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Harvard Graduate Co-Founds Nonprofit Promoting Civic Service

Reed T. Shafer-Ray '18 is a co-founder of the nonprofit Lead for America.
Reed T. Shafer-Ray '18 is a co-founder of the nonprofit Lead for America. By Caleb D. Schwartz

Recent College graduate Reed T. Shafer-Ray ’18 recently co-founded a non-profit organization which plans to place 50 fellows in local government jobs by fall 2019 and train 50,000 new public service leaders by 2040.

The nonprofit, Lead for America, aims to promote public service by sponsoring recently graduated fellows to work for two years in local governments across the United States.

“The goal is to really cultivate the next generation of public service leaders,” co-founder Joe Nail, a recent University of North Carolina graduate, said.

This fall, the nonprofit will start recruiting in colleges including Harvard, Tufts, University of North Carolina, and Stanford.

Lead for America is currently working with staff and faculty at UNC to form partnerships with local governments in the region. The team plans to first place fellows into communities in North Carolina, before expanding to Massachusetts and other regions, according to co-founder Wylie Chang, a rising senior at Tufts University.

“We’re trying to stay in that area, North Carolina, because that’s where we currently have the most connections,” co-founder Shafer-Ray said.

Lead for America also hopes to eventually pioneer a hometown fellows program, in which the organization will help accepted fellows find public service opportunities in their hometown.

“A good portion of the most talented people aren’t going back to the places where they’re from and the places which would most benefit from their help,” Shafer-Ray said. “We’re hoping to really give students an opportunity to go home or go back to some community that really needs them and get rooted down there and really start helping the community grow.”

Nail said he began thinking of the idea for Lead for America in September, when he noticed that people interested in public service were applying for and accepting offers in the corporate sector.

“A lot of people who had been really dedicated to going back and serving where they grew up, or people who really insisted they wanted to work in policy or government or nonprofits or whatever—when push came to shove, they ended up applying for and accepting offers with investment banks or consulting firms,” Nail said.

Nail said the companies were able to promise greater financial compensation, skills training, and mentorship opportunities early on in the fall than organizations in the public service sector could.

Shafer-Ray noted a similar phenomon at Harvard. He said that he remembered talking with friends interested in public service last fall and hearing how they were “disappointed” at the limited opportunities offered during the College’s Public Service Recruitment Day compared to those offered during corporate recruiting events.

Co-founder Benya Kraus, a recent graduate of Tufts University, said she wanted to join the team because she believes that cities, towns, and counties have the ability to “step up” to meet global needs when nation-states fail to agree on solutions to issues.

“What really excited me is creating this movement, this coalition, this community of young people who are passionate about what local government can do, who are committed to being responsible for the communities they dedicate their hearts and their minds and their souls to,” Kraus said. “I think that’s what’s really going to build America up.”

—Staff writer Truelian Lee can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @truelian_lee.

Clarification: June 11, 2018

A previous version of this article stated Lead for America is currently working with University of North Carolina to form partnerships with local governments in the region. To clarify, the organization is working with UNC affiliates.

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