Meet AIR’s Champions for Change
For AIR staff, volunteering is more than giving back. It’s an opportunity to understand different perspectives, build relationships, and learn firsthand from the people and places at the center of our mission to build a better, more equitable world.
Through the AIR Champions for Change initiative, AIR celebrates staff who demonstrate a strong commitment to putting their values into action in service of others. As part of this recognition, AIR donates to the eligible, mission-aligned charities where our staff volunteer, helping their efforts go even further.
From expanding girls' access to education in the small town of Nioro, Senegal, to ensuring individuals returning from incarceration in suburban Iowa have a soft place to land, AIR’s Champions for Change embody the AIR ethos of not only working to understand social challenges, but also taking action as part of the solution.
As co-founder of Foundation for a Healthier Senegal, Talla and a wide range of community collaborators are working to improve health outcomes for rural and underserved women in Senegal by increasing access to reproductive maternal and child health services.
My volunteerism absolutely informs my work at AIR. I have experienced firsthand the importance of speaking with religious leaders, village chiefs, and other community members to get their perspectives on upcoming projects—and adapting our plans accordingly.
Allison Nederveld and Zenobia Wingate
Rooted in the belief that everyone has a right to safe and stable housing, Allison co-founded Lafayette Tool Library, a free, mobile tool trailer providing community members with the equipment they need to repair and maintain their homes. Zenobia teamed up with Allison to support a key fundraiser event.
Living in south Louisiana, we are used to dealing with major disasters on a regular basis. One of the main barriers to community-led disaster response is the lack of access to tools, something that my co-founder and I recognized in the wake of the hurricanes in 2020.
As a volunteer at Charlie's Place in Washington, DC, Tad conducts "food rescue" pick-ups twice per week, prepares and serves Saturday breakfast to individuals experiencing homelessness in his community, and provides guidance and support to a team of young volunteers.
There are tremendous opportunity and wealth gaps in DC, which I experience daily as I move about the city. The sense of the 'us' and the 'them' is easy to slip into. Eating together and being with people consistently provides a way to bridge the gaps even though the gaps remain. It is important and meaningful for both neighbors who start in the kitchen, and those who come in through the front door.
Emily Ackman (2022 and 2023 awardee)
Emily organizes events with East Somerville Main Streets, a nonprofit supporting small business owners in East Somerville, Massachusetts—78 percent of whom are immigrants—to thrive economically, preserve cultural heritage, and nurture community connections. She also volunteers at The Elizabeth Peabody House, supporting low-income and immigrant families in Boston.
My volunteerism reminds me that in our work at AIR, we need to make the extra effort to bring in perspectives from families that we might not hear from as often. They use the public services that we support through state and federal grants, and we need to understand how to meet their needs successfully.
Sushmita supports Samaanta Foundation, a nonprofit providing quality higher education opportunities to students from disadvantaged and marginalized communities in Nepal. Sushmita helps the organization develop systems for measurement and evaluation, and mentors program Fellows and alumni.
This experience reminds me to prioritize the voices of young people as much as we can in our work at AIR. Youth have a lot more to give to policy and decision-making in education than we give them credit and space for.
Committed to reducing plastic pollution, Taletha volunteers with Sea Hugger, where she engages current and future environmentalists in community beach cleanups, shoreline story times, and other educational service activities.
I started a ‘green group’ among AIR’s remote staff, and it’s now self-sustaining. I would like to bring an environmental aspect into more of my work at AIR and am working on some exciting initiatives intersecting climate change and health.
Concerned about the lack of inclusive sexual health education in her community, Nara co-founded Oak Park Our Whole Lives. The nonprofit offers voluntary, age-appropriate courses for youth and their families, aimed at preparing young people to have healthy, respectful relationships with themselves and others.
As chair of the AIR Pride employee resource group, my volunteerism makes me think more about how to advocate for our LGBTQ+ employees and how to empower them to advocate for themselves.
Tara tutors seventh graders each Tuesday at Tutoring Chicago, where her favorite moments include friendly debate with students about the merits of learning history and discussions on their favorite authors.
I am passionate about Tutoring Chicago because they provide free tutoring to students whose families have financial issues. I grew up in a reduced-price lunch family, so I am very supportive of services that help kids in that situation.
Jennie supports BUILD Chicago, a community-based organization focused on violence prevention and youth development. She has led efforts to attract young people to community leadership opportunities in her neighborhood, including an Earth Day clean up at the local park.
My work at AIR often focuses on the systematic issues at a larger scale. My volunteerism grounds me in the community and people. As a former middle-school teacher, I've seen the trauma my students experienced due to gun violence in their communities—I also have seen how connections to the community and safe spaces can help students grow and succeed.
At Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, Karin channels her lifelong love of horses toward supporting people of all ages and abilities through equine occupational and physical therapy.
My advice for someone looking to get involved in their community is to think back to something you loved when you were a child, and then look for organizations that offer related volunteering opportunities.
A believer in the power of sports to develop life skills, Mitchell has held various leadership roles with the Ice Wolves Youth Hockey Association, working with young people to support their growth as athletes, teammates, and community members.
Volunteering expands my understanding of the role of ‘places and spaces’ in the equity of our communities. This organization serves families with fewer financial resources than the families in bigger peer communities, and my experience has made clear how where a person lives can directly affect their access to resources.
As an active board member of the California School Age Consortium (CalSAC), Femi supports educators in providing quality out-of-school time programs that offer learning, fun, and relationships with caring adults when children are not in school.
CalSAC’s board recruitment strategy and selection focused on ensuring that people with lived experience in out-of-school time programs would be considered. This made me think about ways we can be more intentional at AIR about involving people with direct experience in the systems we hope to change through our work.
A member of AIR’s international development team, Amber is a long-term tutor at Tutoring Chicago, where she builds relationships with students while nurturing their reading and math skills.
I'm an advocate for localization of international development and am always trying to push for participatory approaches, frameworks, and design in research. People need to not only have a say in how change happens in their communities, but also have the chance to have a hand in it.
Passionate about the role of music in bringing communities together, Jackie volunteers with the percussionists of Mountain Vista High School in Colorado, helping students build soft skills like confidence and teamwork while also keeping a beat.
Music is a great equalizer and connector across societies, culture, race, age, background, and socioeconomic status. Through music education, students learn how to contribute to something bigger than themselves.
Debbie volunteers more than 16 hours each month at St. Michael’s Free Community Dinner and Food Distribution program in Adelphi, Maryland, which provides free groceries, meals, and clothing. Debbie organizes volunteers and builds partnerships with local organizations to better meet the needs of those they serve.
I am fortunate to work for an organization like AIR whose mission aligns with my personal values and inclination to be involved in work and activities that contribute to improving people's lives.
Rebecca prepares and serves weekend meals at the Ames Romero House, which provides a safe space for individuals experiencing housing insecurity and returning from incarceration. Open to house residents and neighbors, meals bring the community together in the spirit of sharing.
Looking at our own bias and value of status is hard—but essential—to do our work successfully.