, BVRS’s staff, and our donors and stakeholders keep me motivated. They are so passionate about the services that we provide and that helps to fuel my passion.

 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

If you don’t go after something that you want you will never have it.

 

What are you reading?  

With a 6-year-old and a very busy schedule, I usually only get to read on vacation.  I like to read books about the holocaust and political books.

 

Share a favorite time-saving/productivity hack:

Exercise.  I can’t tell you how many problems I have solved while working out.  Sometimes taking a break from your work to exercise actually helps you to find solutions and to be able to move on with other tasks.

 

What major issue or trend is currently affecting your corner of the nonprofit sector?   

Legislation that could affect our sector, specifically around taxation, charitable deduction changes, and financial concerns. Transportation also continues to be a major concern for the population that we serve so I am always thinking about this.

 

What is one goal that you hope to accomplish in 2015?

Helping our organization to become better known in the community through media campaigns, a location change, and through excitement around our Capital Campaign and new building (that we will be in by October 2015).

 

What is the best thing about the nonprofit sector in Pittsburgh?

It is a close knit group that bands together when issues arise.  The foundation community is phenomenal here, and I have found that when you can document a need they will support it with funding.  They have their pulse on the community and are willing to allocate dollars where the need exists.

Nonprofits in Pittsburgh also seem very willing to work together to solve problems or to collaborate to improve processes or systems.

 

Does  Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services have any events coming up?

Person of Vision Event on May 19

Young Professionals Bucco Bash (Pirates game) May 20

Steelers Alumni Golf Outing July 27