Andrew Hahm is an Illinois native who grew up in Ramsey, New Jersey. His interest in community development initially stemmed from high school work as a political organizer. At Princeton, he was concentrated in the Department of Mathematics, where he became interested in academic research in logic and social philosophy. Through advocacy work to create robust ethnic studies programs, he also became invested in the issue of equitable access to academic opportunities.
This past year, I was a Project 55 fellow at the Carole Robertson Center for Learning, a community-based nonprofit in Chicago providing early childhood, youth, and family development services to over 650 children and their families annually. I worked as a research and data specialist in the resource development department, supporting our grant writer, volunteer coordinator, and special events staff with various fundraising and communications projects.
The Carole Robertson Center for Learning was founded in 1976 when local families came together for their children to replace an afterschool program that closed. It was named in memory of Carole Robertson, one of the four girls who was killed in the Birmingham 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963. These two core components of the Center’s legacy inform the agency’s community-based structure and approach in its work. The board, for example, is required to have at least 51% parent, former parent, or alumni representation, and an active Parent Policy Council must review and approve major agency reports and policies, like the agency’s eligibility, recruitment, selection, enrollment, and attendance (ERSEA) policy. The board also includes representatives from the Robertson family.
The community-oriented structure of the organization figured largely in my Project 55 Fellowship role: two of my major projects in the spring— the agency’s annual community needs assessment and community resource guide— were resources presented to the Parent Policy Council for their consideration in planning for the upcoming program year. In putting together these reports and guides, I had to rely on both people within communities we serve and external partners. For example, family support specialists who are more intimately acquainted with the community gave suggestions and contacts at local organizations to add to the community resource guide. Other public interest fellows from Northwestern University’s and the University of Chicago’s fellowship program who worked at policy and research agencies, like the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and Chapin Hall, helped me understand data products critical for our community needs assessment and our understanding of the early childhood landscape in our service area.
Working at a Chicago community-based organization for the past year has been an eye-opening experience for me, and I am excited to continue working at the Carole Robertson Center for Learning after my fellowship year.