Since graduating from Lawrence University in Wisconsin, Kels Bruun-Bryant has sought out opportunities to use their passion for social justice to positively influence the lives of young people.

Kels, whose gender is non-binary and who uses the gender-neutral pronouns “they” and “them,” spent last year working as a College Possible coach at Edison High School in Minneapolis. For them, helping students from historically underserved populations wasn’t just a job; it was personal. “I was a student in College Possible not long ago,” Kels said. “I know how important it is for adults to be real with students and help them prepare for social and emotional realities of higher education.”

Kels joined the Hiawatha Academies team through a yearlong fellowship with New Sector Alliance, an Americorps supported program that matches highly-skilled new professionals to careers in the social sector. Fellows serve full-time building a nonprofit organization’s capacity and participate in training, mentoring and coaching activities as part of their commitment to national service.

They were drawn to the program because it promised to connect them to important networking opportunities in a variety of fields. Already well-versed in “direct service” opportunities that are more hands-on, Kels wanted to learn about the administrative aspects of nonprofit management. “I am passionate about working with youth and wanted to see how I could influence systems that affect young people,” Kels said.

At Hiawatha Academies, Kels created the first-ever volunteer program by establishing systems so that the program can continue after their yearlong fellowship. They have been hard at work this year conducting a needs-assessment, writing job descriptions, creating an application process and training program, recruiting volunteers and establishing relationships with community organizations that support Hiawatha’s mission of preparing all scholars to go to and through college.

For their next job, Kels is looking to get back into the community. “I’ve learned a lot here at Hiawatha, but I really want to go back to working directly with youth,” they said. “I value the idea of working from my own identity, so I’d like to be more involved with the queer community.”

In their free time, Kels enjoys dancing, attending live music shows, writing, painting with watercolors and cooking spicy food with their partner, Sharonda.