Alumni Engagement and the Spirit of the Season

By: Brian Rosenbaum
This month, after taking their last exams and giving their final presentations, millions of college students will go on winter break. For upwards of a month, they’ll work, play, relax, celebrate, and sleep soundly without the stress of homework and papers. Most importantly, during winter break they will embody the spirit of the season, reinforcing the most important relationships they have: their friendships and family ties.
Among these relationships is their connection to my nonprofit, College Summit. As Yoana Urbina, 2011 Peer Leader of the Year, has said, “If it weren’t for the love, care, and courage I found with my College Summit family, I wouldn’t be in college today.” This notion of the College Summit Family is deeply rooted in our students. They experience it during their Workshops the summer before their senior year, where they form deep connections with Alumni of the program and their Writing Coach, College Coach, and Rap Director. During their senior year, they “pay it forward,” helping their fellow seniors get to college, too. As Alumni of the program, their relationships with each other sustain and support them through college and into the “real world”.
Throughout their interactions with the organization, interdependency and responsibility to each other – the quintessential family values – are emphasized as the foundation of their individual and communal growth. They come to support each other like brothers and sisters, develop close relationships with counselors and staff, and, in the words of our founder, J.B. Schramm, “experience love in a deep and transforming way,” activating them to achieve their dreams.
I reflected on this, and a recent slowdown in Alumni participation and increase in attrition, with the four leaders of the Cal State Northridge (CSUN) Club who attended its November meeting. We discussed strategies to increase engagement, build up the group’s membership, and get the word out in 2014.
Together, we identified 10 Alumni at CSUN to target for the next meeting in February 2014. We brainstormed ways to recruit them (social media, text, in-person conversations) and divided up the list. We also talked about what we do in the club and what the members have gotten out of it. They agreed to reach out to their lists and strive to bring just one more person to the next meeting.
What I particularly like about this approach is that it repurposes the foundational mantra of College Summit (“the most influential person to a 17-year-old is another 17-year-old”), and turns the focus away from “more bodies” and onto relationship-building as the primary tool in movement-building. Social media may be hot right now, but it can’t replace the personal connections that support students during the difficult times.
What really made this hit home for me was at the end of that meeting when the three young ladies in the room decided to take the rest of the night off, head to Crave Café in Sherman Oaks, and get in some quality time over crepes. The meal they shared that night, the deepening of their friendships, and the memories, family-fostering, and sense of self-assurance that will blossom from that dinner are, in the long run, worth as much if not more than any resource or tool I can give them.
To me, that dinner also captures the spirit of College Summit and this season. It’s about caring about each other, comforting one another, and embracing our common mission. In the words of our founder, College Summit “taps into the power of love” by giving our students something to love: themselves and each other.
As College Summit’s Community Engagement Coordinator, Brian works to recruit and mobilize the organization’s growing volunteer and Alumni base while supporting sales initiatives, program implementation, event coordination, and development.  Brian joined College Summit in 2011, seeing the organization as a place to bridge his passions for social justice, empowerment through education, and grassroots community-building. Follow the adventure on Facebook by liking College Summit Southern California or via Twitter @CollegeSummitLA

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