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Fellowship Applications Now Open!

New Cities, New Opportunities

The Work First Foundation and America Works are excited to announce the expansion of the Work First Fellowship. Over the course of the last three years, fellows have developed and implemented training classes, conducted research to improve the efficacy of these classes, and formed partnerships with local organizations to help bridge the gap between training and employment. The quality of this work has prompted us to expand the fellowship to include the Baltimore area.


Now recruiting for our 2016-2017 fellowship class!


The fellows will participate in job readiness training programs for public assistance recipients in Baltimore and New York City. Duties include, but are not limited to, meeting with individual clients, case management, administering training and education programs, and program evaluation. Fellows should be able to wear many hats, including case manager, program analyst, curriculum developer, trainer, life coach, and resume specialist.  Duties involve administrative work and include time standing while presenting to groups.


In conjunction with daily activities, fellows will participate in research in collaboration with The Work First Foundation.  Research assignments will be based on interest and availability. See The Work First Foundation website for a complete description of their current projects. Fellows will also have the opportunity to propose and pursue new research.

Start Date: August 1st

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Apply now!

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Welcome a new addition to our 2016-2017 fellowship class!

Kevin Reilly graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park where he majored in Government & Politics and Broadcast Journalism. Originally from Old Bridge, New Jersey, Kevin started a program to work with handicap-inclusive students. His interest in community service followed him to college where he volunteered with Food and Friends. His exposure to food insecurity formed the foundation for his interest in public policy. Outside of service, Kevin interned for former Representative Rush Holt on Capitol Hill. He also investigated government oversight as an intern with Washington, DC’s ABC 7. Kevin plans to attend law school and use his degree to influence public policy.

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Forum with NYPD Commissioner: William Bratton

On July 13th, 2016, the Work First Fellows attended a Manhattan Institute event with NYPD Commissioner, William Bratton. Through his career as a police officer, the LAPD Commissioner, and now the NYPD Commissioner, he has learned many important aspects of effective policing. The following are some of the principles that he shared with us.

The core foundation needed for a successful and effective police force is trust; both creating trust where it is currently nonexistent and building upon preexisting trust. Trust allows the police force and their respective communities to truly “see” each other, understand each other’s needs, and learn why those needs exist and differ between communities and cities. This fundamental trust and understanding can be built through the goals of policing.

The three goals of policing, as outlined by Commissioner Bratton, will allow for the safest communities with the greatest amount of social stability.  Primarily, policing requires partnership between the city, its police department, the law and the community.  Through communication, understanding, and a collective work effort, law enforcement works together with the community to create the safest environment possible. The next element of policing is identifying the specific priorities and problems of each city. Every city differs in their respective needs, beyond general safety and security, and once that is understood, the most effective policies and techniques can be applied.

The last goal of policing is to know how much pressure and force to apply to the situation as a remedy, while recognizing crime and disorder prevention are first and foremost police priority and responsibility. Commissioner Bratton compared this to applying medicine to an illness; every individual responds to medicine differently, so that medicine must be applied with precision and care. Police units need to respond legally, respectfully, and compassionately to every situation to avoid eroding trust. In order for this to work, relentless follow-up and care for the community is needed. Responding and following-up to every situation with respect and compassion has become increasingly important and highlighted in the media with the rapid spread information on a national and global scale through social media.

Beyond creating partnership and trust between the community and police, there is the issue of terror. Counterterrorism units are responsible for preventing terror groups from inspiring, enabling, and directing individuals across the world in being a part of their group or cause. This relates directly back to the “see something, say something” campaigns the NYPD has been promoting.  With the fundamental groundwork of trust leading to police notifications of suspicious activity and concerns by the community, the police are able to follow-up on those calls and better protect their communities. The stronger the relationship and trust between the community and law enforcement, the safer and better protected each community will be. Trust and communication between law enforcement and the community followed by prompt police action and response will lead to the greatest safety against terror around the world and at home, as well as the highest quality of life and protection in each community.

NYPD Commissioner Bratton is a strong advocate of dealing with all situations, whether we like them or not, within the bounds of the law–no exceptions.  By creating and building upon trust between communities and police, law enforcement will be able to safely and effectively protect their communities.

Rebecca Felczak (Work First Fellow 2016-2017)



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Affordable Housing

Though affordable housing is good in theory, in practice it gets overshadowed and begins to stagnate. I recall the times that the government supported people in need of assistance before and during the Bloomberg administration, 100% and 67% respectively. That kind of assistance has been reduced to 30% due to funding issues causing more people to not be able to afford living in their own neighborhoods. I had a student who lived in Brooklyn with his family for almost 30 years but was kicked out of the apartment because the building had been sold. They were paying almost $800-$900 in their apartment, but even the surrounding buildings marked up their rent to about $1,500 a month. A 1.5 times increase in rent if they wanted to stay in their own neighborhood is just something that should not be done to a family.

The loss of affordable housing causes families to live check to check. They cannot accumulate the resources they need to live a comfortable life. Many apartments with affordable housing are occupied and are in bad shape, and those that are being built will not be benefiting those who need it now. This begins to solidify the concept of working poor since the only reason they work is to survive. In a startling statistic, one in four renters are paying half of their income solely in housing costs alone within the United States. The pushback that many people are getting from Congress on affordable housing causes the issue to stagnate or decline. In order to ensure the well-being of Americans everywhere, the reformation of affordable housing needs to be a priority.

-Jonathan Jimenez (2016-2017 Fellow)

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Zoning and Affordable Housing

This year’s first fellowship event was on the topic of zoning and affordable housing. This topic hits home for many of us fellows as we are all beginning our careers and are transitioning to living on our own. Us fellows who are from New York are all from the outer boroughs and see the struggles of the rising cost of housing daily.

The first presentation was on the topic of zoning laws in NYC and was presented by Mr. Vishaan Chakrabarti. Mr. Chakrabarti is an architect from the urbanist school of thought who advocates for high-density solutions in New York. He is a Columbia professor and has worked for the Department of City Planning under Mayor Bloomberg. The second presentation was on affordable housing and was discussed by the husband and wife pair, Adam Weinstein and Holly Leicht. The pair dedicates their careers to addressing the affordable housing crisis within NYC’s framework.

Both zoning and affordable housing are complex issues which are extremely important in an ultra-urban city like New York City. The first speaker, Mr. Chakrabarti, discussed the history of zoning and how feelings toward zoning have transitioned from subdivisions between industrial centers and residential areas to a more integrated nature. Mr. Chakrabarti advocates for small center systems which would allow people’s work and homes to be located near each other. His call to action would be to make changes in the current zoning code ULURP to allow for more coexistence between commercial and residential land use. Although informative, Mr. Chakrabarti’s presentation was very Manhattan-centric and it didn’t touch on zoning issues faced in the outer boroughs. My concern would be that he would advocate for high-density commercial hubs and that all the boroughs would end up as a reflection of Manhattan. For me this creates quality of life issues and also changes the diverse character of the city into a very homogenous one.

The second presentation by Holly Leicht and Adam Weinstein discussed the technicalities associated with securing cheap land, funding affordable housing projects, and working within an income-cap and voucher program. When Ms. Leicht mentioned that most of the vacant land in the city was gone, I got worried. Where will working class New Yorkers go? She also advocated for exploring places like Yonkers for affordable housing options. This concerned me as well. The working class, the people responsible for running our restaurants, factories, retail stores, and many other services, would have to commute from far distances into the city. What happens when places like Yonkers become unaffordable? Would they have to move even farther? This does not seem sustainable. The pair gave a very succinct presentation of a very in-depth issue. I would love to know more about issues related to their work such as the long wait-list for the units and vouchers as well as potential solutions such as Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) which would require that a certain percentage of new development projects be dedicated to remaining affordable.

-Michelle Muallem (2016-2017 Fellow)


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Farewell to the 2015-2016 Fellows

The 2015-2016 fellows spent the last year teaching contextualized literacy courses, performing research and program development to improve these courses, and helping improve the lives of thousands of New Yorkers. The Work First Foundation is proud of their accomplishments, and we wish them all the best on their future endeavors.

Jeffrey Bilik Jeffrey will be attending the University of Michigan’s political science Ph.D program starting this Fall. There, he will focus on comparative politics and hopes to study the historical and political development of identity in the Global South, focusing especially on the institutionalization of religion and secularism in Central Asia.

Nicole Carroll Nicole is living in New York City and plans on moving to the Bay Area of California to pursue a career in Education Policy.

Aaron Harris Aaron was accepted into Cohort 27 of the NYC teaching fellows and will be a part of the program for the next two years. During his tenure, Aaron will attend Brooklyn College, study to receive a master’s degree in education and teach English at a public high school in Brooklyn.

Cristina Pena Cristina has already started classes at Columbia University Teachers College, where she is pursuing her master’s degree in secondary English education as well as her initial New York teaching certification. Her long term goal is to teach language arts at the high school level.

Sarah Riley This summer Sarah will be working for Turnaround for Children, an organization that, “connects the dots between science, adversity and school performance to catalyze healthy school development and academic achievement”. Turnaround completes research and also develops and implements strategies that schools can use to support trauma-impacted students. In the fall, Sarah will be attending U.C. Berkeley to pursue a Master of Public Policy.


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Meet the 2016-2017 Fellows

Malisha Cooper-Suggs joins the program from Seattle, WA as a recent graduate from Ithaca College where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Culture and Communication. She spent the last two summers as a youth mentor and program assistant with MDC Scholars, an organization that provides tutoring services and educational resources to low-income high school students of color. In college, Malisha also volunteered as a mentor, working with local high and middle school students. In her free time, Malisha enjoys watching low quality straight-to-television movies, reading, and googling random facts. Upon completing the fellowship program she plans to return to graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in Education Policy.

Rebecca Felczak is originally from Upstate New York and has recently graduated from Villanova University with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a secondary major in Psychology. While at Villanova, Rebecca participated as an Advocate with LIFT-Philadelphia, a non-profit working to break the cycle of poverty for individuals in need. She also volunteered with community outreach programs in the greater Philadelphia area and participated in service-break trips working with the immigrant population. Rebecca was a member of the Villanova Pep Band during her four years of college, and has a great passion for music and the arts. She hopes to pursue a career in public policy and community outreach.

Jonathan Jimenez is a Rutgers graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a Master of Social Work in Nonprofit Management and Governance. He served as a Support Coach for students at Transitions for Youth, a program assisting aging-out foster students’ transition into college life. He also worked at the Center for Nonprofit Management and Governance, where he helped nonprofits develop a foundation for their organization and adjust to barriers. He volunteered as a mentor for college students, ensuring they have the support, motivation, and confidence to complete their degree. A New Jersey native with an emphasis on providing educational opportunities for others, Jonathan hopes to pursue a career as a Dean of Students at a university or college.

Janae Johnson is a graduate of George Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs. She is a Baltimore native who recently returned to the area after a position as an English Language Teacher in Spain. Janae has volunteered with youth mentoring programs in Washington, DC and Santiago, Chile. She is interested in supporting community building efforts as well as bridging the gap amongst minorities and immigrants. Janae is enthused to be working in Baltimore and Washington as she has strong ties to both cities. Her hobbies include traveling, writing, and photography.

Sakiera Malone recently graduated with her Master of Arts degree in Global Affairs and Human Security from the University of Baltimore. She possesses a committed interest to policy and underserved populations, and completed her capstone research on, “Examining Problems Associated with Social Policy Development for the Elderly in Cambodia”. During the last five months of graduate school, she interned with the Refugee Youth Project, an organization that provides educational and transitional resources to youth refugees. For the last two years, she served as the Northeast Region Client Liaison at Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, Inc., and in 2013 she spent the year with AmeriCorps as a Community Organizer for the Baltimore Energy Challenge. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Advertising Communication from St. John’s University. Sakiera enjoys learning new languages and hopes to pursue a degree in law.

Michelle Muallem is currently in her final semester at New York Law School and wants to work in the international human rights field in the future, specializing in the Middle East region. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Anthropology at St. John’s University in 2013. She has lived in both New York City and Phoenix, Arizona and currently resides in Queens. Recently, her volunteer work has focused on helping the undocumented immigrant population of New York City. Michelle loves traveling and hopes that her future career as a lawyer will allow her to see many new places.

Kessie Petit-Frere graduated from St. John’s University in Rome, Italy, receiving a Master of Arts in Government and Politics with a concentration in International Relations and a certificate in International Law and Diplomacy. While in college, Kessie had the opportunity join a micro-finance program called GLOBE. She reviewed and approved loans for individuals in developing countries to help foster social entrepreneurship and self-reliance in communities including Nigeria, Kenya, Vietnam, and more. Kessie also participated in a several public service organization like Midnight Runs and NYC Project Hope, and interned in legal capacities with juveniles delinquents. During her free time, Kessie enjoys traveling to new countries, going to museums, and trying new things. She aspires to work in international development, furthering research on social justice issues and the effects they have on the advancement of developing countries.

Catherine Sandoval is a recent graduate from New York City College of Technology where she studied Human Services. Catherine has interned with St. John’s Bread & Life, a non-profit organization that provides social services to low-income families struggling with hunger and poverty. While in college, she also interned with Project PACT Social Intervention Group at Columbia University School of Social Work. During her free time, she enjoys listening to music, visiting museums, and trying out new dishes. Catherine hopes to have a better understanding of the social and economic factors affecting the educational policies and the educational system.


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