Walking Hand in Hand

All of our journeys are different, but what makes our journeys worth exploring is the community of people walking with you. That is what the Newman’s Own Foundation has provided for us fellows, and that is why I am where I am today, both personally and professionally.

For the past eight months of the fellowship, I have been at the National Farm to School Network (NFSN). The overall theme of my work is education; as many of my projects have centered on expanding the capacity of education both at NFSN as an organization, as well as the farm to school movement as a whole. From the start, I was very excited with this scope of work, for I would be provided with various experiences in different teams while focusing on a topic I have a background in and care deeply about.

Yet, as all journeys do, I have had some hurdles to jump over. As many nonprofits do, NFSN went through some internal changes. With all of these changes at play, I became nervous that my original scope of work, that excited me so much, would be altered. But, before this worry even materialized, both my direct supervisor and overall boss assured me that my position is to stay as they had designed it. I am there to learn, to contribute, and to grow, and my outlined projects and professional development were still to be put first. This not only made me confident that I would be on the same journey I expected to be on, but let me see my NFSN team for who they truly are: a caring, supportive team with integrity and compassion. From this point on, I have had the utmost respect for this team, making my work with them all the more valuable.

As my work progressed in this phase of my position, it became more important for NFSN to have a “face” in DC with regard to policy, i.e., meeting with staff on the Hill, representing NFSN at coalition meetings, and attending important policy events. For someone new to policy, it was very intimidating attending meetings with senior level policy advocates at large national organizations and scheduling meetings with congressional committee staff on my own. But, because I was the only representation we had in DC, I opportunistically rose up and sat at the table.

At the beginning, I doubted myself and felt as though I did not deserve such an important role. In expressing this my Newman’s Own cohort, they assured me that my work was valuable and that even if this was not lined out in my scope of work and was not something I expected to be doing, it does not mean that I did not deserve it, nor did it mean I was not capable. With this reassurance, I went back to work, and hit the ground running. I produced an education policy resource completely on my own, have continued attending, and even participating, in coalition meetings, and have even been fielding external calls from stakeholders to discuss the Farm to School Act and education policy in great detail. I have gained so much confidence when speaking with my NFSN team, farm to school stakeholders, and members of our policy coalitions.

This is because of my cohort. We are all on similar journeys, and we are each trying to keeping walking forward. When one of us sees a bump in the road, we all band together to help that person across it. Between the support of my NFSN team and the comradery of my cohort, I have grown more in these past 8 months than ever before in my life. And the best part is, the journey is actually just beginning.

-Ariel

The featured photo is of the 2016-2017 Cohort (with me on the left of the woman in red) and some Executive people from Newman’s Own Foundation!