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A Conversation with our New Director of Programs Sabrina Hargrave

This summer, Brooklyn Community Foundation salutes the promotion of our long-time team member Sabrina Hargrave to Director of Programs. Having first joined our team as a Program Officer in 2018, Sabrina harnesses a wide range of skills and nonprofit experience, as well as a passion for serving every corner of Brooklyn to the best of her ability. 

Sabrina’s contributions over almost four years speak to her dedication and strategic thinking as a leader, and her work on the Brooklyn Elders Fund and the Brooklyn COVID-19 Response Fund was essential to the success of both initiatives. 

In the interview below, we spoke with Sabrina about her personal and professional ties to Brooklyn, philanthropy, and nonprofit work, and what she believes this new chapter will bring for her and the Foundation.


As a native Brooklynite, what do you love about Brooklyn's communities, especially its nonprofits?

While I am a native Brooklynite, I have to say that I am an immigrant. I came to Brooklyn at five years old, so I will always be Argentine as well. But as someone that was raised in Brooklyn, what I love about the borough is its energy, its vibe, the vastness and the depth of Brooklyn's communities. You can find every language spoken here, you can find any type of food. 

People who were raised in Brooklyn have the Brooklyn swagger. I just love that you are raised in an environment where you are exposed to everyone from everywhere and exposed to the breadth of life, the good and the bad. It definitely gives you a sense of perspective and a sense of the world that I appreciate. 

In terms of the nonprofit community, I really value their role. Not only do they provide critical services that oftentimes lack anywhere else, but they do so in culturally competent and linguistically competent ways. And they do so where the people are embedded in the neighborhood. They are down the block, you don't have to go all the way downtown to Metro Tech or downtown Manhattan to access government services – they're in the neighborhood. 

I also think that nonprofits play a crucial role in representing the community. In terms of the systemic work that they do, people have lives, they have jobs, they have families, they might not be interested in going out and signing petitions and marching all the time. But our nonprofits are this wonderful aggregate of what is happening in our local neighborhoods and communities. And they use their voice to amplify what the needs are locally. And they do so to create the change that we need. So we need the services to help with what we need right here right now, and we need systemic work to ensure that the future looks different from what it is right now. Nonprofits are the bridge between communities and institutions. 

What previous experiences have most informed your work here at Brooklyn Community Foundation?

Well, there's the life experiences, and then the professional experiences. Being a Brooklynite, I grew up in and I've lived in different neighborhoods here in Brooklyn. I’ve not only lived in Brooklyn, I am also a product of the borough’s institutions. I've attended public school here, I'm raising my son here, I have over 30 years of Brooklyn history and understand the shifts and the changes that have happened here.

Another experience that I call on is being an immigrant myself–really understanding what that type of life looks like, and what it is like to navigate life as an immigrant. I share many similarities to some community members that interface with our partner organizations. So the throughline in my work has always been immigrant families and immigrants, and before joining the Foundation I most recently worked in a data role at a refugee-serving organization, The International Rescue Committee.

I come from a strong research and evaluation background, and I've always focused on the environment, people's histories, and how this has impacted them through the present day. I approach my work by simultaneously looking at data and history, but also by looking to the future–to not only be guided by the numbers–to be balancing the qualitative and the quantitative together.

I've worked in philanthropy for years and I continue to ask myself, how do we work within an unjust system that we want to change, and how can we also do this in a way that gives the most power and resources back to communities? 

What are some of the highlights of your time so far at the Foundation?

There have been many. Launching the Brooklyn Elders Fund will always be a source of pride. I came on to plan that strategically, to conduct the Insights process. We were able to have 15 community conversations, in at least seven or eight languages, really looking and going into neighborhoods that the Foundation hadn't been stepping into for a while and thinking about that. And then creating the Brooklyn Elders Fund Advisory Council. It was the first time that we had community members join us in kind of giving away the big dollars, the strategic funding. 

The Brooklyn COVID-19 Response Fund. We worked to launch that within a day. And it was the most hectic time in most of our lives, and I did a lot of that grant making. To be able to respond within days to requests, it took the coordination and the collaboration of the team. And to do so while facing greater uncertainty. And, taking care of a small child at home but still doing the work full time is a source of pride, even though it's also a source of great trauma. 

Lastly, in the past year, I've been able to turn my attention to the Immigrant Rights Fund, and really re-strategize that and rethink that into an open RFP process. It was guided by and informed by our community advisors, and really thinking about things such as language access and language justice, and how our racial justice lens intersects and belongs within our immigrant rights portfolio and using that type of analysis. So really building it out to have a group of partner organizations that really exemplify all of that work is just an immense source of pride.

You've led a number of participatory grantmaking processes. What excites you about this approach?

Sharing power is just a huge part of it, and particularly sharing power and putting power back in the hands of BIPOC community members who have historically only been recipients of whatever service was being funded. So we’re not only community-informed, but community members are joining us in the decision making itself. 

I think that a good program officer, and a good programmatic approach for a foundation, is for us to know our role and to have a check on the power we have. There's immense power in this role. And the more that we can diffuse that and share that with the community, I think is right-sizing what the process should be. Having others with different lived experience, different professional experience, it adds a richness to the program and to the grant making that we otherwise would miss out on. The more that we can say, “Okay, you all grew up here, you're from here, you're from the neighborhoods, you know what's going on there. You know what's going on there more than me, I don't know the last time I've made it to that neighborhood.” That perspective is invaluable.

What are you looking forward to in your new role as Program Director?

I am looking forward to flexing some muscles that I haven't in a while and thinking about how we smooth out our work, how we plan our work, how we continue to improve our work, and how we show up for the community. I'm looking forward to new staff coming on and continuing to build stability for the team and providing stability for our partner organizations. I'm looking forward to continuing to deepen our practice around racial justice, and as it relates to new funding fields as we continue to fundraise and expand. I'm always looking to continue to amplify and support our partner organizations and make sure that we are showing up in the way that we want to be. 

Avery Gilliam

Communications Intern (They/Them/Theirs)
"People who were raised in Brooklyn have the Brooklyn swagger. I just love that you are raised in an environment where you are exposed to everyone from everywhere and exposed to the breadth of life, the good and the bad."
Sabrina Hargrave