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THE PLAYING-FIELD LEVELER

Meet the team that helps Jo Haines improve the lives of thousands of girls through sports

No man is an island, and no hero works in isolation. Behind those making a difference in the world—those whose stories are often and rightfully celebrated—is a support team that relentlessly works to make change possible. In ways big and small, material and spiritual, this community of allies works hard to create a better world. These are their stories.

THE HERO

Jo Haines

Executive Director, PowerPlay NYC

Photo by Aubrey Edwards

As executive director of PowerPlay NYC, a nonprofit based in Brooklyn that seeks to empower underserved girls through sports, Jo Haines recognizes the need for teamwork. “For a nonprofit to be successful,” she says, “it really does take a team.” Haines, who has long worked with children’s issues and who joined the organization in 2013, might not be on the basketball courts or in the gymnasiums where over 2,000 girls throughout New York City’s five boroughs are provided free coaching and mentorship through the organization’s after-school program, but she’s busy creating the structure by which they get there. This begins with having a clear game plan. In her words, PowerPlay NYC’s mission is simple: “to help advance the lives of girls from underserved communities and help them grow physically, emotionally and academically stronger.” Sports, she says, is the hook, but PowerPlay NYC’s end goal is to create a mutually supportive sisterhood in which young women build confidence, learn to stand up straight and, by so doing, see the landscape of possibility open to them. And it’s working. “In New York,” Haines says, “only about 60% of students graduate high school on time. But in PowerPlay NYC’s leadership academy, 100% of our girls graduate on time and enroll in college.” Her role, and it is a large one, includes building critical back-office infrastructure, designing programs, growing a corps of committed volunteers and mentors and finding allies within the broader community of funders. “Relationship building is key to our work,” Haines says, “and key to the success of the girls, who are the building blocks of our program.”

THE ALLY

Katrina Huffman

Senior Director of Programs and People, Youth Inc.

Sometimes nonprofits need other nonprofits. Such is the case with Youth Inc., a 501(c)(3) dedicated to helping other philanthropic organizations like PowerPlay NYC build the necessary infrastructure to serve their communities better. This involves good business sense. The word nonprofit is a misnomer, says Katrina Huffman, senior director of programs and people for Youth Inc. “Nonprofits are first and foremost a business. They are in the business of helping those who otherwise could not have helped themselves.” Huffman, who says she supports PowerPlay because “Jo is an awesome leader and because the organization has the right program model,” helps the organization when it comes to fundraising, building board engagement, measuring program impact and developing succession planning. “Forty-two percent of our 63 partner nonprofits don’t have a plan for Phase 2 or 3 of their organization,” Huffman says. Happily, when it comes to PowerPlay NYC, Haines’ succession plan is crystal clear: “We want to provide real authentic leadership opportunities for the girls we work with,” she says. “It’s our goal that they own this organization themselves.”

THE ALLY

Amara Mbionwu

Brooklyn Lead Coach, PowerPlay NYC

It might be difficult to imagine that Amara Mbionwu was ever cowed. But she says that as a young girl growing up in Maryland she suffered from body-image issues and a lack of confidence. “My confidence only began to improve when I started playing sports in eighth grade,” she says. Today the 23-year-old plays on the USA University Netball Team, is pursuing a master’s degree at Adelphi University and serves as the Brooklyn Lead Coach for PowerPlay NYC. In that capacity, Mbionwu mentors hundreds of girls who remind her of her younger self. “I know how hard it is to build confidence when you don’t believe in yourself,” she says. “I want to be the person to say, ‘Hey, I believe in you!’” Sports, she says, are the perfect vehicle to impart transformational lessons about the rewards of hard work and dedication. Take a skill like jumping rope or dribbling a basketball. Only through persevering past the initial frustration do those skills come. And this sense that accomplishment is achievable has far-ranging effects. “I see these girls every single week, and I can see them change,” Mbionwu says. “And I love it.”

It might be difficult to imagine that Amara Mbionwu was ever cowed. But she says that as a young girl growing up in Maryland she suffered from body-image issues and a lack of confidence. “My confidence only began to improve when I started playing sports in eighth grade,” she says. Today the 23-year-old plays on the USA University Netball Team, is pursuing a master’s degree at Adelphi University and serves as the Brooklyn Lead Coach for PowerPlay NYC. In that capacity, Mbionwu mentors hundreds of girls who remind her of her younger self. “I know how hard it is to build confidence when you don’t believe in yourself,” she says. “I want to be the person to say, ‘Hey, I believe in you!’” Sports, she says, are the perfect vehicle to impart transformational lessons about the rewards of hard work and dedication. Take a skill like jumping rope or dribbling a basketball. Only through persevering past the initial frustration do those skills come. And this sense that accomplishment is achievable has far-ranging effects. “I see these girls every single week, and I can see them change,” Mbionwu says. “And I love it.”

THE ALLY

Julissa Ferreras-Copeland

Council Member, NYC City Council

The scrum for nonprofit funding at the city-council level is intense. There are 51 districts in New York City, each with their own laudable organizations and pockets of need. Happily for PowerPlay NYC, council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland—whose 21st district includes Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights—is a powerful and persuasive advocate. “As the first Latina elected to the city council from Queens and the first woman to chair the finance committee,” she says, “I’m a prime example of people believing in me. Helping PowerPlay is my way to pay that forward.” With a district that is home to not only an airport but also the U.S. Open and Citi Field, it is important to Ferreras-Copeland that young women understand that “these entities don’t exist independent of them.” Through helping to secure nearly half a million dollars in funding for PowerPlay just last year, Ferreras-Copeland has enabled the program to increase the number of after-school sites from 19 to 58. This means more girls can learn that they don’t have to settle for selling soft drinks or hot dogs in these stadiums, nor must they constrain themselves to athletics. “I want them to be the executives of these companies,” Ferreras-Copeland says.

The scrum for nonprofit funding at the city-council level is intense. There are 51 districts in New York City, each with their own laudable organizations and pockets of need. Happily for PowerPlay NYC, council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland—whose 21st district includes Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights—is a powerful and persuasive advocate. “As the first Latina elected to the city council from Queens and the first woman to chair the finance committee,” she says, “I’m a prime example of people believing in me. Helping PowerPlay is my way to pay that forward.” With a district that is home to not only an airport but also the U.S. Open and Citi Field, it is important to Ferreras-Copeland that young women understand that “these entities don’t exist independent of them.” Through helping to secure nearly half a million dollars in funding for PowerPlay just last year, Ferreras-Copeland has enabled the program to increase the number of after-school sites from 19 to 58. This means more girls can learn that they don’t have to settle for selling soft drinks or hot dogs in these stadiums, nor must they constrain themselves to athletics. “I want them to be the executives of these companies,” Ferreras-Copeland says.

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This feature was produced in collaboration between The Foundry and Ally.
The editorial staff was not involved with the creation or production of this content.

©2016. TIME Inc. All Rights Reserved

This feature was produced in collaboration between The Foundry and Ally.
The editorial staff was not involved with the creation or production of this content.

©2016. TIME Inc. All Rights Reserved