As the executive director of Princeton Young Achievers (PYA), Class of 1991 graduate Pamela Elmi’s responsibilities range from the seemingly mundane to the mission critical—and that’s just the way she likes it.
PYA is an after-school program designed to help children from low- to middle-income households improve their performance in school as well as their English language skills. Every Monday through Friday, PYA offers homework support, enrichment activities such as science and art projects, and one-on-one tutoring at its three learning centers, serving more than 100 children in kindergarten through fifth grade.
PYA’s programs are supported by part-time staff who serve as teachers, tutors, and activity coordinators. The program also depends on about 75 volunteers who serve in its after-school programs and provide technical support.
As executive director, Pam is there to keep all of these staff, volunteers, and resources funded, motivated, and running—while also working to strengthen the organization’s ties to the community, school district, parents, and local foundations and businesses
Pam explained, “A very dear teacher on our staff once said to me, ‘Who else but you could manage so many people’s passions so effectively to serve our kids?’ That sentiment really made me realize that my very rewarding role at PYA is acting as a conduit of all the good will and talent available to the underserved in our community.”
A typical day’s work for Pam might include any or all of the following: balancing the organization’s $260,000 annual operating budget, writing grants, handling human resource and student issues, making copies, conducting staff training sessions, ordering office supplies, designing curricula for any of six grade levels, changing toner cartridges, and processing tuition payments.
“The interesting thing about my job is that I wear many hats and feel very comfortable doing so,” Pam said.
An art education major while at the College, Pam “discovered” the world of non-profit education while working as an art specialist at Camp Jotoni in Warren, NJ. Camp Jotoni provides summer recreational services to children and adults with developmental disabilities. Pam’s experiences there made a lasting impression on her.
After graduating from the College and going on to earn a degree in design at the Fashion Institute of New York, Pam’s desire to give back to her community stayed with her.
She left her job as an assistant fashion designer on Madison Avenue and moved to Atlanta to start teaching in “neighborhood classrooms.” There, Pam worked for the Metro-Atlanta YMCA After School Program, and later became education coordinator at the Center for Puppetry Arts.
She eventually returned to New Jersey and accepted a position with the YWCA Princeton, where she stayed for seven years until moving to PYA. While at the YWCA, Pam developed many programs and connected with the community around her.
“The Women’s Economic Empowerment Series was one of the most rewarding projects I have ever done,” Pam said. “I took the lessons learned as a divorced woman to teach other women not to make the same mistakes that I did. It changed some people’s lives, and it helped me heal and move on with my own life, too. You have to love working in non-profit, because there are a lot of personal sacrifices involved.”
Despite the crazy hours and myriad responsibilities that come with her job, Pam has continued to stay involved with the College. She has returned to campus to make presentations to TCNJ art students and also has taught at the Governor’s School for the Arts (which used to take place each summer on TCNJ’s campus). Her hope is to steer current students into careers in non-profit, service-oriented organizations such as hers.
“If anything, I think I have influenced TCNJ students to be community-service minded and to be aware of the non-profit organizations in their neighborhoods,” said Pam. She tells the students she interacts with at TCNJ, “When you reach that large salary you strive for, I hope you remember to give back to the world by donating money or time to a non-profit of your choice—then you will have true balance in life!”