The Boston Neighborhood Fellows Program was created by an anonymous donor in partnership with The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) in 1990, and has been folded into the Boston Foundation’s Grassroots strategy, headed by Natanja Craig-Oquendo.
Each new “class” of approximately 10 Fellows is nominated by past Fellows, civic leaders and key partners. The Fellows are selected by the Foundation for a two-year program designed to recognize and empower some of the people making change happen across Greater Boston, often without fanfare or acclaim.
“Over 27 years, the Boston Neighborhood Fellows Program has recognized more than 150 grassroots leaders,” says Orlando Watkins, Vice President for Programs at the Boston Foundation. “These are people doing the hard, quiet, on-the-ground work that helps lift our communities and all of us.”
The Fellows receive a two-year grant of $2,500 each year, along with leadership development and other training. That includes one-on-one coaching and group sessions as Fellows work on their individual professional goals. The stipend, the monthly learning, events, retreats and coaching together provide a total two-year investment of approximately $15,000 per year per Boston Neighborhood Fellow.
Fellows play an ambassador role too, and will help the Boston Foundation surface its next class of Boston Neighborhood Fellows. And starting in 2017, Fellows are integral in designing and leading our next round of Collaborate Boston, a $100,000 prize competition that encourages new forms of grassroots collaboration to solve key problems.
For 2017, the Neighborhood Fellows helped select the Collaborate Boston theme—intergenerational partnerships—and will play a critical role in publicizing the opportunity, evaluating applications and selecting the winning collaborations. About the 2017 Neighborhood Fellows, Director of Grassroots Initiatives Natanja Craig-Oquendo says, “Once again, in the tradition of Boston Neighborhood Fellows, this is a powerful group of people, from varied backgrounds, in a variety of roles, who have one remarkable thing in common: a commitment to make their community—our community—a better, safer, more equitable place.”
Supporting the Program
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Managing Director, Chinese Historical Society of New England
Susan Chinsen is a community connector who focuses on the Asian Pacific Islander American community, using arts and culture for community building. In 2013, she began serving as the Managing Director of the Chinese Historical Society of New England, based in Boston’s Chinatown. She established the annual Boston Asian American Film Festival in 2008, and continues to serve as the Festival Director, uplifting diverse community stories and experiences. Building upon her community work and past experience at WGBH, she has served as an engagement consultant through the Center for Asian American Media for the PBS documentary The Chinese Exclusion Act, premiering May 2018. She is on the board of directors at MASSCreative and South Cove Community Health Center, and is an ArtsEmerson Community Curator. She’s been recognized by YW Boston’s 150 Women of Influence, Get Konnected!’s GK100 and profiled in Tufts Magazine and Angry Asian Man's Angry Reader of the Week. She is a Tufts University alum and the mother of a first- and a second- grader.
Executive Director, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition
Mason Dunn serves as Executive Director of Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) and Co-Chair of the Freedom for All Massachusetts campaign. An educator and activist, Mason has worked around the country for 13 years on trans rights and advocacy. As an adjunct faculty member at UNH Manchester, Mason teaches on LGBTQ media and perspectives, and also serves on the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth. Prior to joining MTPC, Mason worked in New Hampshire, Oregon and California on trans rights and education. Mason is a member of the New Hampshire Bar Association, and a 2012 graduate of the Daniel Webster Honors Scholars Program at the University of New Hampshire, School of Law.
Executive Director, The Welcome Project
Benjamin Echevarria is the Executive Director of The Welcome Project, an organization dedicated to building the collective power of immigrants to shape community decisions. A pastor and a longtime leader in the Latino community, Ben’s work in the social justice movement has led him to organizing and advocating for those whose voices are not being heard. Ben now leads fights for affordable housing, educational policies that are equitable, and leadership development. Ben is a member of the Massachusetts Latino Democratic Caucus, Co-Chair of Tisch College Community Research Center at Tufts University, Steering Committee member of CHNA 17 and board member for Community Works.
Environmental Services Coordinator, InterContinental Boston
Fabienne Eliacin is an active volunteer whose leadership has been recognized by former Senator Linda Dorcena Forry. She is a warden for St. Stephen’s Church and co-chairs the Sustainable Development Committee for the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI). She is also Director of Communication for the volunteer group Boston Mothers Care, which responds to the needs of families in Boston, Haiti and Puerto Rico. Fabienne is also an advocate for children with disabilities; a Haitian parent herself, she works with families from the islands facing challenges getting services or not understanding the process. As Environment Services Coordinator for the InterContinental Boston, Fabienne works to promote sustainability both inside the hotel and in partnerships with the community, educating employees on the impact of climate change and need for sustainable practices. For her work at DSNI and elsewhere, Fabienne received the Myra Kraft Community MVP Award in 2017 and was recognized as a Parent Leader for Parochial Schools for CPLAN, the Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network, in 2017.
Founder/Executive Director, the Institute for Pan African Cultural Education Inc. (P.A.C.E.)
Born and raised in Roxbury, Bwanda Gerome attended Boston Public Schools (BPS) and graduated from UMass Boston. At 21, Bwanda co-founded Peers Reaching Out for a Positive Society (P.R.O.P.S.), providing cultural awareness and social change through the arts. Bwanda was a founding educator at BPS’s former Social Justice Academy, and developed the Social Justice through the Arts program. After receiving her Master’s degree in education, Bwanda traveled and worked throughout Africa on literacy and education initiatives, and formed a partnership to support the Kate Orphanage School in Uganda. She lived in Jamaica and studied at the University of West Indies, and volunteered and worked with teachers in Dominican Republic. Bwanda was selected as a Senior Fellow of the Global Education Policy Fellowship Program, through which she observed and engaged with other educators throughout China. She has received several community service awards and in 2010 founded the Institute for Pan African Cultural Education Inc., a nonprofit focused on cultural education through literacy and arts, and continues to serve as Executive Director. In addition to P.A.C.E., Bwanda also oversees the Office of Teacher Education and Field Experience at the UMass Boston College of Education and Human Development.
Union Organizer/Youth Mentor
Darrin Howell is a union organizer with SEIU1199, representing thousands of healthcare workers. As Executive Director of Drive Boston, he draws from his own experience as a young man from an urban neighborhood—and the discrimination he faced finding and keeping work because of a CORI record—in his work mentoring at-risk youth, helping steer them away from crime and toward positive activities, especially career development. He served as Director of Constituent Services under City Councilor Chuck Turner, where he mastered the various resources, programs, services and agencies that can assist residents. He has become an expert on violence prevention, leading a number of initiatives to reduce crime and recidivism, including serving as the lead author on a report examining homicides throughout the city, and spearheading programs to bring together victims and perpetrators of violence to create “ambassadors of peace.” Understanding the challenges facing children of incarcerated parents, he organizes a toy drive each holiday season and collects thousands of toys for distribution to those children.
Founder, Universal Human Rights International
Pastor and human rights activist Torli Krua, a refugee of the Liberian Civil War, settled in Boston in 1990. He was instrumental in lobbying members of Congress and policy makers to increase the quota of refugees from Africa being allowed into the United States. He has also worked tirelessly in New England and beyond to champion the rights of refugees and immigrants as well as participatory democracy in Africa. Torli founded the Universal Human Rights International (UHRI), and worked with thousands of immigrants from 38 different countries over the span of 20 years. UHRI equips and supports refugees to bring systemic change to their war-ravaged homelands once it is safe to return. Torli’s work has gained recognition from members of Congress and the cities of Boston and Baltimore, Md. He was honored by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the National Peace Corps Association, the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and the African Cultural Association of Massachusetts. Torli is the Founding Director of Greater Boston Refugee Ministry and pastor of the Ziah Mission Baptist Church in Allston, Mass.
Success Boston Coach, Freedom House
Manny Monteiro learned of the benefits of the Success Boston program first-hand, as a student at UMass Boston. He grew up in Roxbury, and found a home of sorts in Freedom House, which provides programs to help students develop the skills, strategies and support networks necessary to graduate from high school, access higher education and graduate from college with the skills that enable them to participate and succeed in a global economy. Having been supported by a Success Boston coach as a student, Manny decided to return the favor as a Success Boston coach with Freedom House. He holds that role today, part of a program that has nearly doubled the number of Boston Public Schools students graduating from institutions of higher education each year over the past decade.
Catherine T. Morris
Founder & Executive Director, Boston Art & Music Soul (BAMS) Fest
With more than 15 years of special event production and civic engagement, Catherine T. Morris decided to combine both passions to start Boston Art & Music Soul (BAMS) Fest. This nonprofit organization aims to break down racial and social barriers to arts, music and culture for underserved communities of color across Greater Boston. Since 2015, it has produced and curated a traveling live arts and music series called The Prelude. This program “edutains” and helps audiences of color experience the arts in underutilized spaces across local neighborhoods. The organization has presented more than 100 local and independent musicians and artists, has curated in 10+ local venues and has attracted 2,700+ attendees. It is Catherine’s hope that BAMS Fest becomes a pipeline to Boston’s arts and culture ecosystem in a manner that gives hope, changes individual and collective perception, and positively impacts the livelihoods of our creatives and future generations.
Ronald Odom, Sr.
The Steven P. Odom Training (S.P.O.T.) for Life Foundation
Ronald Odom Sr. was born and raised in Boston and attended Boston Public Schools, graduating from Dorchester High in 1976. Ronald worked as a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service and recently retired after 35 years of dedicated service. He pursued theological studies through Bethel Bible Institute and Boston Christian Academy, and founded True Vine Church in 2006 in Dorchester. Ronald is a community organizer and spokesperson for the neighborhood organization ROC (Redefining Our Community). The tragic death by gun violence of his beloved 13-year-old son, Steven, on October 4, 2007, brought Pastor Ron and his wife to the work of violence prevention and intervention. Pastor Ron and his family launched The Steven P. Odom Training (S.P.O.T.) for Life Foundation in 2018, on Steven’s birthday, January 26.
Bio information provided by Fellows and edited by the Boston Foundation for consistency.