Feb 242015


University of Maryland undergrad Hannah Breakstone attended the Social Enterprise Symposium twice prior to the 2014 Symposium, but this one was different. Breakstone, interested in a career in Public Health, was determined to network and meet people in the impact community. The Social Enterprise Symposium, which  explores social, environmental, and economic change from a variety of lenses, was the perfect place for Breakstone to connect with impact driven professionals.

After attending a session titled “Inside Industry: Creating Social Value”, Breakstone met session speaker Robert Jordan, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. Jordan served on the Washington D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission for a neighborhood in Ward 7 of Washington D.C. “He was looking for resources to empower his neighborhood, and I was really interested in being a part of that,” said Breakstone.

After a brief conversation, Jordan was decidedly impressed by Breakstone’s enthusiasm for public health and experience at the University of Maryland’s Career Center, and promised to reach out to Breakstone if an opportunity were to arise for her in the future.  One week later, as Jordan was beginning a grant application to develop a workforce development program in Ward 7, Breakstone came to mind.

Jordan called Breakstone and asked for her help. The program Jordan aimed to cultivate would employ high school students to create green spaces in the city during summer break. The goal would be to teach career development skills to the students, helping them hone skills that would be relevant to future employment, and to improve the city. If they received the grant, Jordan and Breakstone would run the program. Breakstone accepted, and it wasn’t long before they won a grant from the Summer Youth Employment Program.

Breakstone, Jordan and a group of high school students set their sights on turning an old tennis and basketball court in Fairfax Village, Washington D.C. into the beginnings of a community garden and gathering space. “All of the students were paid hourly. This wasn’t a summer camp, and it wasn’t volunteer work,” said Breakstone. “They were working for us, but while working for us we made sure they learned certain skills.” She used her experience working at the University of Maryland’s Career Center to help the students develop professional competences.

The students also learned a lot about urban agriculture in Washington D.C. Breakstone and Jordan brought in local experts to teach the students about the basics of growing food, as well as plants that are native to the region and can be grown easily in a community garden. “I had no idea there’s a species of cantaloupe that’s native to DC,” Breakstone said.

In August 2014 Breakstone and Jordan hosted a big celebration and cookout in their early-stage community garden for the whole neighborhood. They invited all the students who worked on the project and their families to celebrate the achievement. Forty students completed the program and each one left with a resume and cover letter for future jobs.

Reflecting on the experience, Breakstone said, “I got involved because I’m passionate about public health, and for me public health spans a lot of different things. It involves lifestyle, resources that are available to you and where you live. We created a space to plant healthy food in a recognized food dessert. That’s advancing public health.”

The experience solidified Breakstone’s commitment to public health and helping others. After she graduates this Spring, Breakstone plans on pursuing this passion at Epic Systems – a Health IT company based out of Madison, WI.

Join Hannah, and a stellar group of impact professionals, at this year’s 7th Annual Social Enterprise Symposium. The Symposium is free for UMD students, staff and faculty, but registration is required. Attendees are free to come and go as class schedules allow. Register today!

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