Changing people's careers 3 months at a time

Nearly half of all recent college graduates are unemployed or under-employed. Talented and enthusiastic young professionals often find themselves making lattes and folding sweaters instead of utilizing their newly minted degrees.
Megan Deal, Program Director at People’s Liberty, knows all too well what that’s like. When she graduated in 2008 with a degree in graphic design, traditional firms were downsizing, not hiring. 

“It was this experience that inspired me to use my skills as a designer to do more than just sell stuff,” she says.
Now, through People’s Liberty Residencies, Deal invites other early-career professionals to mobilize their talents to help Cincinnati thrive.
People’s Liberty is a philanthropic lab that brings together civic-minded talent to accelerate the positive transformation of Cincinnati. Unlike most grant-makers, they invest directly in people rather than institutions. The creative residency is a key component of this effort, along with grants to emerging leaders for community enrichment projects and events that engage the community and inspire action. (See their recent announcement of the two $100,000 fellowship grants for 2015 here.)
Residents spend 15 weeks harnessing their skills to produce stirring narratives and captivating visuals that directly promote People’s Liberty’s programs and mission. They also have an opportunity to develop their own unique, creative project in Greater Cincinnati. The residencies are paid positions that include opportunities to create portfolio-ready projects, network with industry leaders, receive professional mentoring and learn about others contributing to Cincinnati’s growth.
Residents must be master storytellers in various mediums. “You need to have a super power,” Deal says. “You need to be an excellent writer or a wiz at InDesign, for example. We need more people who are not just going to strategize but actually do … but we also need people who have passion.”
Several months ago, Chelsea Amsley and Fatema Batwala were chosen from a pool of approximately 50 applicants as the first full-time residents.
Amsley, 24, is a Pennsylvania native who studied journalism at Duke University. After graduation, she worked in a job that had little to do with her degree and applied for the residency program in an attempt to get back on track. Amsley now authors social media communications and long-form writing pieces for People’s Liberty that will help launch her career.
“The residency also gave me more hope for working in this nonprofit sector in the future and being more involved in community development.” Amsley says. “It’s something I didn’t know I had a passion for, but now I’m really excited about it.”
Boxwala, 28, applied because she wanted to use her design skills to benefit others.
“I was looking for a non-traditional design job, not an ad agency necessarily,” the Detroit native says. “I’m interested in communities and how to participate and have a shared experience in life with the people around you, and I think that society has kind of gone away from that.”
The residency, which has Boxwala designing and doing photography for People's Liberty web and print projects, has helped her foster an interest in community development and perfect her design skills at the same time.
An ancillary benefit of the program is that residents gain a deeper appreciation of Cincinnati, which they pass along to others. Before beginning the residency, Boxwala and her friends knew Cincinnati only as a city they passed on I-75 on their way further south. But now she promotes the city to everyone she encounters.
“I think I know more about Cincinnati now than I do about Detroit,” she says.
“I tell all my friends to come visit Cincinnati,” Amsley adds. “They always love it. It’s like a smaller version of parts of San Francisco, in my opinion. There are things to do every single night that are culturally diverse and fun.”
Deal sees the residency as impactful for not just the residents but all those associated with them.
“I'm continually amazed by the curiosity and ingenuity of our residents,” she says. “The way they go about their work, coupled with how they see the world, has been eye-opening for me and a good reminder that one can always be learning.”
Amsley has one piece of advice for anyone considering the residency: “Apply! It’s been a great environment to work in. There’s room for learning, and there’s also structure. There’s room for creativity, and we’re doing lots of fun things. It comes to be 5 o’clock, and I can’t believe it’s 5. I’ve learned so much about not just communications and writing but also about how to immerse yourself in the community.”
Dec. 15 is the application deadline for the spring 2015 People’s Liberty Residency. Applications for the summer 2015 program will be due April 20. Find more information here.

Read more articles by Holly End.

Holly End is a freelance writer and published author from Pleasant Ridge.
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