Leadership starts locally. NLC’s focus on proximate leaders – those closest to their communities problems and solutions – results in tangible change. That change is seen most clearly in Institute Fellow’s Capstone projects.
Capstones are a key part of the Institute experience, providing Fellows with a hands-on, project-based learning experience that is guided by their personal passions.
When Josie Pinto (NLC New Hampshire ‘19) moved to New Hampshire from Massachusets, she brought her passion for reproductive justice with her. In a new community, she wanted to dig in, meet fellow changemakers, and make a difference. “I wanted to find my place in New Hampshire and seeking ways to make it my home and invest in this community,” said Josie.
Josie began her work in reproductive justice at Planned Parenthood. There, she talked to people every day who needed care. She heard their stories and identified a need in New Hampshire: direct funding for abortions.
With only three abortion providers in the state, she knew there was a unique need in New Hampshire. “I knew I was uniquely well-positioned to start Reproductive Freedom Fund,” she said. She had worked at independent abortion provider and saw up front a need for funding. With her connection with the National Network of Abortion Funds, she thought that New Hampshire should have a fund too.
“I knew the landscape and I was motivated and passionate.”
A key part of Capstone projects is collaboration among Institute cohort Fellows and chapter alumni. Fellows pitch their Capstone idea to their cohort, and the other Fellows offer feedback. As the project develops, Fellows collaborate with each other, offer connections inside and outside of NLC, and volunteer to help their cohort members with their projects. “NLC is a network of built trust,” she said.
And with her cohort’s cross-sector knowledge, they helped her start and sustain what she called an ambitious Capstone.“They loved the idea, talked me up, and vouched for me,” said Josie. As the 2019 New Hampshire cohort shared and brainstormed together, they built trust, expanded each others networks, and thus maximized individuals’ capacity for impact. “The Fellows were early validators,” said Josie.
“I used the network to ask for what I needed at different steps.” The chapter was integral to getting RFF off the ground. Josie connected with someone from NLC New Hampshire ‘18 to help write the fund’s bylaws and consulted with others who had non-profit experience.
For her Capstone project, Josie started one of New Hampshire’s only abortion funds. The Reproductive Freedom Fund has allocated nearly $110,000 in direct care to patients across the state (as of August 2022).
At 22 years old, Josie relied on her cohort for advice and confidence. “I felt so supported,” she said. Three years after its ideation and one year after the non-profit’s official launch, the abortion fund is strong. “We haven’t had to turn anyone away. We’ve been able to meet the need with community support and have been active in education work and advocacy,” says Josie.
NLC is a network of built trust. The Fellows were early validators; They loved the idea, talked me up, and vouched for me. I used the network to ask for what I needed at different steps and I felt so supported.
During New Hampshire’s 2022 legislative session, RFF organized and mobilized patients as storytellers in the state Capitol. RFF not only provides direct assistance to patients, but also works with patient advocates to help pass pro-choice policies and change hearts and minds.
Fast forward to June 2023 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade. While abortion remains legal in New Hampshire, Josie and her team have big dreams for the fund. They will continue to expand and scale the Abortion Fund, including providing comprehensive sex education, access to Plan B, and expanding their legislative advocacy efforts.
“Here in New Hampshire, we had a 24-week abortion ban on the books with no exceptions,” said Josie in a recent Cosmopolitan interview.
“So we had a few of our storytellers—people who had experienced fatal fetal anomalies—share their stories about why abortion should be legal and accessible for pregnant people in that position. Being able to break through to Republican legislators and get them to support this exception to the ban was an important bipartisan success. Abortion stories have incredible power.”
Our stories have the power to shift hearts and minds and change the conversation surrounding abortion. Our stories build community, inspire new leaders, and spark action.
In New Leaders Council chapters across the country, the stories of our Fellows intertwine, combining their identities, issues, and perspectives. Together, we work to uplift one another as we make a long term impact in our communities; in our chapter cohorts, with support provided through capstone projects, NLC Fellows are a catalyst for change.
Do you know a leader like Josie who has a passion for expanding equity and progress in their community? Nominate them to the 2023 NLC Institute and share this article with them as inspiration. Applications will be accepted by our 50+ nationwide chapters through September 12, 2022.