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Nonprofit Board Service Gives Students a Chance to Impact New Haven Community

group of three people outside a building with a sign that reads “Solar Youth”

Since its founding in 2000, Solar Youth has provided life-changing mentorship and development opportunities to more than 3,500 children in New Haven. The nonprofit organization’s unique model includes supportive relationships and on-the-ground programming for youth living in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Since 2004, students from the Yale School of Management have helped Solar Youth make an impact by serving on the organization’s board of directors as members and consultants. The students belong to Yale SOM’s Nonprofit Board Fellows club, which every year sends volunteers to serve on the boards of a variety of nonprofits in the New Haven area.

“The Yale SOM students have brought a range of experiences, specialties, and expertise to our board over the years,” says Maria Angelita Gomez, chair of the Solar Youth board. “They’ve helped us manage and implement projects that we just don’t have the bandwidth to get to, given our lean staffing model.”

Over the years, students have performed data analysis, overhauled budget development tools, created a local natural history guide, and developed impact measurement recommendations for Solar Youth.

This year, Neha Singh ’22 took on an even more mission-critical task: helping the nonprofit navigate a major transition.

“Neha joined us during a time of great change, when our founder and executive director of 24 years, Joanne Sciulli, was retiring,” Gomez says. “Neha has been an invaluable member of our board, helping with strategy, performing research, and providing insight on equitable practices as we assess our mission.”

One major aspect of Singh’s work was advising the board on diversity, equity, and strategies to retain employees. “They wanted to ensure that they were baselining appropriately in their salary scale,” she says.

The research yielded valuable insights for Singh as well. Singh says that she learned a lot about the importance of providing equitable and fair opportunities within an organization. “One of my biggest takeaways has been hearing the diverse perspectives of various stakeholders—especially the employees—around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” she explains.

Student board volunteers gain an appreciation for the challenges that face an urban nonprofit, Gomez says. “You need to be agile and creative and maximize your opportunities,” she explains. “As a board, we’re continuously evaluating how well a given strategy centers the youth, and I hope that’s a practice the Yale board fellows take with them into all of their future roles.”

At the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA, which serves 24 communities in southern Connecticut, President and CEO Dave Stevenson holds the same hope. “Our goal is to help the students get a solid board experience by actually sitting on a board,” he says. “They come to board meetings, the retreat, and all the activities, including the annual awards ceremony.”

Yale SOM students have been volunteering on the board since 2017. Pascal Su ’22, who has a “passion for youth development,” is serving this year. He’s been helping the board diversify its membership, as well as the Y’s programming.

Su helped build a diverse staffing pipeline through board discussions on recruiting, retention, and compensation, and by representing the Y in interactions with external parties when needed. His skills in finance, private equity, and accounting have all come in handy, as has his Yale SOM coursework in leadership and teamwork.

“The students bring perspectives that we desperately need,” Stevenson says. “Hearing their voices about what they think might work, based on their experiences as students and their past work experiences, gives us real, tangible advice and a new angle on what we do.”

For his part, Su is getting experience in an area that’s important to him—prior to coming to Yale SOM, he volunteered at a high school program for first generation, college-bound youth in Los Angeles. He says the level of community support the Y receives is heartening.

“The Y does such a good job at youth development, and it’s really aligning with what I’m interested in,” Su says. “And being able to see how decisions are made at the top level, being able to see how different board members contribute and how initiatives go from idea to execution, has been a huge takeaway for me.”
 

Pictured: Neha Singh ‘22; Candace Wright, Solar Youth interim executive director; and Maria Angelita Gomez, chair of the Solar Youth board. Photo by Tony Fiorini.