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ultimately rely on who I knew. My employer is a small incarnation of a large nonprofit, with offices spread all over the country, so YLAH and the mentorship program introduced me to my DC colleagues at other organizations. I was particularly blessed to be matched with Barbara Burnham, Vice President for Federal Policy at LISC. Barbara has incredible longitudinal experience in campaigns and federal policy, and a keen sense of the political realities we are dealing with. She also knows where to push.
At my first meeting with Barbara, I remember despairing of ever accomplishing anything or even understanding the system. “Keep this in mind, Eva,” she said, “you’ve come to Washington at the worst time I can remember. Congress is the most bogged down in partisan infighting, the White House is the most distracted from domestic policy issues, HUD is the most constrained in creating new programs because almost 85% of their funding goes toward renewals of Section 8. It’s bad. If this is the only reality you know, and you jump right in regardless, you’re ahead of the rest of us.”
Of course, Barbara and I spent time discussing my professional development, but where this experience differed from other mentors I’ve had is that, being in the same field, the knowledge she shared actually helped me do my job. My employer brought its Board to DC to advocate on Capitol Hill, and the structure of this big endeavor was created based on contacts she facilitated for me. With the community development field being so interconnected, I have no doubt that other mentors inspired similar collaborations.
I’ve been in DC over two and a half years now and finally feel like I understand the system here, at least a little bit. I’m not holding my breath for the partisan-ness to decrease; rather, I’m just thankful for the wonderful support system I have developed through YLAH and the mentorship program.
Eva Wingren is a Policy Associate with Mercy Housing, Inc., responsible for public policy, advocacy, and education for one of the nation’s largest nonprofit affordable housing developers.
YLAH volunteers are preparing right now for a February 2014 launch of the YLAH Mentorship Program’s third year. Apply here, to complete the short form. In addition, please submit a copy of your resume, along with a short statement summarizing your professional objectives and why you want to participate in the Mentorship Program (250-300 words) to: firstname.lastname@example.org