Bridging Communities, Amplifying Voices: Part 2


In part two of this three part blog series, staff writer, Katie Rainey, explores Community-Word Project’s beginnings with one of this year’s Annual Benefit Honorees: Echoing Green. Read part one here and part three here.

For 30 years, Echoing Green has transformed leaders and their initiatives through a Social Innovation Fund that helps social entrepreneurs achieve their vision. They do this by providing seed-funding, leadership development, hands-on support, and networking opportunities – during their Fellowship and beyond. During the last three decades, Echoing Green has created a community of more than 700 innovators who work on issues such as Economic Development, Education, Environmental Sustainability, Health, Justice & Human Rights, Hunger & Poverty Alleviation, and Racial & Gender Equity. These Fellows have launched such prestigious programs as Teach For America, City Year, One Acre Fund, SKS Microfinance, Public Allies, and Community-Word Project.

Echoing Green made it possible for Executive Director, Michele Kotler, to take Community-Word Project from a side project in a classroom to what it is today: a thriving arts education organization that has served over 22,000 students, over 4,000 educators who’ve gone on to serve 250,000 students worldwide, and numerous classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, partner organizations, and communities across the country.

But how did Community-Word Project grow from three classrooms to over a quarter of a million youth served across the world? The Echoing Green community doesn’t disappear after the fellowship has ended, and, for Michele, it was a vital part of helping the organization scale impact and expand in a responsible, sustainable way.

“Echoing Green meets people where they are and helps lift them to the next level. Echoing Green Leadership is always asking their Fellows to draw upon both their experience in the world and their own expertise.” – Michele Kotler

In 2012, Community-Word Project was ready to take another major leap forward. Michele was part of a group that Echoing Green brought together to both hear from leaders on scaling impact in their organizations and learn from others in the group. Through this initiative, Michele learned concrete things about the scaling process, like creating infrastructures that supports your expansion, and how to monitor your level of impact so that you’re not just doubling the size of an organization, but also leveraging the impact on different stakeholders like students, Teaching Artists, and partner organizations.

Echoing Green taught Michele concrete tools for scaling impact, and trained her how to think about measuring that impact in order to not just grow an organization, but grow a healthy one. Through this initiative, Michele was able to reimagine Community-Word Project and how the organization’s voice could be a powerful force in the arts education community. Community-Word Project went from 750 students served in 2012 to over 3,000 in 2018.

Michele grew her leadership community as well. In her group were strong, thoughtful peers such as Katie Orenstein, who runs The Op Ed Project. Hearing how Katie was expanding the work and thinking about shared leadership was transformative in Michele’s practice, and dramatically changed how Community-Word Project shares vision and voice amongst its team members.

Michele met the Executive Director of Echoing Green, Cheryl L. Dorsey, who is also a former fellow and now a lifelong friend. Cheryl has an in-depth knowledge and insight of how important both the financial award and sustained support are to the recipients of these Fellowships.

“What Cheryl has done for the Echoing Green community is tremendous. She’s been transformational in the direction that the organization has gone and, because of her belief in the fellows, she has solidified the Echoing Green community and drawn us together in a way that wasn’t there before.” – Michele Kotler

Cheryl brought her expertise to serve the well-being of the fellows and expand Echoing Green’s ability to further support its community. Cheryl made it so that the Echoing Green community serves not only the Fellows’ scaling and direct impact needs, but their social and emotional well-being too.

“Michele’s work with Community-Word Project has been transformative for so many kids and teachers in New York City. She has this unique vision for recognizing, cherishing, and maintaining the vital role of arts in education. She is also such a remarkable member of the Echoing Green community. She has been incredibly generous over her two decades with Echoing Green – showing up for new Fellows, mentoring them, and constantly giving back. Michele is a thoughtful and caring friend, and she has been there for me and for Echoing Green during our highest-highs and our lowest-lows. Our community is stronger for knowing Michele and supporting her work with Community-Word Project.” – Cheryl Dorsey, Echoing Green Executive Director

Through the technical assistance, community, connections, and support, Echoing Green not only provided the foundation for Community-Word Project to start, but continued to nurture it through its adolescent years. In part three of this three-part blog series, we’ll find out what role Echoing Green continues to play in the organization as Community-Word Project celebrates its 20th Anniversary.