Abby DeRigo Named Executive Director of the Homeless Empowerment Project and Spare Change News

The board of the Homeless Empowerment Project and Spare Change News has chosen Abby DeRigo, a recent graduate of Suffolk University, to lead the organization as it adapts to the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic and moves forward into the new normal.

“The pandemic obviously changed everything that I had been thinking about. Now things are more about short term plans and trying to adapt. It’s very much survival mode, in a way, right now,” said Abby, who is entering the role after serving nine months as the organization’s volunteer coordinator. “How do we fundraise best? How do we keep our vendors safe? How do we get more people to know who we are and how do we help the vendors more than we are now?” 

The job of running a nonprofit in a pandemic will require creativity and community support, but Abby has been preparing for the challenge for months, arguably years. Her college education was focused on social work and community building. Her initial introduction to Spare Change was through a Suffolk class offered by Professor Debra Harken, which involved deep consideration of “what helping actually means.”

At Spare Change, Abby was able to put the lessons of Professor Harken’s class into practice right away. As part of her class, she helped to conduct a needs assessment for the organization, positioning her to better understand what changes will be required to support its sustainability and growth. 

“I’ve learned that rather than having an idea going into a particular situation, you need  to keep an open mind,” Abby said. “Being a younger, white female leading an organization focused on helping a demographic that is majority people of color, it really helps to be open to listening and learning. It can be  too common for people with good intentions to do things that really aren’t helping.”

She identified the communication gaps between different departments and found that organizational turnover during the last few years had distanced vendors from the daily operations of the paper.

“The vendors are the most important part of the organization. The paper was started by vendors. They should have a huge voice within this organization,” Abby says. “It’s a place they can share their voice, and they can come in and use that voice in this world that doesn’t always listen.” 

When her class ended and she continued to support Spare Change, Abby organized volunteer projects, began fundraising, and took the initiative to familiarize herself with the mechanisms that make Spare Change move: distribution, editorial, vendor relations, and volunteer coordination. 

“We have a very small staff, and we need volunteers to keep everything running, and there was no one to organize them, and I had just been a volunteer, and I felt that’d be a good way to work with the organization,” Abby said. “It helped me understand how important communication is.”

She quickly acquainted herself with the responsibilities of the various players on the Spare Change team and stepped up to make herself a valuable part of it.

“Abby has been a godsend,” James Shearer, a founder of SCN and current Board President, said. “I believe that her as our Executive Director will be a benefit to the Homeless Empowerment Project and  Spare Change for years to come.”

Now at the helm, Abby has a number of initiatives she’s excited to organize. In addition to reorganizing the way Spare Change handles online subscriptions, which will allow our vendors to benefit from the support of homebound and non-local readers, she’s also considering ways to encourage other cashless interactions with the vendors and new opportunities for grants and funding.

“This is an organization to help people who want a different opportunity than what they’ve gotten before. People who have struggled to earn money or hold a job, who are homeless or are still feeling the effects of homelessness. We have very open doors in terms of trouble with the law, drug addiction on the law, it’s an open organization. We’re here to help,” Abby said. “I’m very excited to be a part of it and help it to grow.”

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