Good morning and welcome to a new feature here on GoodWorks! Once (or sometimes twice) a week, we will feature a staff member from one of our Catalogue charities — spotlighting the amazing people that make it all happen, plus providing access to their insight and advice. For our inaugural “7 Questions” interview, we have … Merry Cavanaugh, Director of Development at Washington Jesuit Academy:
1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?
The most interesting project was getting our back field totally renovated this summer. The field had no drainage and was under water every time it rained. Ruppert Landscaping donated a new turf field and we raised additional funding to move our basketball courts out of the middle of our parking lot and put them behind the school. So now we have a brand new soccer/football field and a full and half-court basketball court, along with a new garden for vegetables and beautiful landscaping around the front and the back of the school.
2. What else are you up to?
We are finishing off the last year of a Capital Campaign that we started at the worst time ever — September 2008. We have been truly honored that many people have made significant donations and pledges to the campaign despite the economically trying times and we plan to wrap it up by the end of this school year.
3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?
I was inspired to do this particular work by students that I worked with in my old job. I worked in a school that was mostly tuition-funded, and we raised additional funding through the traditional annual giving, etc. from parents and alumni. However, we had a special program for 10 students who attended on full scholarships and who lived in low-income projects. I raised the funding for their scholarships. I saw how hard those students worked and how much they appreciated being able to go to a decent school. I often said that raising scholarship funds was the easiest money to raise. As a result, when I had the opportunity to work in a school that was completely, 100% scholarship funded, I was thrilled.
4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?
My hero in the nonprofit world is Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone. He has approached a problem with a wholistic solution, rather than just addressing parts of the problem.
5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?
The biggest challenge — which I have created for myself, and which I also love — is keeping each of our student sponsors informed on what is going on with their student. Each of our students is paired with a person or a group of people who “sponsor” him. I work very hard to keep everyone connected and to sustain personal connections — it is labor intensive!
6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in education?
I guess it would be to leave politics out of it.
7. What’s next?
We are trying to scale up our program so that it can serve more children. We are exploring how best to do that — add younger grades; focus on our graduates more; establish another site.
EXTRA: If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?
Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo DaVinci, and Dirk Pitt.