Unlike many graduate students, Stevenson Center Fellows have half their master’s degree time in the field, completing 11 months of paid professional practice in applied community and economic development. José Molina, a Peace Corps Coverdell Fellow in anthropology, currently works with Edu-Futuro, an organization dedicated to empowering immigrant and underserved youth in and around Washington, D.C. This is the first year Edu-Futuro has hosted a Stevenson Center Fellow.
Edu-Futuro works across generations of immigrant families and youth, using research-based strategies to enable those families to meet educational goals, increase financial resources over the long term, and enhance community connections. The number of families benefiting from Edu-Futuro’s work grows every year.
For Molina, Edu-Futuro was a perfect fit following his Peace Corps service in Costa Rica and his year on campus. “I am very passionate about public service in general and joined the [Stevenson Center] because I have a desire to help those in need. Beyond a passion for helping others, I have lived through and understand many of the challenges my community faces,” Molina said. “Edu-Futuro is a Latinx-run nonprofit, serving the Latinx and immigrant community. That is very powerful to me, [and] I am humbled to be a part of this team.”
Current Fellows are serving in the midst of a global pandemic that presents unique challenges, both to themselves and to nonprofit organizations. Jorge Figueredo, executive director of Edu-Futuro and Molina’s supervisor, stressed the importance of qualified professionals in times of economic uncertainty.
“Due to the COVID-19 crisis, philanthropy experts speculate that as many as one-third of all nonprofit organizations will not survive the pandemic, and will have to close their doors,” he said, “The nonprofits that will continue operating, and maybe even thrive after this public health and economic emergency, will require professionals who know how to successfully navigate the new social service environment and have a clear understanding of the qualities that separated the survivors from their less fortunate colleagues.”
Both through the first year of intensive coursework on campus and the second year in the field, Fellows like Molina are learning the skills to contribute to a thriving organization. Molina has been able to find support and balance in his internship while also adapting to the new environment of working either remotely or safely in person. “I get to go into the office three days a week and share the space with one other employee. It is great to be able to get out of the house and motivates me to work harder, while keeping my sanity,” he said.
Reflecting on his experience to date, Molina added, “Edu-Futuro has provided me with the real-life experience that is so important to professional development. On top of that, at Edu-Futuro I receive mentorship…I am learning the importance of taking initiative, have learned about budgets, grant writing, and how adaptability is a big part of sustainability.”
Molina is not the only one to see value in the partnership. “[Molina] has demonstrated genuine enthusiasm for the mission of Edu-Futuro, a strong understanding of the challenges faced by our families,” Figueredo said.
When asked about advice for future Fellows, Molina had a simple, but important, message: “I feel very lucky to have this experience. I would add, for future Fellows, think about what you want to gain from this experience and make it a tangible goal.”
The Stevenson Center is committed to service and understanding, locally and globally. Every year, the center welcomes those who have at least one year of full-time experience in community development or social services, whether through employment or programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps. The application process for fall 2021 is underway.
Every year, Fellows work with a variety of organizations. The Stevenson Center is seeking organizations to host Fellows for 11 months starting in summer 2021.
Want to learn more about becoming or hosting a Stevenson Center Fellow? Contact us at StevensonCenter@IllinoisState.edu or (309)-439-7090.
Dani Park is the Stevenson Center’s public relations graduate assistant