Get To Know Your Allies | Stephanie Chernay | Chief Operating OfficerLeave a Comment
Stephanie Chernay is the Chief Operating Officer at Neighborhood Allies. In this role, she serves as a key member of the executive team responsible for the day-to-day responsibility of planning, implementing, and managing operational and financial-related activities of the organization, ensuring that organizational systems are aligned to provide the best-in-class measurements and outcomes.
What does your work at Neighborhood Allies look like day-to-day?: My work is dictated by the organizational need of the day, but my role involves making sure all the connections are aligned, the work is progressing and that money is being invested while trying to bring a fun, passionate, and committed lens to the work.
What unique experience do you bring to your role?: I am a weaver, connector and resource-savvy person. I started my career in the performing arts (not acting, but ensuring that actors could have the space and comfort to execute their art). I have also had a long-desire to be connected and belong to a larger group. That has manifested itself in so many ways throughout my life and it is where I thrive. My career has been split almost in equal parts arts and equal parts community and economic development. However, while working in the arts, I sat on chamber boards in community engagement capacities and while working in the community and economic development space, I have sat on boards related to the arts and ultimately help bring together creative projects that intersect the lines of art and community development. I love helping small businesses get started, thrive, and even figure out ways to fail forward and innovate. I spent my undergraduate career refining my passions and studied urban planning and comparative urbanism with a minor in Theatre and East Asian studies. When considering my graduate degree, I had a great mentor say to me that the key to non-profit success is bringing a business lens to the work. He suggested that I consider getting an MBA rather than a masters in non-profit management. This was some of the best advice I had ever received. So, I got my MBA and never looked back. Getting my MBA helped me advance professionally, but the real value in it was the illumination of the connectivity between all the public, private, and government sectors and to the development of common language. This is where innovation started for me. Once I understood the risk-profiles, tolerances, value propositions, and greater agendas, I have been able to create and sustain unlikely partnerships and collaborations that start to collectively make greater impacts.
What are some professional interests that you enjoy pursuing (even if outside of your job description)?: My passions are vast, but this work does keep you pretty busy. I love learning about real estate development – I’m proficient, but real estate development is a lot like language – the more you do it and practice it, the better you retain it. I usually take every opportunity I can to further my knowledge and lived experience. I also feel passionate about bringing diverse voices to the real estate development landscape – we need more women and minorities at decision-making tables (it’s why I LOVE our Real Estate Co-Powerment Series so much!). Of course, I also love data – I think that is what drives a bunch of us to do this work. When you really understand data sets at complex levels, you can see the issues clearly and it can serve as a solutions platform for more meaningful and equitable solutions.
On a personal professional level – I love exploring cities and learning about innovative solutions for tackling this NOT impossible, but hard work. I love thinking through how biases are the most critical factor we need to understand and address before our systems experience real change. I’ve also really enjoyed mentoring and coaching in my own unique and real way – I’ve been mentored by some incredibly smart, passionate, and creative people and I love paying it forward. Being surrounded by wicked smart and passionate people is what motivates me every day.
What is a project you are currently working on? How does it relate to Neighborhood Allies’ mission of creating and maintaining healthy neighborhoods?: I am working on building out a project management/relationship management platform that will allow our internal teams and partners work towards collective efficacy. In the nonprofit sector, many conversations are centered around the measurement and impact of our work, but it’s really hard to quantify. Building upon the work that was done to establish our metrics and indicators, this new platform will quantify, qualify, and capture the impact of our work. This tool will build our capabilities to lift the stories of our communities and tell the stories of change that are happening in our communities.
How does your work impact our Healthy Neighborhoods Framework and help us achieve our mission?: My work is solely built around connecting and aligning all our Healthy Neighborhood Elements and ensuring that we are doing what we say we are doing and, if not, adjusting and responding to the market to ensure we are making our communities thriving and healthy spaces for ALL residents.
What inspires you most about working in community development?: I believe the answers to systemic change exists in a collective and communal space – and those answers are not always linear or obvious, but the slow, invisible process of working towards change inspires me.
What is your favorite part about working at Neighborhood Allies?: The people – the staff, the residents, the board, the partners, the supporters. We work on ourselves every day to tackle hard systemic problems and I love experiencing the many hearts and the humanity that lives in the process.
What is your favorite thing to do when not at work?: Read, garden, cook, listen to music, dance, hang out with my husband and bonus daughter, our incredibly cute dog and cat, as well as family and friends.
Favorite quote: “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”― Toni Morrison
People would be surprised to learn that you….At one point in my life, I was proficient in Japanese – I never say fluent because I could always read it better than I could speak it. I also have an affinity for Asian culture and art.