2014013-LOC-Speranza

Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff

Meredith Speranza participated in the pilot program of the The Hoffman-Haas Fellowship and said she will

apply much of what she learned in her new leadership role as president of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Keene.

A new fellowship program is striving to reinvigorate New Hampshire’s nonprofit boards with a younger generation of leaders, who will take the helm when their veteran counterparts retire.

The Hoffman-Haas Fellowship is named in honor of two New Hampshire philanthropists, John E. Hoffman Jr. of Sullivan and Thomas W. Haas of Durham, and is an initiative of the Concord-based N.H. Center for Nonprofits.

“Board service is probably one of the most meaningful ways to take part in civic leadership, but it does require passion, practice and care. This program will be a boost to many new board leaders and to the nonprofits they serve, so I am honored to lend my name,” Hoffman said upon being bestowed the honor.

After just concluding its six-month inaugural program in Manchester, the center is now seeking applicants for two cohorts this fall, one in the Monadnock Region and a second in the Seacoast area.

During each session approximately 30 fellows will be paired with mentors. Those mentors have years of board experience and a plethora of knowledge to share with up-and-coming leaders, according to Diane Raymond, the center’s strategic development and managing director.

Fellows meet five times over the course of the program: for an opening event, three learning sessions and a final capstone event at the program’s completion. The learning sessions feature nationally-recognized speakers who are experts on fundraising, governance and sustainability.

And in between those five structured sessions, fellows are encouraged to meet with their mentors for coffee or lunch to discuss what they’ve learned thus far, brainstorm for future sessions and begin to identify the agency they want to volunteer for.

At the program’s end, each fellow is matched with a nonprofit board aligned with his or her interests, and given the chance to take part in a number of further networking opportunities, Raymond said in a recent interview.

The cost per fellow to participate in the program is $1,000. Business sponsorship and scholarship opportunities available to assist participants with paying for the program, organizers said.

In the next five years, the center hopes to populate New Hampshire nonprofit boards with roughly 300 new leaders, according to its website.

“Board service brings the professional a new network, a new way of developing leadership and the opportunity to have meaningful impact. In return, the nonprofit benefits from fresh new energy, approach and ideas,” said Executive Director Mary Ellen Jackson.

Meredith L. Speranza of Keene, who participated in the pilot program, said in a recent interview that she walked away from each lesson with invaluable information she now hopes to apply in her new leadership role.

Speranza is now the president of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Keene, after having previously served as vice president. Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national nonprofit that aims to help children reach their potential through professionally supported, one-to-one relationships with volunteer mentors.

At a young age, Speranza understood the value of community service.

“During all of my spring breaks in college, I was volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, and I just flourished while I was there,” she said of the nonprofit agency whose mission is to build affordable housing for low-income people and their families.

The importance of helping others is something that has stayed with Speranza into her adult life.

Speranza, who is a corporate project manager at C&S Wholesale Grocers in Keene, also volunteers for the Community Kitchen of Keene and Linda’s Closet of Keene.

Her biggest take-away from the fellowship was a better understanding of methods for fundraising, she said. Not everyone has to go out and ask for donations; rather, it’s just as valuable to send a personal note or meet with someone for coffee to discuss the role a nonprofit plays in the community, she said.

The lessons taught to Hoffman-Haas fellows prepare young people to become leaders sooner than if they were go at it alone, said Kenneth Juo of Keene.

Juo is a former longtime chief executive officer of Monadnock Family Services, a community mental health agency that serves 35 towns in southwestern New Hampshire. He has also served on numerous nonprofit boards since the 1980s.

Juo’s most recent role was mentor to Bartlomiej K. Sapeta, an assistant professor at Keene State College, who was a fellow alongside Speranza.

“He had an altruistic sense of service. It was reassuring for me to know that someone was interested in spending his time in this way, as a means of giving back to the state and the community,” Juo said.

Juo has offered his time and expertise to the fall program set to kick-off next month in the Monadnock Region. That session is being facilitated by Lee Bruder of Hancock, who also worked for Monadnock Family Services for a number of years.

“Good people in the community are asked to serve on boards because they are active, bright and have a strong work ethic, but they’ve had no experience in nonprofit work. So, they fumble their way along without any idea of what the best practices are for board governance,” Bruder said.

But the Hoffman-Haas Fellowship is seeking to change that, he said.

“This program helps new board members, as well as existing board members and more seasoned ones to participate in meaningful discussions and decision-making for the organizations they are serving.”

Those interested in being a fellow or a mentor can apply using the forms available on the N.H. Center for Nonprofit’s website at http://www.nhnonprofits.org/page/hoffman-haas-fellowship. Applications are due Monday, Aug. 4.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or adandrea@ keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @ADandreaKS.