8 Questions w/ Colleen Myers ’01

myersAs we continue to prepare for MassSTAR 2017, meet our other Conference Director this year, the luminous Colleen Myers (’01)! 

Who are you and how did you become involved with MYL?
I represented Revere High School at the 2001 conference and stayed in touch with the alumni association, though conflicts kept me from returning to volunteer on staff during my high school years. When I moved to New York for college, I found a fellow alum (Hi Stinger!) sitting across the table from me in my very first college class, and he helped me to maintain my ties to the organization (while also remaining one of my dearest friends). I returned to the fold as a senior facilitator in 2010, then took over as Conference Director from 2011-2014. I have spent time on the Board of Directors as both the Board President and Director of Communications, but I’m really excited to be returning to the Conference Director role for 2017 – it’s by far my favorite role within the organization, because it gives me a chance to work closely with so many of our dedicated volunteers while also helping to mentor them and gain valuable skills that will benefit them out there in the real world.

What are you up to now?
I attended Columbia University for undergrad, and I also received my Masters in Education from Harvard University. I currently work as a Team Manager for Amazon, working within the Alexa organization. No, I’m not responsible for her terrible jokes, but I sure do wish I could claim that glory.

What’s your hidden talent?
My brain is jam-packed with lyrics, quite possibly from every song I’ve ever heard more than two or three times through. On a fairly regular basis I catch myself singing along to some song (most recently, and most horrifyingly, the 2002 Avril Lavigne angst-ridden jam, “Complicated”) and I have to wonder… what could I have accomplished in life if so much of my mental capacity wasn’t filled with one-hit wonders from my past? I could have solved the energy crisis and cured cancer by now, for all we know (that’s a lie. I’m an English major, I don’t do science. BUT STILL.)

What’s your favorite point of the STAR?
Intentionality, because it’s the one that I find to be the most challenging. How often do you stop to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? What’s my purpose? Is it getting me toward my ultimate goals?” We face this challenge constantly while building the MassSTAR Conference, but I also challenge myself to question my intentions in my professional life and in my personal pursuits. (And yes, this means that when you see me staring at the INCREDIBLE Lasell brownies with a focused look in my eye, it’s because I’m asking myself if I’m being intentional in choosing that dessert because it will bring me joy, or if I’m mindlessly being drawn to a sugar fix that will just end up with me crashing halfway through the evening events.)

What gif best represents you?
I’m so delighted that this was the next question, because I crowd sourced to arrive at this answer, asking a few volunteers who have worked with me on multiple conferences for their input. Miss Piggy and Beyoncé were both in the running, but we landed on this:

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That’s my promise for the 2017 MassSTAR Conference. Except probably the explosions, I don’t think that’s covered in our insurance – cue the liability song!

What does it mean to “be a good citizen” to you?
To blatantly steal from Friday Night Lights: Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Keep your eyes open and be mindful of what’s happening in the world around you. Educate yourself on the issues that impact you and your community, yes, but also keep in mind the broader perspectives and learn everything you can about viewpoints that differ from your own. Approach every situation with sincerity and come from a place of genuinely wanting to do good in the world. Most of all, remember that coming from a place of kindness is always a good choice, and try to embrace that position in all areas of your life.

Who would play you in the film (or musical or theatrical) adaptation of your life?
First of all, my life absolutely would be a musical comedy, thank you for giving me that option. I’m going to go with Jane Krakowski – she’s best known for her over-the-top comedic characters, but she also has real soul in her performances. I like to think that I’m balanced in that way – you’ll catch me cracking jokes and shouting cheers to keep the energy up, but I am always available for a one-on-one debrief with any of our volunteers when they need more serious, focused time.

And finally, do you have any advice for recent (or not so recent) MYL Alumni?
It is NEVER too late to reengage. I kept in contact with people I met at my Conference, but it took eight years for me to return as a formal volunteer. During my time volunteering on the conference, I have gotten a LOT of social media friend requests, and I continue to be inspired by the things our alumni are accomplishing every day. Even if you haven’t been able to make it back to a conference or to an alumni event, there’s no expiration date – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many of us remember you!

8 Questions w/ Erica Cabag

cabagMassSTAR 2017 is coming up and we couldn’t be more excited. This week, get to know one of our OUTSTANDING Conference Co-Directors, Erica Cabag!

Who are you and how did you become involved with MYL?
Hi everyone! I’m Erica Cabag and I’m an MYL Foundation volunteer. I joined the Board of Directors as Secretary and was in that role from Fall 2013 to Fall 2016. In January of this year I took on the role as Director of the 2017 MassSTAR Conference alongside MYL Foundation powerhouse Colleen Myers ’01. I became involved with MYL Foundation initially as a donor thanks to learning about the organization from friend/former colleague, Jen Coliflores ’00, long-time volunteer and current Vice President of the board.

What are you up to now?
I’m the Development Officer at Gann Academy, a private Jewish high school in Waltham, Massachusetts. I’m in the middle of the Diversity Fellows Program with the MA chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). It’s a professional development program that allows me to grow as a fundraising professional, learn best practices, and network with others in the field. Volunteering for MYL Foundation is a big priority right now but I’m looking for new organizations to work with as a volunteer. I used to dance a lot when I was younger (tap, jazz, ballet, modern, etc.) and am trying to get back into classes. I’m also a notorious TV show binge-watcher. It’s terrible but sometimes I just get caught up in it all. TV is GREAT these days. I’m also trying to travel more, especially abroad. Last year I went to Israel and this spring I will go to the Netherlands. My hope is to travel internationally at least once a year.

What would your fantasy superpower be and why?
I would really love to be able to manipulate time – be it freeze time, travel in time, have Hermione’s time turner necklace from Professor Dumbledore, you name it. While it’s a huge responsibility – think Marty McFly in “Back To The Future” (I know I’m totally dating myself) – the power can’t be beat. Time is both a finite and infinite thing. While we only have so many hours in a day, years in a life, etc., what we do now could exist or live beyond our own lifetimes. In that way we already have that superpower. But to be able to go back with knowledge you have now to possibly change the course of history, or just to not wear denim on denim, the possibilities are endless.

What’s your favorite point of the STAR and why?
My favorite point of the star is Intentionality. It’s easy to get bogged down in daily tasks and often I say “yes” to things without really thinking about it. Focusing on intentionality helps to ground me so that I spend time on the things I find the most valuable as opposed to just keeping busy.

What emoji(s) best represents you?
When they tilted the cry/laugh guy, it was a game changer for me. I use it all the time!

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 What’s your most memorable MassSTAR experience?

My first conference was 2014 and I arrived on Friday evening after the conference was well underway. While I prepared by reading as much as I could about the program and the staff, nothing can prepare you for the reaction you get from people when you use the “e-word” without preparation. I was standing with other board members and they asked me what I thought. I told them that I loved the energy and was just “enthusiastic to be here” and suddenly I had what felt like 25 people cheering loudly in my face, “To be enthusiastic you must act enthusiastic! To act enthusiastic you must be enthusiastic! Oh, boy, are we ENTHUSIASTIC!!!!!” I’ll be honest, it was somewhat traumatizing, but I loved it. It captures the entire conference experience for me. I used the e-word about 4 more times by accident before I finally got into the habit of saying “e-word.” And when ever I use it “in real life” I chuckle and recite the cheer in my head.

What does “being a good citizen” mean to you?
My answer to that has changed over time. Right now I’m focusing on empathy and action/participation. We can’t let life move around us, we have to look at what is happening and find where we can have positive impact on the world and act on it. At the same time, what we think is “right” isn’t the same for everyone, so you have to try your best to understand where other people are coming from, especially those who seemingly disagree with you. It’s a tough thing to do and sometimes it even feels painful, but we don’t live in a vacuum. Our lives are intertwined with others whether we like it or not.

 

And finally, do you have any advice for recent (or not so recent) MYL Alumni?
Don’t let your age dictate what you can and cannot do. This goes for both old and young. We are never at a wrong age to move mountains. No matter where you are in the course of your life you can always participate and make a difference. I believe those are some of the most inspirational stories in life.

MassSTAR 2016: Saturday Recap

Whew – another powerful day at MassSTAR! Saturday Delegates and staff woke up sleepy but refreshed after a long, productive Friday and headed to breakfast ready for whatever else the Conference was going to throw at them! Which was a good thing, because…

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Building Blocks of Effective Communication

… delegates spent the next hour running back and forth, trying to replicate a Lego structure through word-of-mouth. Facilitated by Gabby Perez and Jenna Brink, two new additions to the MYL family in 2016, this workshop challenged delegates to think about the ways they communicate with others in all ways. The delegates were split up into observers, runners, and builders, and each had an important role in the creation of the final structures. Afterwards, there was much discussion about what happens in situations where not everyone has the same information available to them.

Community Service Fair

During lunch, representatives from several Massachusetts organizations joined us for a community service fair, where delegates could learn about volunteer and service opportunities available to them! Organizations in attendance included City Year Boston, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Massachusetts, and, of course, the MYL Foundation Alumni Association and Empowered Citizen Grants team!

Service Project: Birthday in a Box

Every year, MassSTAR delegates complete a community service project in support of a Massachusetts nonprofit. This year we were pleased to again partner with Birthday Wishes, assembling boxes for their Birthday in a Box program. Guests from the Greater Federation of Women’s Clubs of Massachusetts attended – and even helped wrap a few boxes!

Take a Stand

Director of Programming Cayla Barbour (MYL’09) and MYL Foundation Director of Communications Colleen Myers (MYL’01) led the delegates through an intense process of making decisions and defending their point of view. Delegates learned that the choices they make matter, about the value of compromise, and spent time afterwards discussing what it means to… well, take a stand.

Operation: Egg Drop

Delegates worked in their groups to create a contraption to protect an egg when dropped from a tall ladder. They also had to create a commercial advertising their contraption – which led to a LOT of eggcellent egg puns. Like, a lot of puns. So many. We ain’t yolkin’.

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Delegates rang in the end of the day with a celebratory dance! And at the end, we welcomed the 2016 delegates into the MYL Foundation family officially in the traditional way – a dance party set to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’!

Final Debrief

In typical MassSTAR fashion, we ended Saturday night sitting in a circle, sharing experiences, takeaways, and responses to the weekend. So many delegates expressed gratitude for the opportunity to meet, learn from, and grow with one another.

We walked back to the dorms in silence to reflect, and prepare for one more day!

MassSTAR 2016: Friday Recap

Well, it’s official — Day One of the 2016 MassSTAR Citizenship Conference is in the books! We had a blast getting to meet all of this year’s delegates this morning. Thank you to all of the families and supporters who helped with transportation to Lasell College. We know that many of you had a long drive, and we’re so glad you could join us! We’ll be posting nightly recaps of our day’s adventures, so join us as we relive today’s schedule.

Confluence
We don’t mess around — there’s no time like the present to start getting to know each other. Confluence is a grand MassSTAR tradition; it’s how we kickstart every conference, and it always gets us started on a high note.

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Keynote Speaker: Ashley Bendiksen
Ashley Bendiksen opened our programming by speaking with our delegates about overcoming adversity and looking inward to discover their inner leaders. “If you change your mindset to a positive one, if you believe you can do anything, all the other stuff will fall into place.” With Ashley’s help, we established the mental baseline from which to approach our growth throughout the rest of the weekend.

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Walk the Line
Our Director of Alumni Relations, Alex Gomez (MYL’10), led our first workshop of the weekend. Walk the Line helps our delegates to learn more about each other while preserving a safe space. Through the comfort of anonymity, delegates shared their honest feelings about their communities, their experiences, and their histories. During the debrief, Meg Geslin of Brockton High School shared the following observation: “I hope that we can look back and be proud of the world we made with each other.”

She Sells Sea Shells
Director of Programming Cayla Barbour (MYL’09) led our next workshop, which helped our delegates to explore their personal leadership styles. Each group was challenged to determine the number of seashells in a jar, and to negotiate with their peers to arrive at a group guess. In addition to building their communication skills, this workshop helped our delegates to address their reactions to situations with an uncertain answer. (And no — we still won’t tell you how many shells are in the jar.)

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Exploring the Communities We Build: The Ice Cream Game
The first rule of the ice cream game: you never talk about the ice cream game! Veteran facilitator Rosette Cataldo (MYL’87) leads this program every year. Delegates are challenged to share what they see — and learn just as much from everything they don’t see along the way.

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Vocal Revolution
To close out our first day, we explored making a new type of waves — this time, sound waves. Our delegates joined with local a cappella group Vocal Revolution to learn about how our voices can combine to create a sound that is greater than the sum of its part.

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Stay tuned tomorrow for another update!

MassSTAR 2016: Meet the Staff (PT. 1)

Our outstanding volunteer staff is hard at work getting our 2016 MassSTAR Citizenship Conference ready – in two weeks, 100+ delegates will arrive at Lasell College in Newton, MA for an unforgettable weekend.

Check out the video below to meet some of the people who volunteer their time to make it happen – which also proves that we play as hard as we work!