Planting Seeds of Change Together

Portrait Photo

Melissa Tang, Director of Programs, CommunityGrows

As San Francisco is dealing with the consequences of unequal economic growth and gentrification, there is a greater need for communities to band together in solidarity.  

I work for CommunityGrows, a small grassroots youth development organization grown out of the needs of residents from the Western Addition.  Twenty-three years ago, residents came together to reclaim green spaces in the Western Addition. CommunityGrows cultivates gardens with over 1,300 youth each year in low-income diverse communities.  


What I love about working for CommunityGrows is our emphasis on collaboration and building bridges with partners.  Community development takes time, presence, persistence, active listening and patience.  Being a small organization, we understand we need to depend on the strengths on our partners in order to achieve our overall mission. It’s through the Mo’ Magic Collaborative that organizations create and develop programming that address the needs of children, youth and their families in the Fillmore District and Western Addition communities.

At the Mo’ Magic meetings, we developed long term relationship and I know I can ask McCarthy Center staff for resources or to collaborate on community-wide projects. McCarthy Center staff attends all our community meetings and listens to what partners need.  Here’s just a few ways how our impact is amplified through our partnership with McCarthy Center:

  • Environmental Studies students and staff worked with us to maintain a garden at New Liberation Church and to develop workshops for our teen program.    
  • We partnered on joint community events like the Mind, Body and Soul health pop-ups, where we led a healthy cooking demo and gave away veggies from our gardens to residents we normally wouldn’t reach.   
  • We are recipients of USF’s Retired Technology program!  For a the last two years, we were able to provide a workstation for each staff member and dedicated our funding towards programming.



During my time as a graduate student at USF (Masters of Nonprofit Administration, ‘16), I heard USF’s motto: Change the world from here.  Through these partnerships, not only are students learning how to change the world in the neighborhood that surrounds the campus but they engage them in real problems that affect real people, people who happen to live directly next to the campus.  There are a lot of dedicated folks who are doing great work to make changes in the Western Addition but they can’t do it alone. USF partnerships will strengthen the work of these organizations and provide education to students that a book can’t teach you.  So when USF asks students to change the world from here, the change is not on USF’s campus, but right here in the neighborhood—in the Western Addition.     


Bringing Home into School


Ofelia Bello

     Masters of Arts in Urban Affairs ’17

Contrary to what I thought growing up, one of the biggest struggles in graduate school – and there are many – is not the rigorous coursework as much as it is the pressure that comes along with being a first-generation student. That pressure manifests in different ways on a daily basis. However, being a first-generation student also means I get to draw from an inexhaustible source of knowledge, strength, and wisdom every day.

Throughout my educational career, my parents have expressed to me, at various points, feeling guilty and frustrated about not being able to help me with my academics through school. Before migrating to the Bay Area my mother was never allowed to go to school in Mexico and my father only attended up until elementary. Although I could have never articulated this as a young girl, I know now that my parents came to a country where it was engrained in them that the knowledge and wisdom they have is not valuable – because they certainly do not lack it. As a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs Candidate, I feel more confident now than ever asserting the fact that my parents are by far the best teachers I’ve ever had. They thoroughly excelled at humanizing me before I ever stepped foot in a classroom. I cared about the world before I knew what the world was – before I knew what my place in the world might be.

A couple weeks ago in my seminar Urban Education Reform, my professor Dr. Dave Donahue posed a question that has stuck with me since. He asked, “Why is it that we often talk about bringing school into the home, but we don’t necessarily talk about bringing home into the school?” There it was! The question I always had but didn’t know I had. Every college course I’ve taken has, in one way or another, reaffirmed values that my parents practiced in our home and in our community. Urban Education Reform has provided space for me where I can explicitly interrogate why we place value on certain kinds of knowledge over others and what that means for improving our education system. Given that schools are a critical part of both the physical and social fabric that makes up our cities, I think my professor’s inquiry beckons the follow up question: why can’t we bring the home out into the city?

I enrolled in the Master of Arts in Urban Affairs program with the fervent desire to learn about the complexities cities’ face and what concrete ways we can make them more equitable. I know I am in the right program because it is made explicit in the classroom that we do not enter as isolated beings. Every time I step into a seminar, I bring my parents and my community in with me and our knowledge is honored. So ultimately, although the daily struggles that come with being a first-generation student can be difficult, those struggles look dim in the shadow of the brilliant parents and community I come from and continue to learn from, in conjunction with my academic coursework.


Applying ‘Change the World From Here to Washington, D.C.

Katherine Pantangco in WH Press Rm
Katherine Pantangco
USF in DC Fall 2015 participant
As I walked into my supervisor’s office on my first day to partake in what would be one of many “huddles” (office lingo for team and one-on-one check-ins), I glanced across her desk to see a sticky note posted on her computer screen which read, “Every day counts!” My supervisor, and every orientation I participated in as I began my internship, emphasized how precious a commodity time is in the White House. Knowing this, I approached my time in our nation’s Capitol with a framework of intentionality that I have come to appreciate as a University of San Francisco student.
During the fall 2015 semester, I had the privilege to participate in the Leo T. McCarthy Center’s USF in DC program. I take USF’s motto, “Change the World From Here” to heart and decided to carry it across the country, in my pursuit for tangible work experience in our nation’s Capitol.
WH Fall Garden Tour

I was one of over 150 interns selected throughout the country to work at the White House, where it was a distinct honor to serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States. I was delighted to hear that I would be interning in my first choice office, the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, which Senior Advisor to the President, Valerie Jarrett oversees. I particularly wanted to work with the Office of Public Engagement because of their commitment to serving, as what I like to call the “advocacy arm” or the bridge between our nation’s advocacy organizations and the White House.

I approached this internship with the experience I have gained because of the amazing opportunities that USF and the city of San Francisco have afforded me, such as previously interning at USF’s Cultural Centers, volunteering with the San Francisco Organizing Project, and working at the American Civil Liberties Union. The on-the-ground outreach and organizing skills I had developed while immersed here at USF and the local community better prepared me for working in public engagement on a national level, where I worked on the Latino and Immigration Outreach portfolio.
Pope Francis and POTUS
A few events I provided administrative support to included the White House immigration team’s Citizenship Public Awareness campaign launch, Hispanic Heritage Month programs, staffing the first ever White House celebration of Filipino American History Month, and the Holy See Arrival of his Holiness Pope Francis. The exposure that this internship offered me was not  what I expected. The level of respect and teamwork I witnessed evoked a mission-driven office environment that made me feel very much at home. Never did I imagine that I would consider the White House a place I’d like to come home to, nor did I imagine that I would develop lifelong relationships with my colleagues at the White House or my USF in DC cohort.
As I continue to pursue a career in public service and advocacy, whether it be through government or non-profit work, I will take the lessons from my work experiences and my USF in DC politics courses with me. The classes I took, including Research Methods, Professional Development and Policy Advocacy, and American Political Journalism (which was taught at the Washington Post) were relevant and practical to interning in a Washington D.C. office. Moreover, through my experience interning at the White House, I will take away this important lesson: the potential for change relies on being able to build bridges between different communities, whether that means on an interpersonal level, organizational level, and across political ideology and party lines.
Nearing the end of my internship, President Obama met with all the interns and provided some lasting advice:
“Worry less about what you want to be. Worry more about what you want to do.” 
The President approached sharing this advice as a community organizer whose commitment to social justice relies on applying knowledge and passion to action. His words reminded me of a quote by Leonardo da Vinci that I opened my personal statement with in my application to USF as a high school senior: 
“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
I want to express my deepest gratitude to the Leo T. McCarthy Center and USF in DC faculty for facilitating one of the most life-changing experiences one could ask for. I will always look back on my semester in DC as a cornerstone moment of my personal and professional development, one that could have not have happened if it were not for your commitment to your students in changing the world from here.
Apply for the USF in DC program starting in January by clicking here. Applications close March 6, 2016.