Jessica Britt ’10 volunteered at Safe Passage on a McKeen Center Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip to Guatemala her senior year. Little did she know that years later she would become the organization’s Board Chair.
Founded by Hanley Denning ’92, Safe Passage is a Guatemalan-led nonprofit school that provides education to students living around the forty-acre Guatemala City landfill, known as the Guatemala City garbage dump. With one in three students in the community having never been to school, Safe Passage offers educational opportunities to the region with the goal of alleviating poverty for future generations.
At Bowdoin, Britt majored in government and legal studies with a concentration in comparative politics and minored in Hispanic studies. Outside of the classroom, Britt worked for the Admissions Office and the McKeen Center, and she noted some of her favorite memories were from the two summers she spent on campus working for those offices. Britt was encouraged to volunteer with Safe Passage by her friends who were leading the ASB trip to Guatemala at the time, a trip that later influenced the trajectory of her career.
“I think being there with other Bowdoin students was just a really special experience, and I would definitely recommend the ASB program to any current student. It’s a great way to learn about another community, learn about different nonprofits and how they are serving the community, and then also to build bonds by traveling with other students,” Britt said.
Entering her senior year at Bowdoin, Britt was unsure of what types of careers would allow her to combine her desire to work in a social impact career while also utilizing the Spanish skills she had learned at Bowdoin. Through informational interviews with many Bowdoin alumni, Britt was persuaded to move to Guatemala after her senior year and return to Safe Passage.
“If I wanted to do international work, it was going to be really important to spend time abroad in order to build experience. With that common thread of advice in all of those informational conversations, and after I was rejected from a couple different jobs that I was applying to, I said, ‘You know what? Going to Guatemala feels like a pretty solid plan B,’” Britt said.
After moving to Guatemala, Britt took a position as the Support Team Coordinator for Safe Passage, allowing her to see her ASB trip from a new perspective. In her role, Britt became the person who welcomed new volunteers to the organization, including Bowdoin ASB students.
“I think it was a really good combination of the skills I had learned in some of my summer jobs at Bowdoin, being a tour guide and then also working with the McKeen Center. It was very special to be able to host Bowdoin groups … and to reconnect with some folks who were just a bit younger than I was,” Britt said.
Although she moved back to the United States after two years, she remained involved in the organization and eventually became the Chair of the Board of Directors.
Britt has witnessed the nonprofit transform its opportunities and resource offerings throughout her time at the organization. In 2012, Safe Passage became a formal school under the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, following its mission to mitigate barriers to education. In addition to having a pre-K through grade 9 school, the organization now offers educational reinforcement for high school students as well as health care, social and nutritional services.
“It’s been a real opportunity for the organization to rethink what volunteers are doing,” Britt said. “Back when I was living there, there were volunteers doing so many different things, and now the program is reforming exactly what these long term volunteers are going to be doing and how they’re going to be engaging to best support our Guatemalan-led program teams…. There are meaningful steps that we’re taking to continue to center the community and Guatemalan voices in leadership of the work.”
Upon returning to the United States, Britt transitioned to consulting at Tetra Tech where she primarily worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development. As a project manager, Britt completed financial and compliance work for democracy and governance projects, mostly in Latin America. Although based close to her hometown in Burlington, Vt., Britt traveled the world through her role and was exposed to the field of research and evaluation, which measures the effectiveness of social impact work.
Following the footsteps of Bowdoin alumni once again, she later joined Year Up, a nonprofit organization founded by Gerald Chertavian ’87 P’20, P’21 that provides job training and technical skills to young adults in minimum wage jobs to help them kick start careers. Britt worked on the research and evaluation team there for seven years before leaving the organization earlier this year.
Britt recently returned to campus for an informal conversation with students in the McKeen Center about social impact careers and reconnecting Bowdoin students to Safe Passage. Britt hopes to rekindle a greater connection between the College’s students and the organization because of the impact that alumni have had on Safe Passage.
“There is such a through line of Bowdoin support [at Safe Passage] between the founder Hanley Denning ’92 having been an alum; I’m on the board now, and I’m an alum. There are many people who volunteered over the years and lots of donors to the organization are alumni of the school,” Britt said.
Britt encourages students to get involved in the organization through volunteering or donating. On Giving Tuesday, Safe Passage started a campaign to match a $250,000 donation from a couple of donors over the course of the next month, which she hopes will provide immense new opportunities for resources that the school can provide.
Britt advised current students considering their future careers to connect with alumni and take advantage of the resources at the College to evaluate their passions and goals.
“I always like to say, and I still feel this way, that your career is a process of elimination,” Britt said. “Sometimes you have to try things to figure out both what you like and what you don’t like, and so if you don’t enjoy your first job out of school, try to really focus on what exactly about it you do not enjoy so that you can move closer to more of the things you do enjoy—that data is still important and still part of your career journey.”
As Britt takes on the endeavor of starting her own consulting business, she reflects on what path might fit her new goals and aspirations as well.
“It’s never over figuring out what you want to do when you grow up,” Britt said. “Now I’m thirteen-plus years out of Bowdoin and taking an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, what’s next for me?’”