Back in 1988, as a young college graduate, Mark Feldman became the third employee of New York Cares.
The fledging nonprofit – which has since grown to become the city’s largest volunteer management organization – wanted to make it easier for more people to volunteer.
So Feldman helped launch an innovative, group-oriented volunteer model that has become the centerpiece of myriad volunteer centers throughout the country. People who had just a few hours to volunteer could participate in group volunteer projects that were done in a day.
“At a very young age I was creating hands-on service among professionals in New York,” Feldman says. “I was designing, implementing, executing and leading folks to do volunteering in the city. It was the beginning of the hands-on movement.”
Both on the job and as a volunteer, Feldman has spent almost three decades developing fresh ways to engage volunteers in the nonprofit, public and private sectors to create social change. Feldman went on to work at the Corporation for National and Community Service, where he helped launch the AmeriCorps national service program, and has since founded his own award-winning firm, Cause Consulting.
For the past five years, Feldman has been deeply involved with an organization called Youth Design. The Boston-based nonprofit calls on professional designers as skills-based volunteers to help prepare urban high school students for college and possible careers in design, from architecture to fashion design.
“It’s really about helping to tap into and spark the passion and interest in design for young people, and bringing that to life by giving them a wide range of opportunities,” Feldman says.
The young participants, who enter the two-year program as sophomores, are a reflection of the Boston public schools’ student body, with 78 percent from low-income households and nearly half who speak a language other than English as their first language.
During the first summer of the program, students attend workshops and mentoring sessions that help them learn about the design industry and allow them to practice their skills through project-based work.
Students also attend workshops throughout the school year. The sessions help prepare students for their summer internships and they teach the students life skills, including how to manage personal finances and how to eat well.
During the second summer, students are placed in paid internships with some of Boston’s top design firms.
In addition to serving on Youth Design’s board, Feldman has volunteered as a mentor and workshop leader, helping young people find their voice around issues that are important to them – such as crime, families, police, divorce – and then use design to visualize their thoughts.
Feldman’s efforts at Youth Design have benefited 200 Boston public school teens and 100 percent of them have graduated high school and gone on to college.
“The most powerful thing is the experience and the access to networks,” Feldman says. “The core part of Youth Design is connecting young people to both internships and with designers around the country that coach them throughout their journey.”
Making those kinds of connections – and supporting businesses that encourage and make it easier for employees to volunteer – drive Youth Design’s work and excite Feldman. His experiences in the nonprofit, public and private sectors have allowed him to see both problems and opportunities through different lenses.
“I continue to be inspired by the power of companies to create social change,” he says. “It continuously gets cooler, gets more innovative. That includes both application of business resources and expertise but also our people, human capital and volunteers. … We’re on an incredible journey in the service and volunteer movement.”