Get to Mathew a little better…
Tell us a little bit about your background-education, current job, where you live.
I have a BA in History and German from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I concentrated on the ways people come together socially and culturally, which cemented my interest in community involvement. The bulk of my professional career has been in the nonprofit field: Prior to Future Foundation, I was Economic Development Director and then Interim Executive Director at CDF Action, a partner to the residents of Clarkston, Georgia, focused on asset-based community development. I came to CDF Action from Refugee Family Services (now New American Pathways), where I managed the Refugee Organizing in Action Collaborative that provided coaching and technical assistance to local immigrant-led organizations. I also supported public policy, communications, and program assessment and evaluation. I started in Clarkston at the Global Village Project, teaching English to recently arrived refugee young women with limited or interrupted formal education. Previously, I worked with City Year in Washington, DC, mobilizing advocacy for our nation’s service and volunteer programs.
I joined Future Foundation as a consultant in January 2016, helping with process documentation in support of larger work around business planning and strategic directions. In May I was fortunate to begin as Chief Operating Officer.
My wife and I have lived in the city of Atlanta for most of the time since we arrived in the area in 2010. She also works for a nonprofit organization, which is focused on health education, and we have a two-year-old daughter who keeps us honest and busy.
What is the toughest job you’ve had? What stuck with you?
During college I studied in Austria for a year, which inspired me to live and work in another country again after graduation. The Peace Corps then took me to Zambia for three years. There I helped rural villages too far from formal public schools set up locally run centers for children in first through seventh grades. The curriculum required few resources and was based on a daily program broadcast on the national radio station; the program was like Sesame Street, with recurring characters and set pieces, plus songs and stories that introduced and reinforced learning, which concentrated on literacy and math. Instructors identified by their communities would translate the program from English into the local language (Zambia has more than 70 languages and dialects). Over time, students’ English improved and they “interacted” more directly with the radio teacher and characters.
Peace Corps is called “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” I was a suburban American dropped into a Zambian village 50 miles from the nearest paved road, without electricity or running water or another native speaker of English. It is where I learned what persistence and commitment and resilience really mean, and it is how I formed my approach to community development-leading through coaching and facilitation, to help others achieve their goals and realize their dreams. It was where I discovered what “service leadership” really means.
How did you first learn about Future Foundation?
At the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s 2015 Neighborhood Summit, I attended a youth-led panel discussion featuring Future Foundation students. I admired their poise as they went through their prepared presentation and crafted thoughtful answers to audience questions. A few months later, a friend and colleague introduced me to Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim, who was looking for consulting help with project management. I saw in her, the CEO, the same passion I heard from those students, and I knew this was an organization where I wanted to contribute.
Describe your activities as Future Foundation’s COO.
As COO I help turn strategy and ambition into program delivery. In addition to helping staff as they plan and execute activities with our students, this includes shoring up our talent-development processes, supporting facilities upkeep, reinforcing the places of data and evaluation, and maintaining external partnerships.
How do you hope to contribute to Future Foundation’s mission and overall goals?
Future Foundation’s mission speaks to innovative, fundamental transformation in local communities across metro Atlanta. I like moonshots, and I see my responsibility as supporting staff to design, deliver, and assess quality programs that meet that ambition. Every day we are fortunate to serve the students and families in and around East Point and College Park, and they rightfully deserve the best from us. Asset-based community development requires us to be conduits for individuals to achieve their dreams, and as our staff does that for our students, I will do this for our women and men at Future Foundation.
How do you think Future Foundation will change over the next two to three years, and how do you see yourself contributing to that change?
Future Foundation will continue to grow in its global outlook, looking for partnerships and allies for joint creation and execution of programs. We must make sure that we keep hiring qualified and energetic staff members, and that our staff members receive training to remain at the forefront of our field. Our processes and systems need to keep up with innovation across sectors, emphasizing efficiency and effectiveness in our operations so that attention and resources stay focused on our programs and relationships. It is my job to strengthen the environment that enables these successes to continue.