Kevin Macdonald sees social justice in JFY’s programs

Kevin Macdonald, JFY Board of Directors

“It just wasn’t fair.”

Our December 16 podcast featured members of the JFYNetWorks Board of Directors, who come from a variety of backgrounds and provide their insight and expertise to staff. Their dedication to JFYNetWorks adds up to over 75 combined years of service.

The board of directors of a nonprofit is the foundation of the organization. Board members serve as custodians, guardians and advocates of its values and mission. JFY is fortunate to have senior board officers whose personal values align with the organization’s mission and whose longevity in office gives them the historical perspective to understand JFY’s evolution and its relation to the social and economic conditions of the times.

Kevin Macdonald has been a member of the JFY board since 1998 and currently serves as treasurer. As a longtime CPA with extensive non-profit experience, he brings vital expertise to the organization to help navigate the complex and changing regulatory environment. Born and bred in Boston, his deep personal knowledge of the city’s history and social evolution has honed his commitment to workforce and educational equity, the root of his attachment to JFY. He is a graduate of Boston College and Bentley University.

In the December podcast, he discussed with Executive Director Gary Kaplan his view of JFY and how he came to be part of the organization. Be sure to listen to the December JFY podcast, which can be found on Spotify, Google Podcasts and other streaming platforms, for more of the conversation with Kevin and other board members.

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GK: Kevin, you came on to the board in 1998, which coincidentally is right at the beginning of our technology era. How did you initially become aware of the organization and get affiliated?

KM: I had been approached and recruited by two members of the board, one that I knew mostly professionally and the other personally. Joe Maher was an attorney I worked with and Dan Sullivan was a neighbor. They both knew me from different places and, independently of each other, thought I might be a good fit. I came to a meeting, was intrigued, and I’ve been here ever since.

GK: What was it about the work of the organization that attracted you? How does it keep you connected?

KM: When I first joined, JFY was just starting to get into technology but still had the job readiness programs for teenagers who were out of school or working after-school jobs to gain a little spending money and a little responsibility in doing it. My son had a job at a coffee shop and he was going to play a sport the next term so he couldn’t continue with the job. He gave them two weeks notice. The coffee shop would just give out assigned times to work and would continue to pile them on. Even if you said I can only work 20 hours a week, they just kept giving you more assignments, more assignments, until you finally had to push back. So he was working about 16 hours a week. He gave them notice and then they stopped assigning him. He gave his two weeks notice and they said all right, we don’t have any more assignments. No more shifts for you to work. And it struck me that he was in a good situation, going to a good high school where he’d be going on to a good college afterwards, so he had some degree of control and resiliency. But if somebody didn’t have that and this is the sort of treatment they got, it just wasn’t fair. That really struck me, that example of my son getting stopped from working once he gave his notice that he was going to leave. I thought what about someone who was in the same position but didn’t have the security or the opportunity that he had. It just wasn’t fair. Anything that would help that cohort of kids get better leverage, better opportunities, I thought that would be valuable and something I want to support.

It started with the job readiness, but then it got into the technology and the way technology can help students learn, students who weren’t able to learn in other ways. So that’s how I got involved.

GK: That is an interesting story. So it’s a sense of social justice. When you came in we still had programs in the building. We had the job training programs, financial services and environmental technology, we had the GED adult diploma program, we had the graduation ceremonies every year. Now we don’t. How does that transition make you feel?

KM: That graduation night was one of the best nights of the year. It was really a fun and special time. Now, I think that our students are still learning. They’re not in our classrooms anymore but they’re still learning. The setup is definitely different than it was back in 1998, but we’re still bringing a lot to the table. It’s different, but the students are still learning and what we’re doing is still providing opportunities that they might not have had otherwise. The programs we had back then found good homes someplace else. I’m excited about the change from being a place that was physically housing students to a service that goes out to where the students are and working with them there. We can reach a lot more students that way.

GK: What does the future look like to you?

KM: Well, if I was looking at it in 1998 when I joined and thinking what the future might have been at that time versus where it is now, we can connect the dots between the two, but it certainly isn’t a straight line. And I don’t think it will be a straight line into the future. Who could have anticipated two years ago how Covid would impact the world and how we were able to maneuver through the last couple of years? Who can predict how the world of schools will respond to using us because of how they have had to use us in the last couple of years. Places where they never thought they would use online learning, never thought they’d use technology, started all of a sudden. They didn’t have much of a choice. They enlisted us. It’s been very beneficial for them. So I don’t really know what’s going to happen in the next five years but it surely won’t be the same thing that’s going on now. I can’t predict it, but I’m excited about it.

GK: It’s very interesting. If you think about it, if we were still doing job training classes and GED classes in the building, the pandemic would have put us out of business. We would have had to shut down.

KM: That is correct. If we had even made it from 1998 to 2019 with the old model, 2020 would have put us out of business. I think there was some foresight, some forward thinking about the things that were happening and the perceived needs for help in those areas, a little over the horizon stuff. It wasn’t fully apparent at the time, but using the technology we had and making the effort to till the ground really brought some opportunities to us. If we had sat there and tried to continue doing what we were doing it would never have happened. None of this ever would have happened.


Other posts with the JFYNetWorks Board of Directors can be found here.

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