02 Jun Inspiring Conversations with Diana Greenfield of Young Voices of Austin
Today we’d like to introduce you to Diana Greenfield.
Hi Diana, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I am a Native New Yorker, recently transplanted to Austin, TX.
I was born on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to teenage parents. My grandparents lived a block away from each other. The extended family unit meant that I was cared for by a patchwork of relatives including two grandmothers, a grandfather, and an aunt and uncle in addition to my mother — plus dozens of neighbors/adopted families in our tight-knit community.
We lived in “El Barrio”, a place tinged with people all very much like myself and my family. “One side” was Puerto Rican and the “other side” Dominican. The food was fantastic, the music invigorating and the people worked hard and were incredibly proud of their homes. My grandfather was living his dream in Nueva York. Emigrated from the Dominican Republic years before bringing his wife and only son to his two-bedroom walk up on the Upper (UPPER) West Side. He proudly worked his way up to a line chef at a fancy midtown establishment. His wife worked a lifetime in a Brooklyn factory painstakingly sewing nylon hair onto plastic doll heads. On my mother’s side: my grandmother was a nurse (and a widow) – a resourceful woman with a huge personality who single-handedly raised three children and helped bring up a grandchild to boot.
I worked my way through school and after graduation, joined a New York ad agency, where I explored the world of creativity and chaos. While there, I earned a degree in Early Childhood Education from Elizabeth Seton College. I stayed there for seventeen years, ultimately landing a role as Executive/Personal assistant to the Chairman. When that gentleman retired in 2000, I took some months off to care for my child, by then in elementary school and I a single parent. We enjoyed the carefree time we had together and spent our afternoons, weekends and the following summer exploring New York City and rooting for the Yankees.
It was my intention to resume working when she returned to school in September 2001, until September 11th changed the world. New Yorkers (and supporters from throughout the globe) instantly banded together as one. When schools reopened, I volunteered with the Manhattan based Association to Benefit Children (ABC). For the next year, I worked full-time with families who were most directly affected by 9/11, providing one on one attention and focused interaction with young children while parents (mostly mothers) maneuvered the processes required to document their losses and secure available benefits. In December of that year, I helped dozens of volunteers coordinate a large-scale holiday gathering for the children and surviving parents. At the event, families were given gifts that were sent to ABC from hundreds of thousands of people around the world. This tremendous outpouring of support in the face of the unimaginable has helped guide my focus on partnering with people and organizations that endeavor to make the world a better place, however that may be. That year also helped instill in me the importance of community support, especially in times of hardship.
I went into finance the following year, first at a private equity firm and then finally at a hedge fund. At these companies, I was surrounded by brilliant minds and some of the most generous people I’d ever met. I specialized in Facilities Management, Events and ultimately Charitable Initiatives. Hedge fund highlights: In 2012, I planned and produced a large-scale charitable poker tournament, which raised over $500k for the Robin Hood Foundation. In 2013, I helped form a Charitable Initiatives Committee to administer the company’s newly allocated charitable fund. As a member of that Committee, throughout the next few years, I identified opportunities for employee engagement and coordinated local charitable events and Benefits.
It was during those early hedge fund years that I met Steve Kuhn, now co-Founder and visionary of ASK. A decade later, in 2016, I relocated to Austin to help execute his vision. My husband, Robert, and I moved here and started a new life with a nonprofit focus.
Steve, his brother Al and I immediately started tackling injustice in many forms. ASK (Al and Steve Kuhn) supports and amplifies the good work already happening in Austin, New York, Kenya and beyond. We focus on children’s engagement through sports, education and the availability of water.
Here I attended the University of Texas Austin, studying Nonprofit Management. Since then, I have tried to use all of my skills – finance, management, advertising/marketing, to help develop Austin’s youth into young leaders. I draw tremendous inspiration from the world-renown Young People’s Chorus of New York City. They are our guiding light and have demonstrated what is possible when young people have access to quality educational and enrichment programs.
In late 2016, we officially launched Young Voices of Austin. YVA celebrates the rich diversity of our city by providing a high-quality community-based afterschool program to a racially and socioeconomically diverse population of young people ages 6 to 18. Here I work to help bridge the education gap by providing local young people with a rigorous academic and artistic enrichment program for their out of school time. My days are filled with joy and hope as I support local young people on their own journeys.
In addition to these complementary roles, I remain actively involved with the New York Sled Rangers, the Association to Benefit Children, and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I most recently joined the Board of the Austin Theatre Alliance (Paramount and Stateside Theatres) and am thrilled to be part of this amazing institution providing access to extraordinary live performances and films and working to ignite the intellect and imagination of our youth.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Without a doubt, some of the major challenges I’ve faced have been limitations of opportunities, of scope and of awareness. It is said that ‘when you know better, you do better’ – my personal version of this might be ‘when you know what is possible, you know what to reach for’.
I grew up in an underserved community and rarely ventured outside my neighborhood. My family worked hard to keep me in Catholic school from first grade through high school. They did this because the local public schools were understaffed, overcrowded and populated with students stuck in a vicious cycle of dropping out, drug abuse – possibly dealing – and incarceration. I “knew” at an early age that there were two levels of education – and that I was lucky enough to be among the plaid uniform wearing “haves”. To me, that meant we were rich. It was many years later that I learned how people in affluent Manhattan neighborhoods lived – and of a vast network of private preparatory schools with privileges and opportunities that I couldn’t have imagined. Several of these schools were within a mile of my home but I could never have attended any of them (tuition notwithstanding) because we didn’t know to even strive to that level of ambition.
As an only child, my early years were full of love but I spent my time surrounded by adults exclusively. I was an avid reader and was labeled “shy”. I learned from listening in on adult conversations and by watching television programs that were way too mature for my age – but which my grandparents didn’t understand enough to object to.
I was raised to study, to work hard and with clearly defined roles. I was expected to follow an acceptable career path (teacher, nurse, secretary) but, more importantly, to prepare for marriage and a family. I had never heard of an Executive Director or seen examples of women in management. I did, however, learn a great deal about setting goals, seeking opportunity, working hard and perseverance. All vital skills in the nonprofit world — I don’t think I would be able to do the work that I do without having learned from the School of Hard Knocks.
I have been a single parent, I have been unemployed, and I have lived through 9/11 – all at the same time. The silver linings started to appear almost immediately, though – my child and I got a ton of extra time together, I found tremendous fulfillment in working with Survivors for a year, and I saw firsthand how generous and empathic people (often total strangers!) can be.
I’m still here. I’m stronger and more resilient and I draw on these experiences to help guide our young people.
Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I run two small nonprofits in Austin, the ASK Charitable Foundation and Young Voices of Austin (YVA). ASK supports the good work of charitable organizations already operating in Austin (as well as other spots around the globe) by focusing on children’s engagement through sports, education, and the availability of water. Our nonprofit partners include charity: water, The Nobelity Project, Todos Juntos Learning Center and The Andy Roddick Foundation.
Through ASK, we were also able to fund and develop an afterschool program focusing on diversity, inclusion, and development for young people across Austin.
Young Voices of Austin provides a high-quality, community-based after-school program to help racially and socioeconomically diverse kids ages 6 to 18 develop in a variety of skills including musical instruction, college readiness, financial literacy and socialization.
We work to instill a drive not only for musical excellence but also academic and personal excellence in all of our students. The three-pronged mission of YVA is driven by a commitment to sustained academic achievement regardless of socioeconomic factors. This includes assistance with identifying and applying to colleges, tutoring, guidance on auditions and essay-writing, and SAT/ACT preparation.
Throughout our four program years, we have engaged several dozen community partners that have joined together to provide over 1500 meals and 1700 bottles of Richard’s Rainwater for our students. Austin’s own BookSpring has provided hundreds of books for us to distribute to our families and the Library of Congress has provided a small lending library for our office (pre-COVID). We have partnered with PriceWaterhouseCoopers to provide our students with annual Financial Literacy workshops and have worked with the world-renown Paramount and Stateside Theatres and the newly renovated Austin Central Library to host our semi-annual concerts. In each of the past four program years, all of our seniors. have graduated High School on time and have gone on to higher education.
During this past year, our virtual program has given children the opportunity to speak to two astronauts on the International Space Station. We were also able to “meet” our African Children’s Choir friends on a Zoom call and enjoy virtual safaris with the Nobelity Project. We worked on Community Engagement projects from home this year, creating birthday boxes for children in foster care with Together We Rise and painting art panels to be donated to a children’s hospital with The Foundation for Hospital Art. We also worked with The Peace Crane Project in making hundreds of paper cranes that we shared with schools and organizations throughout the world.
We are now beginning to step away from virtual programming as we prepare to return to in-person instruction in the Fall. By September, we expect to strengthen our capacity to be culturally responsive while continuing to offer the joy of music and learning as we safely and responsibly reintroduce all three divisions to us, to each other and to our YVA program.
Highlights of our program:
73-76% percentage of choristers on full scholarship (100% during covid year)
100% percentage of Austin area applicants accepted into our program
100% of graduating high school students accepted into college
25+ Austin area schools represented
125 community partners contributing to provide meals, water, books and materials
44 Choristers and 35 family units enrolled 2019/2020
Have you learned any interesting or important lessons due to the Covid-19 Crisis?
Yes, absolutely! Young Voices of Austin has always been committed to maintaining mutually beneficial community relationships. We are grateful to be active members of a large community of for-profit and nonprofit organizations coming together to benefit each other and to extend a hand to newer organizations in times of crisis. During our COVID-19 suspension, our Village grew exponentially. El Buen Samaritano and Todos Juntos Learning Center immediately offered their help to secure food donations and Austin Urban Technology volunteered to provide computers and hotspots for our families. We received support from new grantors such as the Better Business Bureau/Heart of Texas for vital program funding and United Way for Greater Austin, who provided direct relief to our families. There are so many others who offered assistance and checked in regularly to see if we were ok. We were happy to keep that cycle going — in early 2020, we reached out to every single organization and individual who has been part of the YVA network to make sure they and their families and employees were safe. We shared our materials (children’s activities, supplies, books and online lessons) with those who needed a hand and shared information and resources with the others.
Our community partners have been beacons of hope for us and for each other. This experience has brought us closer together and made us stronger. We look forward to a healthier, safer world for all of us – and to getting back to investing in our community and in our young people.
- $750 full program year (Sept to May)
- $375 partial scholarships available
- $0 Full scholarships available
- Email: Diana@www.yva.org
- Website: www.www.yva.org
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/youngvoicesofaustin/
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDJS8frc5HwWy_4md7W–rQ
- Other: https://greatnonprofits.org/org/young-voices-of-austin