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From Law to Non-Profit, Sense of Communal Responsibility is Alumna's Guiding Light

Stephanie Ives ’98S

It’s not every day that a successful lawyer at a prestigious Boston law firm switches careers to dive into the Jewish non-profit communal world, but for Stephanie Ives ’98S, former legal eagle and now the director of education and community engagement at the American Jewish World Service, the move felt natural.

“I had gotten to a point in my career where it was either charge full-steam ahead for the next few years in an effort to make partner,” Ives explains, “or really make a change and return to my professional roots and first passions, which are education and social justice issues.”

Ives, originally from Los Angeles, is one of the only Stern graduates to have completed the two-year Teach for America placement, where she taught disadvantaged middle-school students in Washington Heights, of all places. “Before teaching there, I only knew Washington Heights as the home of YU’s campus,” says Ives. “To experience the neighborhood from the other side, both figuratively and literally, as I taught on the Ft. Washington side of the neighborhood, was an experience I’ll never forget.”

Ives explains her decision to complete the often-daunting assignment (being responsible for a class with many troubled students, on a daily basis, is no easy feat) as an extension of her longtime desire to learn about those who come from poverty-stricken backgrounds through hands-on experience, and not merely reading about them in books.

After Teach for America, Ives went on to law school at Boston University, feeling that law was a natural way for her to continue working on behalf of poverty-stricken citizens and effect real change, albeit within a different arena. Working in the public defender’s office through most of law school, Ives’s own strong sense of communal responsibility was further honed, and her career began at Goulston & Storrs, a Boston law firm that has a department for affordable housing and economic development.

Ives spent six years at the firm, counseling clients in all aspects of affordable housing development and financing.

At the same time, Ives was maintaining a voracious interest in human rights and situations around the world that touched upon her keen sense of global justice. In 2004, when news of the Darfur genocide began being reported on in earnest, Ives learned not only of the terror in the region but of a Jewish organization, the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which became a leader in the campaign for demanding united action and helping to end genocide in Darfur.

Ives declares, “When I came across the AJWS, headed by Ruth Messinger, and saw all they were doing on behalf of the region, I felt really validated that it was a Jewish organization that was one of the first to take a stand against genocide.” Ives immediately reached out and became an active member in the AJWS community, inviting Messinger to speak in her home before a group of her friends in Boston; reading much of the literature AJWS distributed; and running parlor meetings in her neighborhood on issues at the forefront of AJWS’s focus. She became good friends with fellow alumna Rebbeca Stone ’06S who was working in AJWS’s development department and kept Ives up to date with AJWS events and speakers who should be on her radar.

When the aforementioned turning point in Ives’s career arrived, she knew it was global justice to which she now wanted to devote her full attention. “It was time to transition my extracurricular activities into my workday,” explains Ives. “I work better during the day, my law firm’s increasing workload meant fewer hours after the day to devote to my other activities, and it was simply time to make the switch.”

Ives’s leap of faith, however, was particularly brave given that she had no way of knowing when an appropriate job for her would arise. It was this realization that lead to a “mini-meltdown” of sorts, and she called her best friends and former Stern College roommates, Rachel Milner Gillers, and Tali Stein, in a moment of doubt with her decision.

In a twist of what can be nothing less than fate, the next day, Ives heard about a newly-created position at AJWS created specifically to engage communities and educate them as to what AJWS is doing, and invite them to participate in various social causes. Ives applied immediately.

“This job is exactly what I love to do,” she says. “Working towards mobilizing communities on the ground to strive towards calls for action and common goals of global justice, and educating them about how to achieve those goals, merges all my personal and professional passions.”

When she’s not at work saving the world, Ives lives with her husband and two young sons in Riverdale, New York.

Feeling inspired by Stephanie’s story?  To read about other fantastic and inspirational YU graduates, visit the alumni Web site and check out the alumni profiles; or, to share your own achievements, submit a Class Note.

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