Sabrina Briggs did not want to follow in her parents’ footsteps.
She grew up watching her mother work for public health nonprofits, and her father do community work with Philadelphia schools and police. Now, Briggs finds herself equally invested in Philadelphia’s nonprofit sector as the director of Wave Week at Spark the Wave, a nonprofit that educates middle and high school students about nonprofits, community work and leadership
“I started to realize there are a lot of things that are untouched in Philadelphia, in health care, in all these realms,” said Briggs, a senior communication and social influence major. “I kind of let of my version of, ‘I want to make a lot of money,’ [become], ‘I want to make a lot of change,’ and felt more validity within the change I’m making than the salary that was accompanying corporations.”
Briggs started the role in January after being involved with the organization since childhood. She attended the camp while in seventh grade, and volunteered with the nonprofit since 2011. Now a staff member, she is looking forward to seeing participating students find their niche, she said.
“They find what they have passion for and what they can see themselves doing in a couple years, whether in high school, college or into their career,” Briggs said. “They start to find a little bit of passion behind what sparks joy in giving back.”
Wave Week is the organization’s largest service leadership program, which will take place in July at Villanova University. Students will work with community residents on service projects like park cleanups and personal care packages for women.
In addition to Wave Week, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit’s chapters partner with local schools, youth groups and other nonprofits on service seminars that provide teenagers with leadership and volunteer training. It also operates Club Wave, an after-school community service student organization, at Pennsylvania high schools like Pottsgrove High School and Unionville High School.
For Briggs, it’s an “honor” to be part of a small team working on a big project.
“That felt deep in my heart because it just shows that my hard work after 10 years does pay off,” she said.
Katie Oleksiak, Spark the Wave’s executive director, has known Briggs since the first summer she participated in Wave Week. She has loved watching Briggs grow and enact community change, she said.
“She knows that we’re there to inspire the next generation of leaders,” Oleksiak said. “That comes out in everything she does.”
Briggs is focused on teaching kids about communication skills, having a commitment to community service, and diversity and inclusion, she said.
While navigating the struggles of nonprofit work, like finding funding, Briggs turned to her parents for inspiration.
“I see my mom work incredibly hard to impact and influence the Philadelphia community on a public-health scale [more] than I’ve seen any person or woman of color do, and she’s one of my role models,” Briggs said.
Though Briggs is the director and is overseeing this summer’s Wave Week, she wants to utilize volunteers’ individual skills to make the experience more meaningful for students.
“I also want to take a step back knowing that I can delegate and really play my team to our advantage, using their skills and not necessarily doing all the work, but allowing them to shine through this whole project,” she said.
Matthew Kowalski, an Intellectual Heritage instructor, taught Briggs in his Fall 2017 Intellectual Heritage II class.
Briggs is more than prepared for her role at Spark the Wave because she sees the “whole picture,” he said.
“Sometimes, when people do service work, it’s this kind of rose-colored glasses. …They go in and they want to help, but without a larger context of understanding why certain communities need help,” Kowalski said. “[Briggs] is keenly aware and attuned to these kinds of structural and systemic issues that go into it.”
Briggs is excited to see what the future holds for her in Philadelphia’s social impact community.
“I feel like anyone who’s graduating feels like they’re prepared to go out into the world and do what they worked to do for four or five years,” Briggs added. “So I’m just excited to see where I land.”