We can hardly believe it, but it’s true. Repair the World’s Fellowship year is coming to a close. It’s been a fantastic year of service, learning, and community building in our five cities (NYC, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Baltimore), and we are excited to keep the work going next year.

Over the next few days, as our Fellows wrap up and say goodbye, we will be featuring the words of three who are staying on next year as team leaders. This week, Stephanie Bello, who lived and served in Philadelphia.

What drew you to the Fellowship initially?
Initially, I was drawn to the Fellowship due to my interest in developing a career in the Jewish communal non-profit world. I am particularly interested in doing work that focuses on fostering partnerships between communities, and Repair the World offered the opportunity to explore that with intentionality.

Tell me a bit about the work you did during the year.
We focused predominantly on two major areas: issue education and volunteerism. Issue education relates to understanding the ‘why’ of social justice work–investigating systemic issues related to food access, educational opportunities, racial justice, and economic equality, among others. We challenged our community – and each other! – to not only think about concepts of privilege and other social justice topics, but begin to engage with one another in conversation about them.

During the year, we held events that focused on everything from the Jewish response to racial injustice, to the school-to-prison pipeline, to food sovereignty. We encouraged participants to begin these tough but important conversations with one another in the hopes that they would feel motivated to rectify them. When they did, we worked with local non-profit organizations to provide chances for them to get involved and volunteer with their community. Specifically, as an Education Justice Fellow, I spent my time working with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, which runs a variety of after school programs for children from Kindergarten through twelfth grade, and the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC) which works to promote literacy in Philadelphia public schools by reopening (and subsequently running) abandoned libraries in West Philadelphia elementary schools.

What surprised you most about the experience?
I think that I was most surprised by how much I grew in ways that I didn’t anticipate during this year. I’ve always had a very strong interest in social justice work; that’s one of the reasons I was drawn to the program in the first place. However, I didn’t expect to grow and develop as much as I did. I am a very different person than I was back in September, and I am still blown away by the many ways in which this program challenged me to think outside the box and explore things in a new manner.

What was most challenging?
For me, the most challenging part of the Fellowship proved to be trying to balance so many different tasks at once. At any given time, we could be working on a number of different projects simultaneously. This was exciting in that it allowed us the chance to exercise our strengths and learn from our weaknesses, but it also presented a bit of difficulty in trying to navigate it all.

What was most rewarding?
There were a number of rewarding moments during this past year, and I believe that many of them happened when I was able to see an opportunity in which our hard work had paid off. With WePAC, we worked diligently to reopen a library that had sat unused for four years, and been under-resourced for over a decade. This included organizing groups of volunteers to go through old books–removing those that were no longer historically or politically correct–and organize new ones into the online system. Over the course of several months, countless hours went into this project. Now, it gives me such joy to know that the students in that school finally have access to something that I once dearly loved: a school library.

Can you share a story that demonstrates the relationship you had with the volunteers you worked with during the year?
I struggle to think of just one stand-out story to demonstrate the relationship that we had with the volunteers that we worked with during this year, because our interactions with our stellar volunteers simply became the norm. Many of our volunteers not only donated their time to work all over our city, but also attended our events in order to learn more about the root causes of social justice issues, as well as the intersections between them. Additionally, they all became ambassadors for Repair’s work–helping to spread the word and involve others in social change. We have had such an incredible group of dedicated volunteers, many of whom have gone above and beyond what was expected of them.

What are your hopes for next year’s fellows?
I have a number of hopes for next year’s fellows, but I think it all boils down to this: that they allow themselves to step outside of their comfort zone (here at Repair, we call it engaging in ‘productive discomfort’) so that they may enact meaningful change and be changed by it.

You can find out more about Repair the World’s Fellowship program on our website, or via Facebook.