HOPE for All

Casey McQuillan, a student at Amherst College, is a 2014 AGF Fellow for Social Change placed at Operation HOPE, Inc. with John Hope Bryant, a 2010 AGF Hidden Hero. The Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellowship for Social Change is facilitated through a partnership with Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Summer Academy program. In this post, Casey reflects on his experience as a Fellow and beyond.

The summer of 2014, I was an Andrew Goodman Fellow for Social Change in New York City. In this capacity, I worked at Operation HOPE, an Andrew Goodman Foundation Hidden Hero. As part of my AGF Fellowship, I received policy-writing training from the Roosevelt Campus Network. This amazing experience has led to an extended relationship with Operation HOPE; I worked for them throughout the past year from my dorm at Amherst College, and will be working for their Government Relations and Public Policy division in Washington, DC this summer. My AGF Fellowship was a life-changing experience that led me to continue to work for the public good and refine my skills as an agent for social change.

My AGF fellowship with Operation HOPE took me all over New York City last summer. I spent my time in boardrooms on Wall Street, housing developments in Green Pointe, the local YMCA in Queens, community centers in Harlem, elementary school cafeterias in Brooklyn, synagogues in the Upper East Side, lunch at the New York Stock Exchange, banks in Midtown, businesses in the Bronx. I traveled to every borough, and I also caught a glimpse of every side of life in New York City.

In every place, despite the differences, I found people who cared about their community, and in many cases, feared for the future of their community. I heard people liken rising rents to rising water levels that would drown them if they did not get out soon. At Operation HOPE, financial capability training was a way to teach these people how to navigate their future, how to swim. Operation HOPE worked to empower individuals and their communities with the tools they needed to succeed. Given my previous experience teaching Boston Public School students for three years, I felt at home in front of the class and excited by the curiosity of students grappling with complex financial topics. This mattered, and they knew it.

These experiences teaching financial capability shaped my perspective so that I developed a policy proposal that would expand the South Bronx Empowerment Zone to include tax incentives for small businesses that offered financial capability training to their employees. This proposal would simultaneously support local businesses, empower individuals to make good financial decisions, and reduce the number of un- or under-banked individuals dependent on alternative financial services like money orders and check cashing that were a drain on their finances. These communities did not want to fail, but needed the tools to succeed.

At the end of the summer, Operation HOPE offered me a part-time position working out of my dorm at Amherst as a Research and Public Policy Fellow. This opportunity has allowed me to skip my Macroeconomics class at Amherst to workshop a financial literacy app at the Federal Reserve of Boston, serve on the President’s Advisory Council for Financial Capability, make policy recommendations at meetings in the Bipartisan Policy Center, and launch our Ferguson 2020 initiative and open locations in St. Louis, MO. More recently, I wrote a proposal on participatory design in police reform that was published by Harvard’s Journal for African American Public Policy, and this is being incorporated into my work at Operation Hope. Above all, with every new project, my work never deviates from its goal of empowering communities.

This summer, I am returning as a fellow with Operation HOPE. I am working on launching my project—the HOPE Employee Financial Preparedness (EFP) check. I revived my policy proposal from last summer to provide financial capability training to employees, but through Operation HOPE instead. The HOPE EFP will serve employees in DC this summer for a small fee to employers, and if successful, this model of empowering individuals will be replicated across more than 20 HOPE markets nationwide within a year. This program has the potential to help millions navigate their financial futures. And it all started with an idea I had from teaching in New York City.

All these experiences have taught me that the first step to creating change is not giving people orders, but giving them hope.