Thirteen nonprofit executives have been named 2015 Rhode Island Foundation Fellows as part of a leadership development program led by the Foundation’s Initiative for Nonprofit Excellence (INE). The goal is to energize mid-career executives in the state’s nonprofit sector.
The 18-month program enables nonprofit executive directors to take productive, short-term sabbaticals from their organizations. Fellows design their own curriculum and participate in periodic group meetings to share their challenges, opportunities and progress. Participants receive stipends of up to $10,000 to underwrite their activities and their organizations receive $5,000 grants to compensate them for the time away.
“The Fellows program has proven to be a powerful and effective vehicle for nonprofit executive directors to self-reflect, reinvigorate and strengthen their leadership skills,” said Jill Pfitzenmayer, vice president of the Foundation’s INE. Since 2000, more than 170 nonprofit executives have participated in the program.
This year’s planned activities range from volunteering as a management consultant for a nonprofit in Romania to travelling the United States and Europe meeting with top sector leaders.
The 2015 Fellows and their projects are:
Bradley Brockmann, executive director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at The Miriam Hospital, will work with public speaking and lip reading coaches to strengthen his communication skills for television and radio interviews and to help address his hearing loss. The Providence resident will also revitalize stress coping mechanisms through a yoga and meditation intensive and contact improvisation dance studies in Central America and Europe. At the completion of the fellowship, he will offer yoga and meditation classes for his staff.
"Working to improve the health of prisoners and others caught in the nation's criminal justice system, many of whom are there because of untreated mental health and substance use issues, is stressful and frustrating, as well as rewarding and meaningful. Through the Fellowship, I hope to become a more effective leader by taking concrete steps to reduce the stress in my life that is a function of my work, and to become a more accomplished team builder and leader by learning new, engaging ways of bringing people together to achieve a shared goal,” he said.
Kathleen Cloutier, executive director of the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, will integrate arts and crafts lessons into the education of at risk school-age children in Laos, designing and implementing the curriculum as well as creating an individual art project representing the experience. The Providence resident will also volunteer for four weeks as a management consultant coach for a Romanian nonprofit and lead a project through to its completion.
“I hope to expand the breadth and depth of my leadership abilities by challenging myself in areas where I have little or no experience nor identified talents. As a verbal, left-brain, linear-thinking learner and achiever, this opportunity will allow me to explore my right-brain, creative, non-verbal side. These experiences will allow me to recognize unexplored strengths and talents, increasing confidence in my untapped abilities and expanding my inner capacity as a leader,” she said.
Leslie Gell, director of Ready to Learn Providence, will participate in a physically and mentally demanding, multi-day backpacking excursion in Yosemite, learning team-based wilderness survival skills. The Providence resident will also attend a restorative multi-day retreat at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, MA, spending more time in nature and practicing yoga.
"I hope that my experience in the Fellows Program will help me to become more self-aware about my strengths and weaknesses as both a leader and a human being. My goal is that this opportunity to reflect, network and explore will give me skills and understandings that I can bring back to Ready to Learn Providence and be a more effective champion of our work,” she said.
Tricia Jedele, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation and director of the Rhode Island Advocacy Center, will attend a stand-up comedy class at the Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan. The week-long workshop will culminate with a live, public performance. The West Warwick resident will also travel to comedy clubs around the country in preparation for the class. She will also travel to Sligo, Ireland, for a five-day solitary retreat at a hermitage center where she will embrace the ancient Celtic tradition of using silence and solitude to hone self-awareness skills.
"Humor and humility are truly underrated, but they are essential qualities for a good leader, not to mention, a good human to possess. I will spend my Fellowship developing a love and respect for humor, including my own sense of it, learning to laugh at myself and to face the truth and laugh at it. I will improve my relationships for myself and my organization and learn to communicate convincingly and fearlessly through comedy,” she said.
Kerri Kanelos, executive director of Youth Pride, will focus on her health through swimming, yoga lessons and hiking. The Cranston resident will also travel to London to engage in a variety of activities that will explore taking risks, being spontaneous and working in groups. She will also attend Ladies Rock Camp in Providence, where she'll learn a new instrument, form a band and participate in a live public performance.
"Through this Fellowship, I hope to strengthen my leadership skills, particularly around networking, advocacy and public speaking. I truly appreciate this opportunity to practice being outside of my comfort zone and I look forward to how these experiences will shape the future of my organization and my career,” she said.
Julius Kolawole, president of the African Alliance of Rhode Island, will explore his African lineage and research his ancestral roots by travelling to Ghana and Nigeria. The Providence resident will collect, gather and organize ancestral information in a way that it can be permanently archived and easily shared with others in Rhode Island.
"I hope to learn anew and build up my knowledge about the Africans arrival in Rhode Island. I will collect, gather and organize the ancestral stories in a way that it can easily be shared with the greater communities in Rhode Island. With these skills and knowledge, I hope to build a strategic partnership that embraces African traditions in Rhode Island,” he said.
Marta V. Martínez, founder and executive director of Rhode Island Latino Arts, will develop her own interest in photography through mentorship and continuing education in order to gain a better understanding of the artists that her organization supports. The Warwick resident will then travel to locations across the country where immigrants have settled, documenting their lives and homes through photography.
"I look forward to acquiring some hands-on skills in photography and to traveling around the United States to witness and capture on camera the immigrant experience of today. By doing this, I believe that the stark contrast of life in a small American town and the stories of immigrants will provide me with powerful images that will bring me closer to my own immigrant experience. I see this Fellows program not as a project, but as something that will help me to move past my own boundaries to make things, and at the same time, to make change,” she said.
Deb Meunier, director of Fusionworks, will participate in creative ventures throughout Italy that inform, but are not directly related, to dance. The Cranston resident will also attend the Association of Performing Arts Presenters convention in Manhattan to broaden her vision and context of leadership in Rhode Island’s the dance community.
“I hope to increase my creativity and capacity as an arts leader and educator by exposing myself to alternative ways of viewing life through both my experiences and my interactions with other Fellows recipients who work in completely different fields than my own. The tag line of Fusionworks is ‘Different is Good.’ I will embrace that tag line fully in my experiences,” she said.
Andy Posner, founder and CEO of the Capitol Good Fund (CGF), will reconnect to his inspiration for starting CFG by re-engaging in his interests in activism and journalism. The Providence resident will spend several months interviewing low-income families, caseworkers and government officials throughout the country in order to produce an essay or series of publications about poverty locally and nationally.
"I want to reconnect with the passion that inspired me to start and grow a nonprofit, while also honing my ability to use the written word to affect social change. I will meet with community activists and leaders, as well as with a writing coach and literary agent, to better understand the issues facing the poor and to then write about what I see and learn,” he said.
Jonny Skye, executive director of Rhode Islanders Sponsoring Education (RISE), will reconnect with her Peoria-tribe, Native-American heritage by travelling to family-connected reservations and sacred spaces throughout the United States. The Cranston resident will also revisit a Peoria research project she began 25 years ago, that will ultimately lead her to the Musee de l’Homme in France to study ancestral material culture.
“I hope as I reconnect with part of my own culture – the suffering, the resistance and the spirituality - that I will be better equipped to lead RISE as we work to empower children living in challenging circumstances in Rhode Island,” she said.
Howie Sneider, executive director of The Steel Yard, will attend trainings and workshops on creative management styles and sharpen his local skill-building with public speaking and writing coaches. The Fellowship will give the Providence resident the opportunity to travel throughout North America to meet with inspirational leaders in the Arts.
"My exploration of writing and presentation techniques will help me better communicate the needs of the community and to celebrate the stories of our organization and partners. Outside perspectives will also help me contextualize my work and lead an inclusive strategic planning process for the Yard," he said.
Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save the Bay, will explore his ability to lead and inspire through the 360-degree review process, and develop left-brained leadership skills through an intensive apprenticeship in glass-blowing. The Providence resident hopes to develop a more creative, experimental, flexible and inventive approach to leading Save The Bay.
"The Fellows program affords me two important opportunities to enhance my leadership skills. First, I hope to improve my management skills through a unique 360-degree evaluation process, and second, I hope to development a more creative, open and accessible approach to problem solving by exploring the physically demanding and creatively challenging artistic pursuit of glass-blowing,” he said.
Raymond Watson, executive director of the Mt. Hope Neighborhood Association, will research his Narragansett tribal heritage, as well as compare and contrast ancestral beliefs, teachings and leadership styles of other indigenous cultures. The Providence resident’s research will lead him to cultural, historical and ancestral sites throughout the United States and Mexico and his experience will be documented through photography and video.
"I hope to gain a better understanding of my ancestral past to provide better context for the community work that I do today. I'm excited about the opportunity that the Rhode Island Foundation is providing me, and believe it is going to greatly impact the work that I am engaged in,” he said.
The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2014, the Foundation awarded $34.8 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.