Ian Yaffe


What was your class year and major/minor?

2009 / Latin American Studies & Education

What is your current job, and city of residence?

Executive Director, Mano en Mano / Hand in Hand, a nonprofit which strives to "build a stronger and more inclusive Downeast Maine by working with diverse populations to provide educational and affordable housing opportunities, remove barriers to health and social services, and advocate for social justice." Member, CEI Board of Directors. Member, University of Maine at Machias Board of Visitors. Boatswain's Mate, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve. Current residence: Ellsworth, ME.

Did your academic or extracurricular experience at Bowdoin influence how you are involved in communities now? If yes, how so?

Yes, in both direct and indirect ways. From the academic side of the table, there is the Spanish language component that I would almost certainly not be here without. Being able to communicate directly with those that we serve is something that I cannot overstate the value of. From a more theoretical perspective, I take a lot of what I experienced and discussed in History, Spanish, and Education courses and apply those ideas to how we operate at Mano en Mano. There's also a continuous amount of written reports and correspondence that I deal with, highlighting the importance of strong writing skills in this field. On the extracurricular side, I'd say that serving on the Topsham Fire Department continues to shape what I do, leading me to serve on Ellsworth Fire Department, and eventually enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.

In what ways have you been engaged with the community since graduating from Bowdoin (both professionally and personally)?

In some ways, I've never really left Bowdoin and I keep coming back (for the food, of course). I continue to be involved on campus through events with the Career Planning Center like Mock Interview Day and the Nonprofit Symposium. We've had Bowdoin interns at Mano en Mano and we look forward to welcoming first-years this summer as part of the pre-orientation experience. I've also been able to come back and be involved with classes and I catch-up from time to time with faculty and staff who were influential during my four years at Bowdoin and continue to be today. Finally, I was on campus this past May for my 5th year reunion.

What's been your favorite or most meaningful experience in public service since you graduated?

It is really hard to limit it to just one. So, here's three: 1) Cutting the ribbon on Maine's first affordable housing project for farmworkers, Hand in Hand Apartments, and showing our first tenants their apartments. 2) Welcoming 130 migrant students to the Blueberry Harvest School, a 3-week summer program that's hands-on, interdisciplinary, and based on Maine's natural environment. 3) Graduating from boot camp in the US Coast Guard.

Have any unexpected challenges or difficulties related to this work popped up along the way? If so, what did you learn from these challenges?

The non-profit world is ALL about challenges - and the rewards that come with them. From generating (and following) a balanced budget, hiring staff, developing effective programming, reporting our impact, thinking strategically, to managing construction projects, I've had a lot of opportunity to learn and grow. In the work that we do, it's important to stay focused on the mission, always be honest, admit when you don't know, move on when you're wrong, and think critically about how you're going to work yourself out of a job. The last part is really important - are we working for our clients or with them? Will the services that we provide reduce the need for them in the future?

What advice do you have for students who want to work for the common good after Bowdoin?

Don't wait until after you graduate to start working for the common good and don't think that the non-profit sector is the only place where you can work for the common good. Think about what you're passionate about, get involved with organizations, volunteer, seek out leadership opportunities, and think about what kind of world you want to live in. Get comfortable blending theory with practice and putting ideas on paper. Finally, don't limit yourself to a set location. There is a lot of need and opportunity in rural areas for those who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.